To follow after Jesus - To be brought to Jesus
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 22nd: Psalm 146; Isaiah 60:17-22; and Matthew 9:27-34. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
This evening is another of our Lenten Discussions. This is the 26th year that we have held these gatherings. Various local congregations come together to try and deepen the Lenten experience. The general theme of this year’s Discussion Series is “On the Outside Looking In.” I have my chance to lead one of these discussions tonight at 7:00pm at the Shelburne Congregational Church. It will be in person and a Zoom link is also available. I invite you to come and join us tonight. In person if you choose, or online by sending me an email (email@example.com) so that I can send you the Zoom link.
In today’s Gospel, we hear that two blind men are following after Jesus. When Jesus reached the house where He was staying, they even entered, still following after Jesus. To be blind and to follow after Jesus must have presented unique difficulties, but they were determined. Jesus makes this clear when in the house He asks them, “‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’” They answer in the affirmative and are healed. The two blind men made a conscious and concerted effort to follow after Jesus.
The other miracle story today is different. There is no “follow after.” The blindness of the two men was a physical hindrance to following after Jesus, but it doesn’t prevent them from doing so. The inability to speak in the second miracle story does not present such a hurdle. However, the one who is mute does not follow after Jesus. Rather, he was brought to Jesus. And if you noticed, in this second miracle of healing, there is included the notion of demonic possession. This is not only a physical ailment. This is a spiritual ailment.
In the first miracle, Jesus asks if the men believe, they answer in the affirmative, and Jesus replies, “‘According to your faith let it be done to you.’” Their belief is at the heart of the miracle. In the second miracle, the one who is mute is brought, can we read compelled, to Jesus. There is no belief evident here in the afflicted one. Jesus does not cure the muteness per se. Instead, Jesus exorcises the demon, and with that the man is able to speak.
In the first story, to believe makes wonders possible in Jesus. To not believe is what needs to be healed in the second story. I think the language of demons is bound to that ancient time, but behind the imagery lies an important message. Faith in Jesus opens doors to many things otherwise impossible so it is just as powerful to grant a physical cure such as sight returned as it is to expel disbelief.
During Lent, we follow after Jesus, and amazing things can happen. During Lent we also have the chance to bring others to Jesus as did those who brought the one who was mute to Jesus, not to dispel demons, but to offer the chance of discovering faith. This was the original hope of our Lenten Discussion Series. Rev. George Cory, Rev. Dr. Richard Killough and I thought it would be a beneficial Lenten practice to offer discussions rather than another mid-week worship. We hoped that we would be able to deepen the faith of those who already were following after Jesus, and we wanted to create a space for those who were not following after Jesus, who were not active church members, who were seeking to ask questions, who were not comfortable with formal church worship but could sit in the informality of a discussion group. Those hopes are expressed in today’s Gospel of two of Jesus’ miracle stories.
In this same spirit, I again invite you to join us this evening for our Lenten Discussion.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
Faith, love and chitchat.
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