Fred Phelps, Pat Robinson, Jeremiah Wright, Gene Robinson, Robert Duncan, Marcus Borg, John Spong, Steve Pankey. All of these men have two things in common. First, they have declared themselves as followers of the Jesus movement in some way, shape, or form. Second, they have all been used by their detractors as nothing more than theological straw men, useful only such that they help to prove a point. Truth be told, each of these men has also been guilty of using others in the same way. In the post-Twitter world, where almost nothing happens that isn’t public within about 15 minutes and where snark and vitriol are used as currency, it is easy to think that this is a rather recent phenomenon, but the reality is that theological squabbles have utilized straw men from the very beginning. Think of names like Galileo, Nestorius, Pelagius, and Pope Clement VII.
Even before the Church existed, and long before the Christological debates of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, there were theological debates that utilized straw men to prove one point or another. A prime example comes in our Gospel lesson for Sunday where Jesus’ own disciples see a blind beggar on the side of the road and use him to start a debate. As if he isn’t even there, or at the very least, as if he doesn’t have ears to hear and heart to feel, they ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” From there, he gets used by his neighbors, the crowd, the Jewish leadership, the Pharisees, and to a certain extent, even his own parents, to wage a battle between Sabbath law abiding Jews and this Jesus character.
It is only Jesus who sees the Man Born Blind (MBB) as a human being. He answers the disciples question, as he stoops down to make mud and heal the man. When the MBB is ultimately expelled from the Synagogue, Jesus seeks him out and invites him into the Kingdom. Of course, that’s what Jesus is all about, reminding us of our humanity in a world that would rather label and dismiss us.