Topic: Displaying God's Power
Text: John 9:1-5
They say that everything happens for a reason. The disciples thought so. That is why they ask Jesus the question they did: "Who Sinned... That this man was born blind?" They ask this question because they made two assumptions. First, they believed that they live in a moral universe of good and evil. Second, they believe that congenital defects, like other misfortunes, are Divine punishments for human misbehavior.
When we say that everything happens for a reason, we are usually thinking about "negative" things like blindness, lost jobs, accidents, and natural disasters. We are trying to make sense of bad times. But what about the "positive" things that come our way? What if you land a high paying job or fall in love with the most beautiful girl in the world or win the Lottery? Do things like that happen for a reason? And why is it that a lot more "negative" than "positive" things happen?
The disciples' question was the concern of not just a few. It expresses a way of thinking ingrained in first century Hebrew thinking. God rules the world. He knows everything and He promises to take care of those who serve Him. It is natural that they would assume the blind man had done something to deserve his blindness. This way of thinking went all the way back at least to Job's day. His three friends heard he had suffered the loss of his children, possessions and health. They believed that Job had sinned or else the almighty God wouldn't have let this happen. If Job would only confess and repent, God would take away his troubles. They knew Job must have sinned, for if God didn't bless the rightous and punish the wicked then the universe would fall apart. For them, things happened for the reason that God's justice be served. Many think like this today.
But what about babies? Why are they born blind? Or with spina bifida? Or Down's Syndrome? Surely there is an explanation we can live with.
The human standpoint allows but three answers to the disciples' question. We will see how Jesus provides a fourth answer.
First, we cloud say that the man had sinned prior to his brith. Those who believe in reincarnation believe this. One evening I was watching one of those late night sci-fi news shows. One of the stories was about a New Age artist who claimed to have the ability to sketch people as they appeared in a past life. Those who believed in reincarnation would have no problem with this answer to the disciples' question. Yet it is inconsistent with first century Hebrew thought. If there are no past lives it becomes difficult to conceive how a person could sin in the womb.
Secondly, we could say that man's parents sinned. It is quite certain that the mother and father did sin. But the scripture no where teaches that God levels punishment upon others for my sin. "The soul that sins shall die." What can and does often happen is that others suffer from the consequences of my sin. A baby suffers because of a mother who drinks while carrying her. A teen dies in an accident caused by someone who drinks irresponsibly. A Chinese laborer lives in poverty because because American consumers value inexpensive clothing above human rights. The innocent suffer much in this world because of the sins of others. The occasion of such things is evidence that God does not always prevent them from happening.
Thirdly and finally, we could answer that no one sinned. In other words, "stuff happens." Many see life as a game of chance; the chaotic throwing of the dice. Evolutionary fatalism; people are adrift on a cosmic sea of meaningless. Would Jesus have given this cynical, or at best stoical, answer? He would not have because He Himself is the One in whom all things hold together.
Through the benefit of His broader perspective, Jesus gives a fourth and better answer. "Who sinned is not the real issue here. We could spend all day debating the question and accomplish nothing. What matters is this: how can the glory of God be displayed in his life and yours?
The disciples didn't even see the man at first, look at verse one, Jesus noticed him. When He pointed him out, sitting there begging, the disciples didn't see someone to help; they saw an issue to discuss. While we are quick to debate issues, Jesus is meeting needs. The need of others is the occasion for the work of God to be done. It is not so important that we know why evil happens or why the innocent suffer. What is important is our response to such evil and innocent suffering. Jesus says that we will not have forever to respond. "The night is coming when no man work."
Our natural response to the suffering of others is what Jesus might call the works of man. This is expressed in three steps.
First, we talk about other people's problems:: "Isn't it awful what happened to Sam and Theresa. After all those years together... "What we are doing is NAMING THE PROBLEM.In doing so, we obtain a measure of distance from it (and hopefully protect ourselves). The person becomes a case study or an item of gossip. The sufferer is no longer our concern; the issues which his suffering raise are the concern. It is much safer for the rest of us this way.
Our Second Step Is To Lay Blame For The Problem:"If she had only been more responsive to his needs..." Like detectives or prosecutors, we seek a verdict which is beyond a reasonable doubt. Loose ends are uncomfortable so we try to tie them up in assumptions that do not hole water.
Thirdly, We Disclaim:"I'm glad that Susan and I would never..." Here, we raise ourselves above the poor fallible soul who could have avoided disaster if only he were more like us.
What is common to these human reactions and what so concerned our Lord is that self preservation lies at their hearts. The disciples are concerned about themselves, not the blind man. This is what powerless people always do. They must find some assurance that the same thing will not happen to themselves Or to loved ones. Even something as an argument will suffice. Jesus was not concerned with personal comfort or survival. His ambition was that the glory of God always be revealed. This is the whole reason why the blind man was born, It is the whole reason why anyone is born.
How was the glory of God shown in this blind man's life? First, the man gained his sight ( a physical good). Second, the man came to know Jesus as the Christ ( a spiritual good). Third, the man's family and community encountered the power of God ( a social good).
Jesus' Response to evil and Suffering illustrates the work of God. While disciples of the first and twentieth centuries get into Naming, Blaming and Disclaiming sin, Jesus is quietly but steadily Reclaiming sinners.
A college girl took part in a Sociology class trip to the inner city. Their professor built her lecture around the sights they saw. The students discussed many questions about poverty. inadequate education and other matters. The group turned a corner and entered a particularly run down neighborhood. Near the curb, a little girl played in the refuse which had gathered after a recent rain. She was grimy; her hair stringy and her clothing soiled. She looked up from the gutter with eyes made dull with inner pain. The student was appalled. "How can she live like that? Where is her mother?" The teacher sighed. "That little girl's mother probably loves her very much, but she doesn't hate dirt. You hate dirt, but you don't love that little girl. Until hatred for dirt and love for her combine in the same person, she will very likely remain as she is."
It is easy for us to debate the rightness and wrongness of things. It is much harder for us to get involved. Only as we get involved can the glory of God be shown. Man's disability is God's opportunity.
How can you do the work of God this week? Take time to see the real people in your life. Everyone you meet is living out a story of justice, holiness and unholiness, love and hate, mercy and judgment. There are dreams which are dying and dreams which are being pursued. They may appear to be Christian. Om the other hand, they may appear far from Christian. Resist stereotypes and labels. Resist the tendency to name, blame and disclaim. Don't worry about what you can't do; do what you can. And above all, pray. God is already at work. He invites you to join Him.
In a world where stuff happens, we believe that everything happens for a reason; even encounters with blind men.