Now is the Time

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” – John 9:13-17 (NRSV)

 

Until we reach these verses, the story of Jesus healing the blind man at the Pool of Siloam is pretty straightforward. If the questioning neighbors would have left it alone, all would be good. But now his “friends” lead him to the Pharisees. We know there is going to be trouble. Whenever the Pharisees get involved in one of Jesus’ miracles, there is always controversy.

It is at this point we find out this healing took place on the Sabbath. We already know that healing on the Sabbath is considered work, and this one is complicated by the mud. We remember that Jesus used some spittle to mix with dirt and put it on the man’s eyes. These two acts are clearly in violation of the Sabbath laws prohibiting work. What should have been a verification and celebration of a miracle becomes a trial.

The religious leaders begin to question the man and immediately issue a verdict: The mud healer can’t be from God. They don’t need to say out loud what the alternative is — the man is from the devil. The difficulty is that they have the evidence of a never-before-heard-of miracle right before their eyes.

A division forms because some of the religious leaders can’t reconcile how this miracle could have happened if healer is from the devil. It doesn’t make any sense. Quick to issue a verdict, they seem unable to write the opinion, so they ask the man what he thinks, and he declares:  “He is a prophet.”

This situation isn’t new to us. When we are confronted with something we’ve never experienced before and don’t understand, we make a judgment based on what we think we know. And usually it’s not the most generous judgment.

  • The person cut me off because they are a jerk. Not, the person may have been held over at work and they are in a hurry to get to their child’s school before the child walks home alone.
  • The cashier who is rude to me in the check-out line is a bad person and employee. Not, the person may be exhausted because they are working two jobs and it’s been a long week.
  • The person in front of me goes off on the barista because their coffee isn’t hot enough is entitled and arrogant. Not, the person may have just come from the doctor and received some tough news.
  • Honoring the Sabbath is one of the highest commandments to be kept, and anyone who violates it must be a sinner. Not, I don’t fully understand what it means to honor the Sabbath, could God be doing something new here.

The Pharisees don’t consider the miracle itself. They conclude that it is not the day to do miracles. A miracle might be needed, but not right now.

We look at this and think that’s ridiculous. I guess the blind man could wait one more day since he’s been blind all his life and he didn’t know today was going to be the day he would see. But if this were us or someone we love, today needs to be the day.

There has been enough suffering.
There has been enough stigma.
There has been enough waiting.

The time is now because now is already longer than it should have been.

How can it not be the time for this miracle?

On April 4, 1967, one year before he was assassinated, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said the following at Riverside Church in New York:

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.”[2]

The Civil Rights Act passed three years earlier in 1964. But the Fair Housing Act of 1968 had not yet become law. The summer of 1967 saw the beginning of the 200-day march for fair housing in Milwaukee as well as over a hundred riots across the country relating to housing and police brutality.

But this speech was not about civil rights. It was about ending the Vietnam War. People viewed these speech both ways:

Now isn’t the right time for civil rights protests when we are in the middle of a war.

Now isn’t the right time to worry about the Vietnam War when civil rights were being violated here at home.

We hear the same thing today:

Now is not the time for protests about civil rights because there is a pandemic going on.

 

But it seems like it’s never the right time. There is always something going on that is challenging, and we don’t want another challenging thing to deal with. Really, I think it’s just never the right time for those that are either overwhelmed by thinking and dealing with big things or just don’t think the cause is worth it.

For many people of color, this pandemic is just another layer of systemic inequality that has existed for centuries. Lower access to and bias in health care, lower paying jobs which buy lower quality food, and permanently elevated levels of stress due to navigating life in a white-preferenced society result in greater immune-compromise.

The COVID-19 virus is an equal-opportunity infector but that is not the case in its damage.

A recent NPR report stated that nationally, African American COVID deaths are two times greater than expected based on percent of total population. Experts observed that the higher rate of underlying conditions from less access to quality health care combined with people of color disproportionately holding essential front-line jobs increase their exposure and the likelihood of death. One researcher stated, “We know that these racial ethnic disparities in COVID-19 are the result of pre-pandemic realities. It’s a legacy of structural discrimination that has limited access to health and wealth for people of color.”[3]

The current protests are about the murder of George Floyd and other incidents of police violence, but they are also about the other inequalities, barriers, and trauma caused by systemic racism. The time to act has to be now because now is already too late.

The time to act has to be now because now is already too late. #BlackLivesMatter #Juneteenth #Justice #Love Click To Tweet

Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, effective January 1, 1863. The Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery became law on December 6, 1865. The freedom provided under the Emancipation Proclamation was communicated to slaves as Union soldiers advanced through the southern states to enforce the order. It was not until June 19, 1865 – two and half years after it became effective – that the last 250,000 slaves were notified in Texas.

Those freed celebrated, and June 19th – or Juneteenth – became a day of celebration in the African American community. It is America’s Second Independence Day. We should all join in the celebration.

We can’t comprehend such a time lag today with our instant access to news. We also can’t comprehend being held in slavery illegally for two and a half years (or at all). It seems “now” has never been the time for civil rights – not even the basic human right not to be enslaved. It is easy for those of us who don’t have any concerns that our civil rights would be violated, especially to the point of death, to say now is not the time. But it’s not our choice to decide that. Our choice is whether we agree now is the time.

After a Sabbath healing in Luke’s Gospel, when the religious leaders tell Jesus now is not the time, he responds, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?”[4]

Is now the time to save life or perpetuate the destruction of it?

I think we know the time is now.

The real question is whether we will choose to stand alongside Jesus to do the good that is long overdue.

[1] Leviticus 14

[2] “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” Speech delivered by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1967, at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City.

[3] “What Do Coronavirus Racial Disparities Look Like State By State?” by Maria Godoy and Daniel Wood, May 30, 2020. Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/05/30/865413079/what-do-coronavirus-racial-disparities-look-like-state-by-state. Accessed June 9, 2020.

[4] Luke 6:9 (NRSV)

 

This is an excerpt from my message on John 9:1-17. The full worship service is here.

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3 Thoughts to “Now is the Time”

  1. Laura Johnson

    Hi Michelle,
    I have been reading your blog (and followed some of your facebook posts about your trip to Central America and Mexico). I am thinking that you might be interested in a group called the Milwaukee Declaration. It is a group of pastors that was started by Matt Erickson (our pastor at Eastbrook) and Walter Harvey of Parklawn Assembly of God. It is composed of pastors from the city and suburbs who are interested in racial reconciliation of the churches. They actually call it reconstruction rather that reconciliation because there was never a reconciled state to go back to. We have had several Milwaukee Delaration services with people from churches all over the city at Eastbrook on Martin Luther King Day the past few years. They have been very postive events. There were 2 recent discussions posted on facebook in which black and white pastors talked about race issues. It was very good. I learned some things, some new perspectives. In the second one, they really get deeper into some issues. I think you can still access them from their web site which I will add to the end of this post. They are looking for more pastors from the suburbs and pastors from Hispanic, Asian and Native American churches to join. It really seems like you would be an excellent addition to their group. I wish you had been involved in the discussions. I hope you will check it out.
    Laura Johnson

    milwaukeedeclaration.org/

    1. Thanks for reading Laura and thank you for the link. I will definitely check it out.

  2. Rev. Claire Beutler-Cruise

    Preach!!

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