Jesus, Lent, Preaching

Followed by Jesus

It’s been popular in recent years to think about Lent as a journey with Jesus (so popular that it’s now considered lame to use that language), as opposed to a penitential season. Given that I grew up Southern Baptist, with no experience of Lent, and that I didn’t get it as a temporary Presbyterian, either, I can take or leave Lent. What I mostly like it for is the ramp-up to Holy Week. I like the idea of a period of particular and purposeful attention, whether it’s penitential or preparatory or perambulating. What I don’t like is getting to Easter and feeling like it just happened to Jesus and to us with no cost being paid by anyone. That bugs me. There is no Easter without Good Friday, and no Good Friday without the life and ministry and absolutely flagrant flame-throwing of Jesus that we focus on in the stories of Lent and Holy Week (if we pay attention to the stories in Holy Week, which largely, in UCC churches, we don’t).

Over the years I’ve been in ministry, I’ve varied my approaches to Lent, and this year I’m all about the dramatic encounters (great lectionary year for that), becoming more and more public as we get to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. First Jesus was alone in the wilderness. Then he had a secret meeting with Nicodemus, or in our case, took a secret hike to meet Moses and Elijah and told his buddies to keep it quiet. Then he had an unexpected conversation with a woman he should never have been talking to in the first place, and because she told people, the story begins to open out a bit. This week’s story of the Man Born Blind raises the drama because a crowd of neighbors, and then Pharisees, will gather. By the following week, Jesus is in some serious trouble with the authorities and his followers have to think twice about going with him back to see Mary, Martha and Lazarus. There are lots of people everywhere in that story.

And then the most of all as he enters Jerusalem.

So I love this arc of following Jesus from the most inward confrontation to the ones that other people witnessed, getting more and more dramatic all the way, foreshadowing both death and resurrection.

But I’m hung up on John 9:3, and I’ve been working that in conversations with friends, and also on Twitter, where my 140-character query or complaint will be met by all sorts of responses.

I just didn’t expect one from Jesus.

Well, from @JesusofNaz316, to be more precise. And it struck me in a funny place to have an email from Twitter saying I am now being followed by him.

But it occurs to me that we are all followed by Jesus, through our lives and our wrestling with old stories and how other people have interpreted them and our struggles with what it all means. That’s the whole point of the story. He came here, and he talked to people, and he argued with them, and he used wonderfully, horribly complex images to explain things that mean more in the context of that time than they do now.

And this week, when the text, or one verse out of 41, is a pebble in my shoe, I’m glad to think that every time I sit down to shake it out, he’s there, waiting to take the road with me again. We’re in this together, whatever we call it.

3 thoughts on “Followed by Jesus”

  1. So who says it's lame to think of Lent as a journey with Jesus? Hadn't heard that.There are a couple of disturbing parts in this reading…the one you cited, and the part about "being afraid of the Jews. I reminded my bible study group this week that this gospel was the last written and needs to be understood in the context of an audience already dismissed from the synagogues (although I guess some scholars debate that dismissal). The part about being born blind so that God can reveal God's works–that is hard to take.I'm cradle Episcopalian, so I can't even imagine life without Lent. I expect my observance of Lent isn't as penitential as it might be in some parts of the church, and like you, I see much of the value of Lent in preparing us all for Easter (just as the purpose of Advent is so that we don't go willy-nilly into Jesus in the manger) and that as we live in an increasingly secular world, that preparation is even more important.

  2. I loved the way you wrote the first paragraph and was intrigued by the idea of movement from private to public in the gospel.As for the pebble, the writer uses blindness in two ways: literally and figuratively. In fact the writer does this all the time ("water" last week; "birth" the week before), and each time people take it the wrong way. (It will happen next week too.) Just occurred to me that if we read that verse as talking about the second kind of blindness (spiritual), it makes sense. Most of the story's time is spent with the man's gradually understanding who Jesus is,while the religious leaders become more and more blind. The climax of this long story comes when the man's spiritual eyes were opened to see clearly that in Jesus is God's presence to be worshiped. In that sense this man's "journey," from the 2nd kind of blindness (which we all have) to seeing who Jesus is, is still guiding us 2000 years later.Of course, Jesus says some rocky things sometimes, so maybe I am trying too hard to smooth things over for him. 🙂

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