When Jesus heals the man born blind I marvel at two things: the miracle (of course) and the reaction of the Pharisees. It is clearly indicated that we should feel this, but as I stand outside myself I see myself and at least some of my own attitudes criticised too; is it so for you?
Standing back, the Pharisees, from their point of view, are correct. The Law of Moses is clear – no work on a Sunday, and healing is work, so no healing. Surely Jesus could have waited a day? In breaking the Sabbath, Jesus was no follower of Moses. He should be condemned and cast out for such a flagrant breach of the Law. And even as my ire with the Pharisees ignites, I see myself reflected in the mirror. How often have I, or you, thought that someone was wrong on some aspect of the faith? She’s not sound on Biblical inspiration, he’s surely not saying we’re justified by faith alone? Why’s she wearing such a short skirt to Mass? Why does she have to chatter incessantly the moment she sits down, and why does she always sit in the pew behind me? Doesn’t she know this is a sacred space? How can she be a real Anglican/Catholic/Orthodox when she thinks x or y? If, like me, you’ve thought any of those things, then join me in the corner with the Pharisees.
I want to repent, but part of me still thinks: ‘But I’m right! I’m being a good Christian. It’s my duty to speak up!’ That Church is schismatic/wrong/heretical or whatever. And there, even as I have repented, I’m going to need another session in the confessional. ‘Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. But I was right wasn’t I? I wasn’t being horrible, I was being honest, and it was for their sake, not for the warm feeling of self-righteousness I got as I did it.’
As I look across the broad ranger of my Christian friends I’ve learned a lesson which helps true repentance, and it’s that I want to share. The thing I have learned to look for is evidence of the work of the Spirit – wherever it is manifested. But, I can hear my old Eve saying, he manifests himself through the Church – that is my Church. Sure, my redeemed Eve replies: ‘let’s get this straight girl, are you saying that the only evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit is in your church. Really? You that sure?’ Who am I to say that the great works of charity and healing done in your (non-Anglican) church are not and cannot be the work of the Spirit? Who are you to tell me that the charity and the healing done in the Anglican Church are not of the Spirit? Maybe we’d do better to heed the lesson being taught to the Pharisees. Let’s look for the work of the Spirit and not assume he’s limited by our understandings.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
What is divine cannot be defined by us. What is God to do with us if, like the Pharisees, we will not recognise the evidence of love? If we refuse to love, welcome and assist in God’s work and insist he’s working only where we think he ought to be working? After all, that rule about Sunday came to Moses directly from God, and Jesus is God, so it looks as though we are being told look for the workings of God.
In the end, what is it that brings us to respect the doctrines and the institution of our church if it not that it is a channel to convey the efficacious grace of God? There is a spirit of faction and even of hatred, the twin of self-righteousness, which has so bedevilled our faith that to many outside it (some driven there by it) it is a source of evil and division. They see how we love each other, and how can they then, if they see us behaving the way we do sometimes, take us for children of God. ‘Whoever does not love, does not know God, because God is love.’ If your answer to that is ‘when I condemn others it’s an act of love,’ ask how that squares with Jesus’ words to the adultress – then go thou and do likewise.