So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. (John 9:24-30, NRSV)
The struggle for a voice in society is normative. The differences between people who have access and make things happen, versus the people who lack that access are part of the fabric of human relationships. That access, (or the lack thereof), often means that an individual does not have a ‘presence’ in the society. They are physically present, but have no active influence on the community in which they are merely existing in. Having a voice or being voiceless can be determined by many different factors. Gender, religion, race, ethnicity, creed, and sexual orientation all can be used to elevate ones voice or to deny ones right to be heard. Thats what makes it a struggle…. one must push through the community to have their voice heard.
Key to fight against giving audience to all, is the role of power. Powerful people/institutions/organizations play an intricate game of oppression simply to keep the voiceless from gaining an audience and/or being heard. It’s true of dissenting political groups as much as it is true of patriarchal systems that reinforce hierarchy. Systems in power want to keep their power; very often at the expense of the people who simply need the world to hear their pain and suffering, joys and concerns, fears and triumphs. There are subtle ways that these power systems keep the status quo and negate those who seek presence in the larger society.
One way that was on display this past week, was demonstrated in our country’s culture and political wars. Member of Congress Todd Akin’s off the cuff comments regarding “legitimate rape” highlight an example of what power does to keep things in check. You see, legitimacy is a cloak for power players to maintain their status. One way to deny the authenticity of person/being/humanity is make a declaration of legitimacy. African-Americans, at one time in our nation’s history were denied the right to vote, bring a court case or even be a full person…..they were considered illegitimate. Many insurance companies and other businesses invoke clauses within contracts that deny access to certain contractual rights. In so doing, they delegitimize the nature of the contract (and maybe the claims of the person). Legitimacy, is a qualifying term that can easily undermine relationships, stall negotiations and patronize people who are seeking equal voice in any situation (see equality around marriage, equal pay, etc.).
Struggle between power brokers and the powerless is nothing new and in our passage, this dichotomy is undergirding the text. Specifically, in chapter 9, Jesus brings sight to a blinded man. He was known to a great many people and so the healing brings a great deal of attention to the blinded man. So much so, that the power structures of the day, the Pharisees call the man before them an attempt to discern what happened to the man. Their rationale is that, defects are signs of sin and that Jesus is not a healer or prophet of any kind…….he is illegitimate. This blinded man is also a voiceless person in ancient Israel. A former blind person is a bullhorn!!
The resulting confrontation is one in which the miracle that Jesus has performed and demonstrated through this man who was once blind is being negated (or at least trying to be) by the Pharisees. In the end, the blind man, in response to berating of questions of legitimacy decides to simply state the obvious, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.” In other words, “y’all are supposed to be the experts on religious purity and healing and you don’t know what the h@#$ is going on. All I know is he healed me!”.
The former blind man gives us great instruction when it comes to people making claims of legitimate or illegitimate actions……its all legitimate. This man’s healing is just as legitimate as the rest of them. The experiences of the individual cannot be undermined in the eyes of God. They are all credible. Whenever we try to delegitimize the experiences of another, we really show our own insecurities before God and our neighbor. We do not have the power to question legitimacy of the other’s lived experience. For one to claim such authority, means the person making the declaration has ‘power’ over the other individual…..a claim none of us can credibly make.
Rep. Todd Akin exposed a deep flaw in religious patriarchy (to which religion has been used to cover up). The flaw uses rules and regulations to stifle and undermine and expel many who the power structures deem illegitimate. In today’s world, many Christians feel the need to define the world according to the rules and regulations that have been edited and refined in scripture. Rep. Akin’s comments, while they are his beliefs, expose a power structure’s party line that is rooted in an undermining worldview of women who have both been raped and/or experienced abortion, or both. Those rules are interpreted through the lens of scripture and tradition and enforced to define who is legitimate and who is not. Yet, the Jesus of the scriptures took care to break those same rules when the were applied to him. They called him illegitimate…… what do they call you?
Jesus and this blind man give us a vision of truth that labels us all legitimate sons and daughters of the most high King. Let us be brothers and sisters legitimized by the word and work of the Christ…….