Just in time for the start of the baseball season, and this Sunday's gospel lectionary reading (John 9:1-41), I share with you one of the greatest comedy sketches of all time, Who's on First? by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.
This sketch is a hilarious example of miscommunication; what Bud is saying is completely misinterpreted and hence lost on Lou and vice versa. Of course we can tell it's intentionally set up that way, and when we concentrate we can enjoy the confusion that ensues when "Who," "What" and "I Don't Know" are proper names of baseball players. We can also enjoy all the exasperation that ensues as both parties try and get on the same page but simply can't.
It's all very silly but also gives us a chance to laugh at ourselves, for we've all been entangled in similar bad dances of non-connection and miscommunication. Sometimes even over baseball.
I bring John 9 into the conversation (when perhaps you were thinking I'd bring in "Who" :) ), because this is the kind of bad dance that's going on with just about everyone in this story. Jesus heals a blind beggar and no one can simply accept this miracle and celebrate the new life this now-sighted man now has.
Instead, everyone begins asking all sorts of questions about who did this and why, and the answers they get might as well be "Who" and "Why." They simply cannot accept what they're being told - that Jesus indeed performed the healing and he is the Messiah and it happened on the Sabbath and with God's blessing. They also cannot accept that notion that congenital blindness is not a punishment for sin.
So they keep asking these questions about who and why over and over again, in different configurations and sometimes to new people, but they still don't get anywhere, because the answers they receive they can't accept as answers. As Jesus notes at the end of the story, they're the ones who are really blind, and they'll never see. Not as long as they remain completely focused on the wrong questions.
And remain oblivious to what's truly going on: God through Jesus is doing all sorts of wonderful things all around them. If only they could let this main thing be the main thing….
Of course, that goes for us as well, and John's presentation of the story, with its madcap pacing, silly logic, and pinball machine-type direction of the action helps us laugh at ourselves and the blind folks we become when we focus on the futile task of getting God to manifest in the manner that suits our own preconceptions.
These ideas are developed from those shared by Dr. Craig Koester in his essay Comedy, Humor and the Gospel of John, found in the book Word, Theology and Community John, edited by John Painter, R. Alan Culpepper, and Fernando F. Segovia (2002, Chalice Press).
On a somewhat different note, I'd also like to share here a comedy sketch I wrote with the assistance of the "Fun with Lent Players" at the University United Methodist Church of Irvine. Through improvisational exploration, we came up with a similar-but-different take on the Blind Man story of John 9, one that also speaks volumes about the blindness and bad dances that confront and ensnare us, especially when it comes to cable news programming. Call it Blind Woman's Guff....