To encounter Jesus is to invite change. (Listen.)
The crowd was in uproar. ‘It’s him,’ some said. ‘Don’t be stupid!’ said others, ‘It’s just someone like him.’ ‘I’m still me,’ she said, ‘and this is what happened.’ But nobody was listening. Instead, the religious leaders weighed in. ‘He changed at church, but it’s totally against the Bible,’ said some. But others wondered; and so they were divided.
Some in the crowd were saying she’s a sinner. Others blamed the parents. So they turned on the parents and demanded to know what had happened. Under the force of the crowd’s fear and loathing, the parents were afraid. ‘She’s still our kid,’ they said. ‘But we don’t know what happened. Ask her. She’s a grown up.’ And they slipped away.
So the religious leaders interrogated her again. Who are you? Why did you change? How did this happen, and when? She pointed to Jesus and explained scripture to them. But this enraged them further, and they drove her away.
Jesus heard what had happened. So he went looking for her; he found her on the margins. There, he deepened her understanding even further; and she worshiped him. But she didn’t go back to her old community.
This is the story of a blind person being given eyes to see. It could be the story of a miser selling all his possessions and giving what he had to the poor, or a silenced person finding their voice and speaking back to power.
Or it could be the story of a trans person becoming integrated. ‘It’s still me,’ she says, ‘in fact, this is who I really am, who I was all along.’ But nobody is listening. Instead, they argue about her; they drag in the parents; they try to apportion blame. They dismiss her own testimony and the way Jesus is visibly at work in her life. They ignore the fruit of the spirit. They claim to know the scriptures back to front: then, in rejecting her, they reject the law of love. Yet when they encounter Jesus themselves, they insist on their own righteousness. But Jesus says to them, ‘If you simply didn’t see, that would be fine. But as long as you claim to have all the answers, you continue to live in sin.’
Again and again in the gospel, people are changed by an encounter with Jesus. Again and again, it leads to uproar. Their families are afraid, their communities are enraged, and powerful religious types can’t stand it. ‘How dare you!’ they thunder. How dare you see clearly, walk freely, speak publicly, or ask to be called by another name! Yet transformation is at the heart of our faith.
A motley group of fishermen, tax collectors and sinners encounter Jesus. Their hearts swell within them, and they are transformed into passionate disciples, apostles, evangelists, preachers. They change, and the world changes with them.
Saul encounters Jesus on the road, and his whole world is turned upside down. He is transformed from vicious religious thug to passionate proclaimer of the gospel, and henceforth he asks to be known as Paul. He changes, right down to his name; and the world changes with him.
Bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ; a little boy’s lunch becomes a miracle of abundance; a tiny seed becomes habitat for birds; a bath becomes a river crossing becomes a cleansing of hearts and minds, a grafting into the body, a death, new life, and so much more. When placed in God’s hands, everything is transformed.
Even Jesus changes. He is baptized, and something like a bird lands on his head. He climbs a mountain, and his face is transfigured into light. He is challenged by a Syrophoenician woman, and his ministry focus changes. He is executed, buried, and raised again, into new but still recognizable form. Again and again, Jesus is transformed, moving always towards a bigger, wilder, realer self aligned ever more closely with God.
So I find it bizarre when people who claim to follow Jesus reject change in themselves and others. ‘You want to be called Paul? What are you, some kind of woke snowflake?! We know who you really are, Saul, and you’re staying that way, Saul.’
‘You’re finding your voice? You think you have something to say? Well, listen to this, little lady: Women shouldn’t speak in church, and this pulpit belongs to me.’
‘You think you’re the expert in your own life and your encounter with Christ? As if! Your way of life is a choice, and a sin. We know scripture, we know what it’s about, and you? You have no idea.’
To these angry, suffocating, fearful people Jesus says, ‘If you simply didn’t see, that would be fine. But as long as you claim to have all the answers, you continue to live in sin.’
But to those who are willing to live with mystery, with humility, with hearts wide open to God and others, perhaps he would say something else. Because the chapter headings in our Bibles are arbitrary, and Jesus keeps speaking right through into chapter ten. I am the gate, he goes on to say. My sheep hear my voice. I came that they may have life, and have it in abundance.
Abundant life, like when a trans person transitions into their real self, and the community trusts their testimony, embraces them and protects them from any uproar, and is careful to use their preferred pronouns and their new, true name.
Abundant life, like when a gay couple comes out of the shadows, and finds their marriage is honoured and upheld, and their baby enfolded by the community’s tenderness, love and blessing.
Abundant life, like when ordinary people like you and me come together to form a new body, a praying community, a sharing economy, a witness to love; a place where people hear deeper truths than the ones they have been sold; a place where they glimpse heavenly realities, and continually grow and change.
As followers of Jesus, then, let us stay open to the mysteries of life and the abundance of gospel living. Let us allow God to continually transform us into our bigger, wilder, realer selves. As we do so, we will become more aligned with God, and we will probably experience pushback. So in the face of it all, let us pray, let us love, and let us stand firm together—and let us never, ever, ever be afraid of change. In the name of the One who makes and continually remakes the world: Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer: Amen. Ω
Given the extraordinary hatred and harm poured out on so many trans folk by self-described Christians, why not share this with a trans friend, with love.
A reflection by Alison Sampson on John 9:1-41 given to Sanctuary on 19 March 2023 © Sanctuary 2023 (Year A Lent 4), encouraged by a piece by Father Nathan Monk, here, and from whom I have stolen some observations. Photo by Kyle on Unsplash.
Sanctuary is based on Peek Wurrung country; full acknowledgement here. Autumn has arrived with cool nights and crisp mornings. But in the late afternoon sun, clouds of midges still swarm. I pay my respects to elders past and present. The peace of the land be with us all.
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