A Result of Negligence

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A, RCL

John 9:1-41

Christ heals a blind man. We could almost leave the story here, thinking to ourselves what a great miracle; Jesus heals a poor beggar. We could pass by this story thinking that this man has been healed and his life is now wonderful; because sight must have made his life better. But if we did walk past this story in such simple terms, we would be like so many of the people in this story who simply walk past this blind beggar each day, never giving him a second glance.

Let’s look at a few details. This blind man was healed purely by God’s grace. At the time of his healing, the blind man did not have faith in Christ. The blind man didn’t know him or ever see him. Jesus found this man and healed him. Notice that Jesus never asked the blind man if he wanted to be healed. It was just grace poured out, without asking, without reason, without doing anything. It is for this reason that I find such great comfort in this story. For when I question, or wonder where God is in the world, or in my life, all I have to do is look at this blind man and know he is here with me; offering me grace upon grace.

This story gets even more interesting. Through gaining his sight this poor man lost his family. His parents reject him out of fear of retribution. Then this group of Pharisees reject him; putting him out of the community. Through this action, the blind man would have lost all forms of social and economic resources. He became a pariah in his town and would have been worse off than when he was blind. We are left unknowing what happens to this man. The story doesn’t say that he becomes a disciple and follows Jesus. All we know is his entire community has rejected him.

As we continue to delve into this story we will learn what he gained, but first, let us look at some of the other characters. The disciples' initial question; “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Notice that this question doesn’t leave room for other possibilities. From the disciple’s point of view, the only answer is that someone sinned. But Jesus tells us the reality and the truth; “No one sinned.” In a similar vein, the Jewish leaders also ask questions and make accusations. And we find that their thoughts are steeped in their own culture of right and wrong, lawful and unlawful, they leave no room for alternatives. They want to know “Who is lying” and there is no space for the possibility that Jesus could be the messiah or that God worked in a wonderful way. The only conclusion they are left with is that the blind man is either lying about being born blind or that he believes in a false prophet.

The blind man was given every opportunity to conform to social pressures and deny what happened. He could go with the flow and life would have been much better than it was before. But instead, he stands up for the truth. This conviction of the truth comes before he knows Jesus as the Lord. At this point, he says Jesus might be a prophet and he knows what happened to him was very special. It has never happened to anyone in the history of the world. This man is unwilling to deny what has happened. And he remains open to possibilities that are beyond his comprehension and explanation. This man took the more difficult path and this path brought him to the recognition the Jesus is the Messiah. No finger pointing was necessary. No sin had to be committed. God’s grace poured out giving the man the ability to see the world around him. Sight to see the possibilities of God working in his life even when everyone else he knows is naysaying.

In our society, right now, there is a lot of finger pointing going on. People are blaming China for the pandemic. Some are blaming Italy for not acting sooner. Other are pointing fingers to the left or to the right. All this finger pointing seems much like the Pharisees in today’s story. There is no room left for God. The blame seems to create blindness to the point where we can no longer see truth beyond our personal feelings. So much so that when the truth becomes clear we may not recognize it and the answers we seek are not found.

In 1527 the Bubonic Plague was sweeping through Germany when Martin Luther pens a letter to his friend Johann Hess. Hess wanted to leave town, flee from the plague, flee from his community in need. Yet, Luther seems to understand God’s place in this awful time and knows that there are actions that can be taken. Amazingly enough, he writes with a sense of calm-urgency about taking care of his community and practicing what we today would call social distancing.

“What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body? You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. . . See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”(1)

We can see from Luther’s writing that this is not the first time that Christians have endured such struggles and I doubt it will be the last. Each of us is faced with difficult challenges. Some of us may want to shut down and not recognize the people in our community who are in need and who’s needs may increase as this crisis continues. Others of us are going about our business as if nothing has changed. We may be upset by the restrictions that impair our freedoms. In either case, we may be allowing our personal feelings to interfere with our sight. We may be blind the world around us.

As Luther points out our first priority should be to God. We can pray to God for mercy and his healing grace. If God pours out his grace upon a man who doesn’t even know Jesus how much more will he pour his grace upon us. We also have a choice. We can choose to be like these Pharisees pointing fingers and blaming others. When we do such things I believe it also distracts us from the truth. Like a blindness, it prevents us from seeing our Christian responsibility. As Christians, we have a responsibility to keep others safe by limiting our movement so that as Luther says we do not perchance infect others and cause their death as a result of our negligence. It is through this passage that I pray my eyes will be opened and it is through this passage that I find great comfort, knowing that we put our trust in the Lord. When we live our lives for the Lord we know that our life is in the Lord's hands, and whether we lose it or keep it, by his abundant grace we will be with Him for ever.

1) Martin Luther, “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague,” To the Reverend Doctor Johann Hess, pastor at Breslau, and to his fellow-servants of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in Luther’s Works, vol. 43: Devotional Writings II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999, c1968), pages 131-132.

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