John 9: 1 – 41
Christ UMC, Rochester
Preached on March 22, 2020
Someone asked me an honest and heartfelt question:
Did God send the pandemic?
Are we being punished for some kind of sin or badness?
Why is this happening?
Have you asked this question?
The question of why it is bad things happen is as old as human being.
And it is the question that echoes throughout this morning’s scripture reading.
Let me set the stage:
Jesus has been healing and teaching.
He has told those who love him and follow him that he will die.
He has challenged those around them to live their faith and to open themselves to the wonder of how it is in the beginning was the Word and Jesus IS that Word and he is alive in their midst and the response of those listening to him?
They pick up stones to throw at him.
They don’t want to have to move out of their convictions and into possibility.
So Jesus leaves the temple and walks along and he encounters a man who was blind form birth and do the disciples want to know how they can help this man?
Their first questions is one we – if we are honest – ask, because asking questions about who is to blame keeps our hearts from being engaged.
Rather than allowing themselves to know that the man was forced to beg for his sustenance in the public square, they begin a conversation that will keep them safe from empathy.
So those disciples ask Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, the man or his parents, that he was born blind.”
In order to really encounter this human thing that the disciples did and that we do, I can think of no finer teacher than Dr. Brene Brown:
https://youtu.be/RZWf2_2L2v8. (Brene Brown on Blame)
So the followers of Jesus do the human thing of wanting to blame rather than risk empathy but Jesus won’t have it.
He tells them that there is no-one to blame for this man’s struggle.
He doesn’t shame them for asking the question but he teaches them that hiding out in such questions is not his way.
Jesus moves into healing action.
He takes the most elemental things at hand – the dirt below his feet and the spit in his mouth – and he created of them a paste and he puts that paste on the man’s eyes and tells him to immerse himself in the pool of Siloam – which means “sent”.
And the man does that and his sight is given him. A man born blind is made to see because the most elemental things can open the physical and metaphorical eyes of creation is we allow it to be so.
And the response from the neighborhood?
They do not throw a party. The mutter and sputter and drag that man to the religious authorities and they want to know how he received his sight and they seem to be more worried about Jesus breaking Sabbath rules than about what his compassion made possible.
They interrogate the parents and threaten them with expulsion from community if they don’t back up their outrage.
Imagine! The most amazing miracle of the parent’s lives happened and they are instantly immersed not in joy but in fear.
The authorities are terrified and spiteful because of the unlimited expanse of God’s healing power.
(Read John 9: 24 – 40
I laughed to myself as I read this text during the past week.
Spit! Carrier of coronavirus! Mixed with dirt and put on eyes (which would involve touching of face!) and washing in a communal pool and questions about how this happened and who sinned and who should be held reponsible – the man’s parents or, in our day and age, another country or government or God or ??????
We are rightfully afraid in these days.
I am afraid.
This virus is an unseeable foe and it has the power to change our lives in ways we little want to think about but here is what I want for you and for me and for those who follow the teachings of Jesus.
Of course we want to know why this happened and where God is in the midst of all of this.
From this morning’s story we learn that God is in following the lead of Jesus.
Our call as disciples is to lean into the power of how it is healers are a work day after day after day in this city and across the world, sometimes using the most rudimentary equipment – not spit and mud bu inadequate masks and limited tests and food on the grocery store shelves – to offer compassion and life to others.
Living as we do in the midst of a time we could never have imagined, let us look to what it is God’s people are doing because, like Jesus, we see need and we do what we can.
We serve meals on Saturdays in a to-go way so that our guests have a hot meal.
We provide excellent child care at Thrive so that parents can do the work our community needs.
We reach out through phone calls and prayer services at eight PM every night on Facebook and this is a time when we live into this power:
Jesus can open our eyes and our hearts.
There is healing work to be done.
The old certainties are no more.
German political thinker Rudolph Bahro has written an article that contains a line we ought to take to our hearts and ponder.
“When an old culture is dying, the new culture is created by those people who are not afraid to be insecure.” (Cited by Pema Chodrun in her book Practicing Peace in Times of War pg. 88)
It seems we are living in a time when an old culture is dying.
We are living into the birth of a culture where we are poignantly and powerfully aware that:
We need each other.
We need to care for each other.
this is an insecure time.
And, in exactly such a time as this,
Jesus has the power to open the eyes of our hearts.
May it be so.