By the Rev. Jeff Crews — So, what is today’s reading from John (John 9:1-41) all about? Is it about punishment for sin? Is it about light and dark? Is it about healing? Is it about the blind man now seeing? Is it about the Pharisees grilling the blind man because they were trying to trap Jesus? Is it about mud? Is it about parents who turn their backs on their child? Is it about religious authorities threatening to kick someone out of the synagogue if they supported Jesus? Is it about a brave man, once blind, who stood up to the religious authorities? Is it about the Pharisees becoming angry because Jesus called them blind? Or is it about Jesus, the Son of Man, who brings transformation in Lent? What do YOU think this long story is all about?
Well, let’s ask the guidance of the Spirit as we think about these things together. Will you pray with me? “God of light, of laughter, of life, and Lent, we come humbly before you today and ask that your Spirit teach us about Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. May the words of our mouths and thoughts in our hearts be guided by your everlasting love. Amen.”
In our scripture lesson today we listened to a story about a blind man and many conversations that occur about and with the blind man who now sees. But the entire story starts with a very intriguing question from the disciples in verse 2. “Why is this man blind? Was it punishment for his parent’s sin or his sin?”
This is the question of the ages, really. Why do bad things happen to good people? For me, the converse is even harder. Why do good things happen to bad people? This age-old question is the question Job asked. “Why is this stuff happening to me, God?” Job’s “friends” scolded him, “Well, you must have done something to make God angry.” But Job replied, “No! I’ve been good! This stuff is just happening!” Finally, in exasperation, Job asks God, “Why are you doing this to me?” And God replies to Job the same way Jesus replies to the disciples here, “You are asking the wrong question.” What? That’s it? So what is the right question?
When bad stuff happens, what is the right question, folks? How do you respond to bad stuff? How do we respond? If our God means anything to us, our God must have an answer to this age-old question. We are going to look several places for an answer today. First, we will look at the story of Job, where God told Job that things just happen and humans will never fully understand—only God is God and we are not. While this is certainly an answer, it is not very satisfying. In fact, it feels like Mom saying to us, “Because I said so.” Ugh. The second place we will look is our lectionary passages for today, where the Psalm for today is the 23rd Psalm. The uplifting Psalm we love so well is a response to the previous 22nd Psalm’s question where the Psalmist asks, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In other words, why is bad stuff happening to me, God? The answer to this question is in the 23rd Psalm, and in particular, verse 4. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you, God, are with me.” God does not promise to fix things for us if we pray hard enough. Instead, God promises to always walk with us. Always. So what this means is that when bad stuff happens, for whatever reason, God will always be with us. God will not abandon us. There is immense comfort in that. We are never alone. The third place we will look for an answer is in our passage today, in how Jesus responded to the disciple’s question in verse 2 and the Pharisee’s question in verse 40. First, Jesus tells them both they are asking the wrong question because the question infers that God punishes us for sin. But Jesus says stuff happens not for punishment, but to allow God to be revealed to us, or, as Jesus phrases it, to move from night into light. Now, I will admit, I read verse 41 a dozen times and had no idea what Jesus was really saying. “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.” What? So, I went to the ancient Greek. Sure enough, that is a pretty good translation of the Greek. But I was still confused. So I started looking at other translations for help, and I found the trans-literation by Eugene Robinson called The Message to be the most helpful. That translation says in the angry response of the Pharisees demanding of Jesus, “Are you calling us blind?” Jesus responded, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.” Here Jesus says that we are not punished by bad stuff happening in our lives, but rather, we are held accountable by how we walk with God and respond to the stuff that happens to us.
So now let’s go back to our original question, armed with these three responses. Why do bad things happen to good people? From Job we get, “Just because. God is God. Stuff happens.” From the 23rd Psalm we get, “Stuff happens, but God will always be with us, no matter what, so we need not be afraid.” And from Jesus here we get, “God will always be with you, and God will be revealed in your loving response to the bad things in your lives.”
I don’t know about you, but the past few months have deeply tested my faith. How could we elect a President and congress so far from the truth of what Jesus taught as the Gospel? Where is God in this horrible mess? This passage teaches us the answer. God is right here with us in this mess. We are the hands and feet of God in this world. The Gospel challenges us to respond to bad stuff like hate and anger with love and compassion. When bad stuff happens, Christ followers respond in love, mercy, justice, and kindness.
So now, when you hear a televangelist say God is punishing us for our sins with a hurricane or storms or disease, you know Jesus said that is totally false. Stuff happens. And God shows up in how we live our lives in our response to the hurricane, in our response to the storm. God shows up in our response to our pastor retiring, or losing a love one, or something bad at work. Our passage today shows us there are two ways to respond to stuff. The people and then his parents responded to the blind man’s healing by rejecting Jesus. They did not believe Jesus. On the other hand, look at the series of responses from the once-blind man. At first he said “a man called Jesus” healed him. Later he calls Jesus a “prophet,” and finally he confesses Jesus as the Son of Man, a Jewish way of saying savior. While the blind man’s eyes are slowly opened in the story, the people and Jewish leaders become more and more blind. So here is the question our passage asks without ever using these words: What do YOU think of Jesus? [pause] The Gospel of John uses the word “sin” only in the singular. There is only one sin according to John: rejecting Jesus. When I grew up, my friends all went to a strict Baptist church. They had a long list of sins, all making moral mistakes like drinking, smoking, dancing or playing cards. But the Gospel of John rejects that, saying all moral laws are just social rules. The only real sin is rejecting Jesus.
So, here is the Good News. God loves you. Really loves you, even when bad things are happening to you. God will not abandon you. Ever. God loves you and invites you to live your life responding to the world in loving ways, even when bad things happen. No matter how much bad stuff happens, how much blindness is on your life, if you turn to Jesus and God, you will find your way through the darkest valley with God by your side. And as you follow Jesus, the blindness will fall from your eyes, and you, just like the blind man in our story, will begin to see.
[sing…] “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but NOW I see.” And God’s people say, “Amen.”