1As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” (NRSV)
|fountain pen.JPG by Cas. Creative commons image on flickr|
I met a 75-year-old woman named Edith during my hospital chaplain internship.
Right away, I noticed was that her food table and her bed were covered with piles of stationery paper from the hospital gift shop.
Edith explained that she had cancer all through her body, and earlier that day she and her doctors agreed to suspend all treatment. She had but a few days to live. But she resolved to not spend her last days of life staring at the TV. She said, “As long as I have the strength, I’m going to write letters to everyone who’s made a difference in my life. If they’re dead, I’m going to write it to them anyway and give it to their relatives.”
Edith died the very next day. But God worked miracles in her death—showing her just how much she was loved that she just had to write it all down. What a miracle that her loved ones could grieve seeing and knowing how much they, too, are loved.
What a miracle for me to see so much of God’s life and love in this dying woman. I call this a miracle because God’s love isn’t always so visible and undeniable.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples encounter a man blind from birth. His disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Their question expresses a belief that’s had almost universal acceptance since the days of Abraham: that human suffering was always God’s punishment, either for the sin of the sufferer or their parents…
Jesus gives them a very direct answer: “neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Unlike so many other occasions, when Jesus speaks using parables and metaphors, the meaning of these words is crystal clear. Yet, this seems to be one passage in the Gospels that is forgotten and ignored.
Granted, there are plenty of occasions when suffering can be directly attributed to a sinful act. But much of the time, you can’t really know for sure. Unlike people in the Bible, you don’t have God showing up and telling you point-blank that you’re being punished. The answer to the question of why is unknown and unknowable…
But that doesn’t stop the devil from attacking you with SHAME, to say: “you’re weak, you’re immoral, you have no faith…” On top of that, people will shame you—because of your weight or your age; your race or your gender; because you’re poor; because you’re discouraged or depressed; you have an addiction. Therefore, you must be weak, immoral, and have no faith…
The human ego loves to build itself up by shaming and blaming other people. This is the modus operandi of the bully. And by shaming and blaming you, these people absolve themselves from having to help you. After all, if you’re suffering, and it’s your fault, then helping you would be a waste of valuable time and resources.
The man born blind was a sinner, as were his parents. But Jesus does not give him or his parents moral or spiritual evaluation. He simply declares: God’s works will be revealed in his blindness.
Jesus destroys shame because shame is a form of spiritual blindness. When there’s shame, you are not able to see the truth of who you are and who Jesus is! Shame and blame don’t heal; they only destroy. God, on the other hand, is present in all things working for the good.
This means you can face your most difficult days with confidence that you will both see and know God’s goodness. In the same way that Jesus gave the blind man mud from his own spit, Jesus’ healing gifts are not always pleasant or pretty. Like the blind man, healing is not an instant “abracadabra,” but a process and a journey.
One of the most powerful ways Jesus will heal you is by sending you—because Jesus heals people with people! And you don’t need to be a doctor or an ordained minister to make a difference. When people love, God heals.
One of the church’s greatest gifts that we still need to unpack is the fact that we all have stories to share about what God is doing in our lives. You cannot underestimate how powerful a gift it is to be able to share your story with others. I know my faith has been blessed incredibly by the stories you’ve shared with me.
When there’s shaming and blaming, there’s no hope. But when two or more are gathered, and graciousness abounds, Jesus is there—and we help each other to see him. It’s no longer sins or faults or failures that we’re seeing; just what truly matters: God’s good works. God’s not necessarily the cause of all things, but God is present in all things, so that God’s works may be revealed.”