Lent 4 2017 ~ Opting Out

‌March 26 2017

READINGS: 1 Samuel 16:t 1-13 – ­­Ephesians 5: 8-14 – John 9: 1-41

Opting Out of the Culture of Outrage

My son often uses his travel time to chat with his mother. This week he announced his decision to opt out of the current culture of outrage, thanks, in part. to an article in Cracked magazine.

Now Jon has always enjoyed a good Rick Mercer style rant when the world isn’t going the way he

thinks it should. But he’s decided not to let every ridiculous thing that happens infect his entire day because that doesn’t mesh with his theology or the way he wants to live his life.

This Lent he has been encouraging his parishioners to ponder the questions – What do you want from this life? And who do you want to be in that story? And, with that in mind, Jon knows he doesn’t want to be  the kind of person who wakes up every morning and grabs his cell phone to see what is happening in the senate or the south – before he hugs his spouse. That’s not the kind of person he wants to be.

Now, there is nothing wrong with being outraged when something outrageous happens. Jesus is outraged when he encounters things like social injustice and hypocrisy.  But then he fixes the problem: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, speaking out against the misuse of power and authority. But when people or cultures are bored or depressed there is a tendency to not only jump on the boat of outrage but to continue to sail on it because its addictive.

Outrage produces the natural high of a dopamine boost in the brain. And while that may give temporary relief to depression or boredom, by itself, it does little to fix the underlying problem. And it leaves us vulnerable to manipulation. That’s why pushing the outrage button has become a favourite    political tactic in cultures that are bored or depressed. It allows for a boost while deflecting attention away from underlying problems that need attention.

In today’s gospel, the Pharisees are outraged with Jesus’ behaviour.  How dare he come onto their turf and heal someone on the Sabbath! Healing is work and working on the Sabbath is against the law. They would like everyone to acknowledge their indignation as righteous, by tapping into the outrage.  But no one is taking the bait and Jesus just gets on with the story.

The simple truth is that God often works outside the established social, political or religious order of the day.  God has Samuel anoint a shepherd boy named David while Saul is still king.  Both John the Baptist and Jesus operate on the fringes of the temple and the synagogues.  As Jesus told Nicodemus, the spirit of God blows where it wills. But that leaves us in a difficult spot. How can we tell if someone or something is of God?

The truth is that while the Pharisees may be protecting their own turf in challenging Jesus’ actions, they are also doing their job.  Religious leaders are not only guardians of the faith we are also supposed to try and protect the sheep from the wolves- especially wolves in sheep’s clothing.  And we have a long history of seemingly godly people misleading or misusing the flock. So, how do we know who to listen to, who to follow?

We begin with the same line of questioning the Pharisees used: what kind of fruit do we see being produced?  As Paul says, the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.  While it can be annoying when some people operate outside the rules and traditions of the established order, if it bears good fruit that is healthy and life giving, then we can assume it is of God. For how could anyone do good work – bear good fruit – apart from God?

Jesus heals on the Sabbath. He’s well aware of the commandment to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. But he also knows that the Sabbath is meant to give humanity a chance to breathe and focus on God.  It’s not meant to be an impediment to healing.

By the end of today’s story, some of the Pharisees are asking themselves, “are we, in fact, the ones who are blind?” – that is spiritually blind. To which the Son of Man replies, now that your eyes have been opened, you may want to rethink your behaviour or you are being willfully blind. And that gets in the way of your relationship with God and each other.

So, I leave us today with Jon’s questions to ponder: what do you want from this life? And who do you want to be in that story? And I suggest that, as we think about these questions, we keep in mind Paul’s advice to the Ephesians: find out what is pleasing to the Lord and allow that to influence our decisions.  One thing we know for sure is that God wants us to bear good fruit that is life-giving to all.

From time to time, that may even include the occasional rant born of outrage at hypocrisy, social injustice, and the misuse of power, as long as it shines light on the situation that needs to be addressed, and we don’t let the outrage take control of our lives.

Pat Martin +