KARATE CHOPS & KICKS TO BREAK OPEN DARK DOORS
(Editor’s Note: The following sermon was delivered by the Venerable Irene Maliaman Igmalis as Guest Preacher at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, 130 Jerusalem Avenue, Hicksville, New York 11801 last March 26, 2017. Based in Guam, the Rev. Irene M is Archdeacon of Micronesia which is currently under the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii. Holy Trinity’ Hicksville in the Diocese of Long Island is a traditional parish emerging into an intercultural and multiracial church operating on a new vision of Revival, Evangelism and Discipleship.– Fred Vergara+)
GOSPEL LESSON: JOHN 9:1-41
The gospel lesson is a happy story with a tragic twist. A grand miracle happened. Jesus healed a man born blind. I imagine him dancing up and down and shouting: “I once was blind, but now I see.” One would expect that his family, neighbors and religious leaders share his joy and celebrate this wondrous healing. But the only person who is happy is the healed man. Not only are the neighbors and Pharisees unable to share his joy, they also had a hard time believing that the healed man was the same man they knew as the blind man before. As the story unfolds we glean that this unbelief come from the notion of the Jews esp. the Pharisees that if God were to show up, and if the miraculous healing were God’s work, the Pharisees would know for sure because they would recognize God’s way of doing things. In the mind of the Pharisee, God looks just like them, acts like them, thinks like them and follow their rules. They were certain that God is not present in this Jesus fellow because he healed during the Sabbath. God would never heal on the Sabbath, they claim. Healing from God occurs only in prescribed ways and times and anything else cannot come from God. The Pharisees were blinded by their hard core adherence to their traditions and perceptions of what God does, and how God works and what God looks like. They could not think of God and God’s work outside of their preconceptions and rules. And so they drove the man out from the synagogue.
This passage reminds me of the Allegory of the cave by the 4th century philosopher Plato. Plato tells of prisoners chained inside a cave with their backs toward the entrance. All their lives, these prisoners can only see the wall in front of them. Unable to turn their heads all they could see are shadows on the wall. The prisoners name these shadows and discuss among themselves what these objects are. They see shadows of dogs, cats, and people walking and believe the shadows are real. One day a prisoner breaks out of his chain and went outside of the cave for the first time. Initially the light hurts his eyes and finds the new environment outside the cave disorienting. When told that the things around him are real and the shadows in the cave are just reflections, he cannot believe it. The shadows appeared much clearer and more real to him. But gradually his eyes adjust, and he was able to distinguish reflection from the real thing. He returns to the cave to share his discovery to the prisoners. The prisoners thought the journey outside the cave has made him stupid and blind and they started to laugh at him thinking him crazy. They violently resist any attempts of the freed prisoner to free them from their chains so they too can go outside and look and enjoy the beauty of the real world.
Plato used this story to make the point that most people are not just comfortable in their ignorance, they are also hostile to anyone who points it out. That is actually happened to the teacher of Plato, Socrates, who was imprisoned for disrupting the social order in Greece and corrupting the youth because of his philosophy.
I think that one of the ways we are blind to the new things God is doing in our midst is through stereotyping. Stereotyping is our tendency to define people and put them in certain categories or boxes for our convenience. In the gospel lesson, the neighbors of the healed man knew him only as “the blind man” and when he became a seeing man, they could not recognize him.
The past two weeks I was with 19 other women from the Episcopal Church as one of many Non-Government Organization participants to the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW). The UNCSW is the largest gathering of women around the globe to advocate for gender equality and empowerment of women. Women hold one half of the globe, yet they are often rendered invisible, nameless, and voiceless, by “blind” society which does not treat women as equal human beings with men and does not include women in the decision making tables. Let me cite to you some UN data about the marginalized and disadvantaged status of women:
· For an equal work, women earn 23 cents lower than men to a dollar. The UNCSW calls this the 23% robbery. According to research the pay gap moved closer by 2 points only from 2004 to 2014, and at this rate, parity will be reached by 2059. As Patricia Arquette has pointed out, an ambassador to the UN, a lot of things have changed in the world i.e. cellphones, self-driving cars and yet, women still get paid lesser than men for an equal work.
· Women are also over represented in the care economy otherwise known as domestic work which are mostly unpaid or underpaid. And because caregiving work is mostly done by women, and are not monetized, many women do not get the benefits of regular employees such as health insurance, pension or social security which also make them vulnerable. Many women stay in abusive relationships because they do not have economic means and social security.
· Worldwide, 1 in 3 women experience sexual abuse mostly from their partners.
· 15 M girls are married off before the age of 18. This means every 2 seconds a girl is given away for marriage. But a marriage of a 10 years old girl to an adult man three times her age is not actually a marriage, it is legalized rape of a child. That is a lot of girls. And this will continue if it will not be stopped. (If you want to know more about the status of women in the world and the advocacy work of UN on this matter, google UN women).
Many people remain oblivious to the plight of women, pointing out that women’s status have improved a great deal. They trivialize and ridicule the advocacy for women’s rights as human rights. Indeed a lot have changed since women were allowed to vote, ordained as priests and bishops, became military generals and walked on the moon, but there are still many unnecessary barriers that prevent women from flourishing. There are traditions, stereotypes and norms that box women to certain roles in life.
The gospel makes the point that although we have eyes to see, there are things that blind us and prevent us from seeing even what is obvious. We all have blinders. These blinders draw lines around what is of God and not of God, or what women can and cannot do, or what men can and cannot do. It helps to be aware of our blinders and see beyond these so as not to remain in the dark.
Additionally, we learn that change is disruptive is therefore uncomfortable and painful as it challenges old models and old views of seeing things.
As we continue our journey this season of Lent, the gospel challenges us to come out of the darkness, come out from shadows of the past, of old images of ourselves, and of things that keep us in chains. Let us come out of the shadows of biases and stereotypes that degrade other people and that prevent us from celebrating the new things God continues to create in the world. And just like Jesus opened the eyes of the blind man that he might see, we pray that God opens our eyes, remove our blinders that we may see clearly as God sees. Amen.
I could end here, but just for emphasis, and also just for fun and for kicks in this cold morning, I invite you to stand and let us do a karate chop as our act of kicking open the prison doors that keep us in the dark. At the count of three, let us do the karate chop and shout “hee ya! Hee ya! Hee ya! three times. Amen.
PHOTOS BY ANGELA VINLUAN VERGARA