Considering Sunday’s lectionary, our clergy study group focussed discussion on the drama that unfolds between Jesus, a blind beggar and the supporting cast that gives both depth and meaning to the story. Dorothy challenged each of us to take the point of view of one of the actors, excluding Jesus and the beggar. It wasn’t easy, and the conversation quickly moved in another direction.
Bill, our classics professor, wouldn’t let it drop. What if the guy never was blind, he asked? That’s what some of the supporting cast believed. It reminded me that during our years in NYC my wife and I encountered several blind beggars almost daily. After a hard day of work begging (and begging is not easy work), they could often be spotted walking briskly toward the subway with no apparent problem. The same for a few who were wheel chair bound or even "legless." There were, of course, beggars who really were blind or wheelchair bound. Therein lies the question. Hard hearted skeptics only want to see the fakers. It's a great way to deny a problem while assuaging personal guilt at the same time.
It’s not a new question. Obviously it’s a part of the biblical story, and Bill reminded us of the statute passed by the English Parliament during the reign of Henry VIII against “so-called false Egyptians (Gypsies), mountabanks (street entertainers), and sturdy beggars (those who are able to do manual labor but refuse to do so)...”apparently passed by parliamentarians who were, in effect, “conservatives” indignant at “welfare cheats”!
It’s not only easy to dismiss blind beggars if one is a skeptic who can only see fakers, it’s just as easy to dismiss Jesus as a sentimentalist who has a naive understanding of the way the world works. That’s not an accusation to be self righteously leveled at the skeptical neighbors and Pharisees found in John’s narrative. It’s an embarrassing and probing question that needs to be a part of our own Lenten discipline of self examination.