Thursday, March 30, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

For those who use the lectionary, the dual focus of this Sunday offers more Scripture than almost any other Sunday in the Church Year.  Since I come from and am firmly rooted in the Reformed Tradition I tend to think a sermon is a pretty important thing, yet this is one Sunday when I might be willing to allow Scripture to speak for itself without interpretation.

Unlike other parts of the Gospels, the passion narrative, especially in its longer version, reads as a single unit and can very easily be adapted as dramatic reading or presentation.  If so, a sermon might actually detract rather than add to the service.  After all, who needs to interpret a well-produced movie or play?

Liturgy of the Palms Readings:

PSALM 118:1-2, 19-29
118:1 This verse is repeated in Psalm 118:29.
118:2 This sounds like a liturgical direction.
118:19 What, and where, are the gate of righteousness?
118:20 What, and where is the gate of the LORD?
118:22 Why does this sound so familiar?
118:23 What is the LORD’s doing?
118:24 What day has the LORD made?
118:25 What sort of success is the psalmist praying for?
118:26 Who comes in the name of the LORD? The choice of this “Liturgy of the Palms” Psalm (say that three times) is obviously dictated by Matthew, as the “Liturgy of the Palms” Gospel Reading quotes Psalm 118:9. I think it can be argued that whenever the new Testament quotes a verse or two from a Psalm that the entire Psalm is drawn into the interpretation, as in an oral Jewish culture when most of the audience would likely have known the Psalm and thought of it even if only one verse were quoted.  We experience the same when someone today quotes a line from a familiar poem, song or document. We instinctively recall the entire text.  Yet few Christians know the Psalms like Christians once did, or Jews once did.  Incorporating this reading not only serves to ground the passion in its Jewish context but adds an interpretive introduction to the Matthew 21:1-11 reading and suggests that we might read Matthew 21:1-11 as Christian Midrash on Psalm 118.
118:27 What, and where, are the horns of the altar?
118:27 Here is a refrain that echoes Psalm 118:1.

MATTHEW 21:1-11
21:1 I wonder which two disciples Jesus sent.
21:2 Must we have both a donkey and a colt?
21:5 What prophet is quoted and why does it appear that the author of Matthew does not understand Hebrew poetry?
21:7 How did Jesus sit on two animals at the same time?
21:8 Are we sure the large crowd cut palm branches? Will you be using eco-palms this Sunday?
21:9 Where have we (and those in the crowd) heard this before? Why shout this?
21:10 Is this not the question we seek to answer?
21:11 Is this a satisfactory answer to the above question?

Liturgy of the Passion Readings:

ISAIAH 50:4-9a
50:4 I usually think of the teacher’s role being to educate, not “sustaining the weary with a word.”  I think of that as more of a preacher’s or shepherd’s role. Are the best teachers also the best learners?
50:5 What does it mean for God to open our ear and why is ear singular?
50:6-9 Do these verses justify this passage being chosen for this Sunday? How might these verses have influenced the Gospel accounts of the Passion?

PSALM 31:9-16
31:9-13 I can imagine hearing these words from the lips of Jesus as he was being crucified, or at any time during his passion.  This Psalm reads like the thoughts and feelings of the dejected, rejected, and defeated.
31:14-16 The Psalm, in the end, expresses prayerful trust. 

2:5 What mind was in Christ Jesus?
2:6 How does this verse both confirm and challenge our understanding of the Trinity?
2:6-8 These verses recall the passion.
2:9-11 These verses recall the resurrection.
2:10 What do bended knees symbolize or represent?
2:11 “Jesus Christ is Lord” is one of the earliest if not the earliest Christian Confession.  From this basic affirmation, how did we get to the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, not to mention the Westminster Confession?  There is something to be said for simplicity, but simplicity, rather than precision, leaves room for multiple interpretations and levels of meaning.  I can live with that. Can you?

MATTHEW 26:14-27:66
The longer reading, Matthew 26:14-27:66, is powerful if presented as a dramatic reading and can perhaps move and inform worshipers more than even the best sermon on this text.  If you have not yet already read my comments in the Preface, please do so now.  Rather than commenting on this Gospel Reading I will comment below on the abbreviated alternate.

MATTHEW 27:11-54
27:11-14 Why would Jesus not answer these charges? What amazed Pilot?
27:15-23 It it mere coincidence that both prisoners were named Jesus?  What does the name “Barabbas” mean?
27:18 What do you make of this “jealousy”?
27:19 Here is yet one more example of a truth telling woman.
27:24 This hand washing is perhaps what Pilate is most remembered for.
27:25 How shall we deal with this verse without being anti-Semitic?  Who is “us” and “our children”?
27:27-31 How did Mel Gibson deal with this? What is the danger of focusing on these verses?
27:32 We all have our own particular cross to carry, and if a Roman soldier asks you to carry a cross one mile, offer to carry it two. What ever happened to Simon of Cyrene?
27:34 Why would Jesus not drink?
27:38-44 Was there anyone who did not deride, mock, or otherwise taunt Jesus? Note that in Matthew both bandits taunt Jesus.
27:45 What is the significance that the darkness began at noon and lasted three hours?
27:46 Was Jesus quoting something?  What does he quote?
27:51 What is the symbolism of the torn curtain? What rocks split?
27:52 What Saints?
27:54 Truth is here spoken not by the disciples, not by a woman, not by any of the Jews, but by Roman soldiers. What lesson might we learn from this? 

I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Not too “Tired” to Hike

Sometimes the most hazardous and problematic part of hiking is just getting to the trailhead. For example, I recently set out to drive thirty-five  miles to my favorite nearby state park to undertake a five and a half mile circuit hike in near freezing temperatures. Since I had gotten a late start, I decided to stop along the way to grab some lunch. Hoping to find a Subway, I pulled into an unfamiliar parking lot. I misjudged where the curb angled down to road level at the entrance, hitting the curb so hard and fast that I blew out the sidewall of the right front tire.

The new tire replacing one with a blown out sidewall
I was able to park right in front of a Subway. Not to be deterred, I took the damaged tire off, stressing and straining my lower back muscles as I struggled to loosen the lug nuts, and installed the donut spare. Then I went into Subway, washed my hands, ordered lunch, sat down, and enjoyed it. I contemplated bagging my hike, turning around, and heading home so that I would not have to drive farther than necessary on the spare. I decided to proceed on to the park and go hiking.

After lunch and dispelling my doubts about continuing on, I drove the last fifteen miles on the spare, limping along at 50 mph on a four lane highway while others zoomed by at 60 to 70 mph. I arrived at the trail head a little before 1:30 PM, later than I had hoped, thanks to having to take the extra time to change the tire.

Soon after I started hiking I passed an older man and his golden retriever heading back toward the road. It turned out that they were the only beings larger than birds that I saw the rest of that afternoon. It seemed like I had the park and its trails to myself.

The breeze was chilling enough that soon after passing the man and his dog, I stopped to put on my Marmot PreCip jacket and a pile neck gaiter for extra warmth and protection from the wind. With the Marmot pile gloves and a wool cap I was already wearing, I was as warm and snug as a bug in a rug the rest of the afternoon. Keeping warm while hiking seemed less challenging than having to deal with the flat tire during the drive to the park.

The trails alternated between muddy and partially frozen with snow still covering some sections depending on their exposure to the sun. Three times I had to climb over or hike around downed trees that were blocking the trail. Enough water was running through one of the small streams that I was not able to cross it without walking through shallow water. Nevertheless, those trail hazards caused fewer complications than earlier misjudging the curb when turning into the parking lot at Subway.
A little over two and a half hours after I started my hike, I was back at the car, my leg muscles feeling a bit sore, but the rest of my body generally feeling renewed and refreshed by the cold air, brisk breeze, and winter scenery of the circuit hike. It also seemed that hiking had helped relieve the stress and strain I had been feeling in my back muscles. There was no longer any doubt that I made the right decision not to turn around and go home after the flat tire.

I imagine some of you have had your hiking or backpacking plans delayed or thwarted by any number of unexpected problems otherwise beyond your control. Or maybe, like me, you just misjudged the approach to the trailhead. Leave a comment and let me and others know what non-trail problems and hazards have impacted or interrupted your approach to the trekking trailhead.

This post originally appeared on The Trek.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 5th Sunday In Lent (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

EZEKIEL 37:1-14
37:1 What does it mean for “the hand of the LORD” to come upon a person?  Has the hand of the LORD ever come upon you or upon someone you know?  What does it mean to “be brought out by the spirit”? I interpret this reading as a vision experienced by Ezekiel, certainly not an account of anything that happened in real time and space, but only within the psyche of Ezekiel. That does not make it any less “real.”
37:2 Why is Ezekiel led all around?
37:3 Is there any significance to the fact that the LORD addresses Ezekiel as “Mortal” rather than by name?  Is the LORD asking a rhetorical question?  I think the “mortal” passes the buck with his answer.
37:4 Can bones hear? If dry bones cannot hear, then who or what can?
37:5-6 What linguistic and theological moves are being made by connecting breath with life
37:7 Apparently bones can hear!
37:8 Oh no! No breath! What good is the word of the LORD if there is no breath, no inspiration?
37:9 Can the breath hear? What do you know about the four winds?  I cannot read this passage without thinking of the four winds of Native American spirituality. When the last time you heard a worship leader refer to the four winds in a prayer, or use it in the liturgy? Note that the bones did not simply die. They were slain. What killed them?
37:10 Was the breath the last, or the most essential ingredient?
37:11 Oh, so these were not bones at all, but a living nation feeling dried up, proof positive that this is a vision not to be taken literally. How many aging congregations, large and small, feel like or even appear to be a valley of dry bones?
37:12 Is this verse about a physical resurrection or a spiritual resurrection, physical graves or metaphorical graves?
37:13 What sort of grave bound people is the mortal prophesying to?
37:14 What are the linguistic and theological connections among wind, breath, and spirit? IMHO, this is a verse that many aging congregations and congregations of the aging, often feeling “very dry” and completely cut off, almost in the grave, need to hear and reflect upon.  Are they willing, really willing, to have the LORD put the spirit within them?

121:1-8 This is not only one of my favorite Psalms but one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible, and one I have committed to memory. How might our interpretation and preaching being affected when we encounter one of favorite, or even least favorite, passages of Scripture?
121:1 What sort of images do you see or think of when you read or hear “out of the depths”.  I cannot but help but interpret “depths” from a Jungian perspective.  You might be more inclined to take a psychoanalytic reproach.  How many of us are not thinking of one form of depression or another?
121:2 When we implore the LORD to hear our voice, is it really to catch God’s attention or to focus our own?  What is a supplication?
121:3 Does the LORD mark iniquities, or not? Who can stand?
121:4 Forgiveness and Grace!  I like the translation “revere.” The KJV and RSV was “feared,” suggesting a wrathful God rather than an awesome God. What does it mean to revere?
121:5 Note the shift from direct address to narrative. What does it mean to “wait for the LORD”?  How do you “wait” for the LORD? In a culture of fast food and instant gratification, this verse might be more poignant today than ever before.  Why am I thinking of the contemplative tradition as well as centering prayer?
121:6 Is there something more going on here than Hebrew poetry?  Who watches for the morning? What does it mean for the morning watch when the morning arrives?  What does it mean for the person waiting for the LORD, hoping in God’s word, to see and witness the arrival of what one has been waiting for?
121:7 Note the shift from the first person narrative to direct address and admonition.  The Psalmist started out by addressing the LORD and is now addressing Israel. What is “steadfast” love? What power redeems?
121:8 Is this still direct address or a shift back to narrative? In other words: “Wait for no one or nothing else. Place your hope in no other person or no other thing than the LORD.”

ROMANS 8:6-11
8:6 This reads like a proverb and can almost stand on its own.  What does Paul mean by “flesh” and “spirit”? What does he mean “death” and “life and peace”? How many times and in what other places does Paul employ a flesh/spirit dualism? Does it make any difference that Paul was writing before Descartes and we are reading Paul’s letter after Descartes’ mind/body split?  How might the death and life of the Ezekiel 37:1-14 Reading inform our interpretation of Paul for this particular Sunday?
8:7 How does Romans 8:6 lead to Romans 8:7? What does Paul mean by “God’s Law”?
8:8 How might Paul’s statement run counter to the doctrine of the incarnation? Note that it is “in the flesh” and not “of the flesh.” Is that significant? After all, this is the Fifth Sunday “in Lent” and not “of Lent”!
8:9 If we are indeed “in the Spirit” as Paul says, then why did he have to say what he said in verses 6-8?
8:9-11 Does Paul use “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” synonymously? Is he really talking about “the Holy Spirit”? How many mainline Christians, especially staid Presbyterians, might find Paul’s focus on the Spirit unsettling?
8:10-11 Does it help or hurt to read this passage in juxtaposition with Ezekiel 37:1-14, especially Ezekiel 37:14?

John 11:1-45
11:1-45 Spoiler alert:  If you do not know how the Easter Story ends, this might give it away.  Is there any way to make this 45 verse Reading shorter while still maintaining its integrity?
11:1 Note that we told Bethany is the village of Mary and her sister Martha, but not told that both Mary and Martha are the sisters of Lazarus.
11:2 Why the redundancy of telling us Lazarus was sick? Where can we read about Mary anointing Jesus? What are we told that Lazarus was Mary’s brother but not directly told that Lazarus was Martha’s sister?
11:3 What is the nature of this “love”?
11:4  Jesus’ response sounds much like his response in last week’s reading, John 9:3. What is this “Son of God” language doing here?  I would expect to see “Son of Man” language.
11:5 Whereas Mary was named in 11:2 but Martha was not, Martha is named here but Mary is not.
11:6 Why the two day wait?
11:7 What is significant about Judea? Is there any significance to the “again”?
11:8 Is there a problem with the temporal language?
11:9 I know Jesus was speaking generally, but technically, there are only two days a year when there are twelve hours of daylight. Does the light/darkness dualism suggest a hint of Gnosticism?
11:10 Always have an external light source nearby if there is no light in you.
11:11 Was Jesus simply using a euphemism for death, or is there something else going on here?
11:13 I wonder how many times the disciples did not really understand what Jesus was talking about.  How many times do worshipers in the pews not understand the preacher?
11:14 No euphemisms here! Lazarus hadn’t “passed.” He had “died”! Christians on the resurrection side of Easter should not mask death with euphemisms and neither should preachers and pastors! Can I get off my soap box now?
11:15 Believe what?
11:16 Die with whom?  If Thomas means Jesus, then Thomas does not seem to doubt his resolve to follow Jesus to his own death.
11:17 What is the significance of four days? Did it take two days to travel from where Jesus had been to Bethany?
11:18 Is there any significance to this geographical information?
11:19 What does this suggest about Lazarus or about Mary and Martha?
11:20 Is this a typical Martha/Mary response? Do you go to meet Jesus or do you wait for Jesus to come to you?
11:21 Is Martha blaming, even berating Jesus for her brother’s death?
11:22 Is Martha expressing true faith or something else?
11:23 Why “Again”? When has he risen before? What does “ rose again” mean in the Apostles’ Creed?
11:24 What is the matter, Martha, is not the promise of resurrection on the last day enough to comfort you in your grief? By the way, just what is “the last day?”
11:25 Is this one of Jesus’ “I am” sayings?  Where do we find the other “I am” sayings and what are they? Is this passage nothing but background, creating the opportunity or supplying the context for this “I am” saying?
11:26 Do you believe this?  Exactly what are we being asked about?
11:27 Mary really does not answer the question, nevertheless, this reads, and sounds, like an early Christian confession of Faith. Once again, a woman get it right when the male disciples often got it wrong.
11:28 I did not hear Jesus calling for Mary, did you? Why the “privately”? After confessing that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world,” why does Martha refer to Jesus as “Teacher”?
11:29 Mary finally comes to Jesus.
11:30 Why did Jesus not accompany Martha when Martha went to Mary? I am detecting some plot holes.
11:31 Who were these Jews?
11:32 See John 11:21. Mary joins the blame game.  At least the sisters agree on something! Does Mary have a foot fetish?
11:33 Why would seeing tears disturb and move Jesus in a way he had not yet been moved and disturbed? Is there a difference between being “greatly disturbed” and “deeply moved”!
11:34 “Come and see” sounds like something someone would say about Jesus, not Lazarus. Maybe that is the point.
11:35 And what do we know about this verse?
11:36 To quote Tina Turner, “What’s Love got to do with it?”
11:37 Is this more than a rhetorical question? Are some of the Jews joining in on the blame game? How often do we want to blame someone, even God, when a loved one dies even of natural causes?
11:38 Is this nothing more than foreshadowing?
11:39 Is there any significance to the fact that it is Martha, rather than Mary, who comments about the stench?
11:40 When did Jesus say this to Martha?
11:41 Who are the “we”?
11:41-42 Are words sometimes better than silence?
11:43 Would Lazarus not have come out if he had not been called?
11:44 How did Lazarus come out if his feet were bound with strips of cloth?  How did he see where to go if his face was wrapped in a cloth? Could there be more to the command “Unbind him, and let him go” than meets the eye? Maybe Jesus was referring not just to the strips of cloth. Obviously we cannot read this at only a literal level, if at all literally.
11:45 How many are “many” and what about the Jews who had come with Mary but did not believe in him?

I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 for The 4th Sunday In Lent (Year A)

Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 is a further revision and refinement of my Lectionary Ruminations and Lectionary Ruminations 2.0.  Focusing on The Revised Common Lectionary Readings for the upcoming Sunday from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible, Lectionary Ruminations 2.5 draws on over thirty years of pastoral experience.  Believing that the questions we ask are often more important than any answers we find, without over reliance on commentaries, I intend with sometimes pointed and sometimes snarky comments and Socratic like questions, to encourage reflection and rumination for readers preparing to lead a Bible study, draft liturgy, preach, or hear the Word. Reader comments are invited and encouraged.

1 SAMUEL 16:1-13
16:1 How did the LORD speak to Samuel? The LORD calls the shots and chooses Kings, not Samuel.  What is a “horn” and what does it represent?
16:2 Who was more powerful and to be feared, Saul or Samuel? Where was this faux sacrifice to take place?
16:3 Why does the LORD keep focusing on Jesse rather than simply revealing the next king?
16:4 Why did the elders of Bethlehem tremble?
16:5 The Lord had instructed Samuel to invite Jesse but Jesse invites others as well.
16:1-5 I think there is some fascinating political intrigue being alluded to in these verses.  This sounds like nothing less than the makings of a coup d'├ętat with the LORD as the main instigator and conspirator.
16:6 Why would Samuel have thought that Eliab was the LORD’s anointed?
16:7 Good advice for political parties as well as Pastor Nominating Committees, or any nominating committee. Outward appearance certainly influences people, as do credentials, but how does one judge another’s heart?
16:8 How did Samuel know that Abinidab was not the LORD’s chosen?
16:9 The narrative is starting to drag.
16:10 Apparently the author also thought the narrative was starting to drag. Do you see any symbolism in there being seven rejected sons? Why are only the three sons named? How much does Jesse know about what Samuel is doing?
16:11 Why was the youngest son the only son not present and presented? Note how this verse mentioning that David “is keeping the sheep” connects this reading to the Psalm, especially Psalm 23:1.
16:12 How does this verse read when juxtaposed with verse 16:7?
16:13 What do you make of the spirit of the LORD coming mightily upon David after Samuel anoints him? I wonder what ever happened to David’s older brothers.

What can one of the most popular passages in the Bible tell us today that we have not already heard before? How can we read and hear it in new and unexpected ways?  How much does the First Reading, 1 Samuel 16:1-13, influence and inform our  interpretation of this Psalm?
23:1 Does it serve any theological or homiletically purpose to point out that “The LORD” is not a reference to Jesus but to the LORD God?  How many Christians hear this Psalm as a Psalm about Jesus rather than a Psalm about God? The shepherd imagery seems to draw upon 1 Samuel 16:11.  How might the shepherd imagery be lost or diminished in modern and urban culture?
23:2 As a backpacker and hiker, I resonate with the imagery of green pastures and still waters.
23:3 What does it mean for a soul to be restored? What is a right path?
23:4 Do you prefer the “darkest valley” of the NRSV or the “valley of the shadow of death” of the KJV and RSV? Why do we associate dark places with evil?  What is the difference between a rod and a staff?  How can a rod and a staff protect?
23:5 How does it feel to walk into a room and find a table prepared for you?  Would you sit at a table in the presence of your enemies and dine? What does it mean to have one’s head anointed with oil and one’s cup overflowing? Can we really speak of overflowing cups when in the Eucharist we barely fill little plastic cups containing less than a shot glass?  Can we speak of being anointed with oil when most congregations rarely, if ever, practice it?  I argue for anointing with oil at the time of Baptism as well as the anointing with oil when laying on of hands associated with prayers for healing and wholeness.   If we practiced more anointing with oil, this popular Psalm might actually mean even more than it already does to some people. Does 1 Samuel 16:13 inform this verse?
23:6 Is there a difference between goodness and mercy or is this pairing just the nature of Hebraic poetry? What does it mean to dwell in the house of the LORD all one’s life?  Is “the house of the LORD” a reference and/or allusion to the Jerusalem Temple or something else?

5:8 Can we read this verse in juxtaposition with Psalm 23:4?  Are there any racial issues or attitudes influencing us when we read this verse? What does it mean to live as children of light? Does the Dead Sea War Scroll shed any light on this verse?
5:9 I love this verse.  This verse sounds like something Gandalf might say to Bilbo, or Frodo might say to Sam.
5:10 And how does one find out what is pleasing to the Lord?  Does Paul have a scavenger hunt in mind? Do we not already know what is pleasing to the Lord?
5:11 What are examples of the work of darkness? Can one expose works of darkness without shining light on them?  I am thinking of Christian muckrakers, whistleblowers, and gadflies.  Something about old fashioned photography with film helps me appreciate this verse more than does digital photography.
5:12 What secret things do you think Paul has in mind?  Is this a reference/allusion to mystery religions, or something else?  Let us not forget the rumors that were spread about cannibalistic Christian rites when non-Christians were dismissed from the Eucharist.
5:13 There is something to be said about transparency in all things.
5:14 What is the author of Ephesians quoting from?

JOHN 9:1-41
9:1-41 This is one really loonnngggg Reading?  Are you going to shorten it?  I think I will use only verses 1-12. There seems to be some relationship between blindness, sight, and sin.  The man born physically blind receives his physical sight, while the Pharisees, born able to see physically, are spiritually blind and refuse to have their third eye opened.  The man was not a sinner while the Pharisees are portrayed as sinners.  I think this is the nature of John’s Gospel, often teasing us with the interplay of the physical and the spiritual as it compares and contrasts the two realms.  This is pre-modern stuff.  There is no Cartesian mind/body split in John.  Both the spiritual and the physical seem to exist in the same sphere but operate on different plains of awareness.
9:1 Was Jesus, like Socrates, a peripatetic teacher?
9:2 What is wrong with this question? Why did the disciples think sin was the cause of the man’s blindness?
9:3 What is wrong with this answer? Are all people born blind born that way so that God’s works might be revealed in them? What about people born blind who never receive sight?
9:4 Who are the “We”? What night is coming? Consider juxtaposing this verse with Ephesians 5:8
9:5 Where is Jesus when he is not in the world? Is Jesus the illuminated word of God? Are all Christians called to be light in the world?
9:6 Why spit on the ground and make mud and put it on the man’s eyes?
9:7 Why was the man not healed until after he went and washed? What might John be saying here? What healed the man, the mud made with saliva, the water in the pool of Siloam, Jesus, the man’s faith and obedience, or something else?
9:8 Why was he not identified as a beggar before now?
9:9 “I am the man” sounds a lot like one of the “I am” sayings of Jesus in John’s Gospel.  Might this be intentional?
9:10 This is a legitimate question.
9:11 Is there any significance to the construction “the man called Jesus”?
9:12 How could this man knot know where Jesus is?  What might John be suggesting in this verse? Do you know where Jesus is and how to find him? Or does Jesus, in reality, find us?
9:13 Who brought the man to the Pharisees and why?
9:14 Oh no!  Not the Sabbath?  Surely there must be a law against spitting or making mud on the Sabbath!
9:15 Why is this man being interrogated?
9:16 Imagine that, religious authorities having a divided opinion!  Let’s put it to a vote, after all, the majority is always right.  Or can church councils sometimes ere? Note that Jesus can cause division.
9:17 A radical proposal - let the one whose life was changed have the final word. Do prophets usually heal? Has Jesus just been demoted from incarnate Word of God to a mere prophet?
9:18 I think some skepticism is a good thing, don’t you?
9:19 Can the parents legitimately answer the last question.  Read this verse in juxtaposition with the question asked in 9:2.
9:20 Here are the Facts.
9:21 What does it mean that “he was of age”?  Are the man’s parents passing the buck?
9:22 Let us not forget that most scholars agree that John is the latest of the four canonical Gospels, perhaps here reflecting the historical split between Judaism and Christianity.  What did it mean – what would it have meant – for a Jew to “be put out of the synagogue”?  The man had previously, in 9:17, proclaimed that Jesus was a prophet.  Did the man’s parents think that Jesus was the Messiah but were afraid to say so?
9:23 Is this echo of 9:21 for mere emphasis or is there something else going on here?
9:24 The Pharisees knew Jesus was a sinner. What do we know?
9:25 This man seems to be choosing his words carefully.
9:26 Has the answer not already been established?
9:27 Is this sarcasm or acerbic wit?  I think the Pharisees doth protest too much.
9:28 Is this the only reference in Scripture to “disciples of Moses”? Was the man really a disciple of Jesus?
9:29 But we know where he has come from, don’t we?
9:30 An astonishing application of logic and astonishing testimony from who is turning out to be an astonishing man.
9:31 Do we really know this? Is this true?
9:32 Is this a true statement?
9:33 Perhaps this is the key verse!
9:34 The typical response to questioning and challenging personal and institutional authority. Why the plural “sins” rather than the singular “sin”?
9:35 After thirty-four verses of narrative, “Son of Man” terminology is raised.  Why the change?  Here is the progression as I see it:
            9:1 Rabbi
            9:17 Prophet
            9:22 The Messiah
            9:33 Man from God
            9:35 Son of Man
9:36 How many people in the pew will also ask questions about “son of man” terminology?
9:37 Is this the first time in John that Jesus has identified himself as “the son of man”? Of course the man born blind would not have been able to literally see the “Son of Man” had Jesus not healed him of his blindness! May Jesus heal all of us of our spiritual blindness?
9:38 And another step in the progression listed in the comments for 9:35. Now we have “Lord” and a statement of, not blind, but seeing faith.
9:39 Where do we find ourselves in this verse.  Where does the institutional church usually, or sometimes, find itself?
9:40 And the answer to this question is?
9:41 Does spiritual blindness excuse sin?  Perhaps there is something to be said for spiritual blindness. Perhaps spiritual blindness absolves one of responsibility.  Being spiritually illuminated brings with it spiritual responsibility.

I am a Minister Member of Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and am serving as the Interim Pastor of the Richmond United Presbyterian Church, Richmond, Ohio. Sunday Worship at Richmond begins at 11:00 AM. Some of my other blog posts have appeared on PRESBYTERIAN BLOGGERS and The Trek.