(This scripture reading is much too long to be included in the text of the sermon outline, but I strongly urge you to read the story in its entirety.)
This is a long text and it is typical of the way that John writes his gospel. John has a very clear tendency to look at the literal story and then convert it into something more spiritual. He takes the “earthly” and turns it into the “heavenly,” if you will. This is what happens in this story. It works like this.
A man was blind from birth. The disciples’ response, “There must be an explanation for that, a reason.” And so they suggest various possible reasons from their theological tradition.
Possible reason #1 – this man sinned and is being punished. Immediately you might ask, “Would he have possibly sinned in the womb since the blindness was from birth?” First century Jewish theology, “Yes, that might be what happened.”
Possible reason #2 – his parents sinned, and their sin is visited to the next generation, namely to the blind man. This is also well within the understanding of first century Jewish theology.
Oh, the disciples! Don’t be too hard on them. They are only asking what we all ask. We all want neat, tidy answers to explain the seeming injustices and make them a bit more just. We are almost hard-wired to ask the “Why” questions:
● Why so much pain?
● Why the coronavirus?
● Why do accidents happen that are so tragic and meaningless?
● Why earthquakes and tsunamis, which completely destroy already struggling villages?
● Why, why, why . . . ?
We simply want things to make sense. As I said, we are kind of hard-wired that way.
Here in this story the disciples were asking Jesus to choose from the standard, traditional answers. They surely thought that was a fair request to make of him.
That is all in the literal sense . . . the earthly if you will. Jesus now moves beyond that to a more healthy Godly understanding. His immediate response to them, “Neither explanation is of any value whatsoever.” It is almost as if he is saying, “You may try hard, but you will never find an answer for the problems of suffering by trying to isolate and identify a source, a reason, a justification for it. You simply won’t find it, and if you think you did, you will be wrong.” Neither Jesus nor the Christian faith gives us answers the way we yearn for answers.
Instead, as difficult as it is to say and accept, we are left with the brutal fact that we are in an unfair world, marked by ambiguity, inconsistency, and oftentimes danger.
What Jesus says here is not to look for answers at the front end of injustice; look for answers as to what to do in the middle of the experience. If you believe God is involved in the situation, the middle of the mess is where to look, because God is there working to bring something new and healing. The man in our text is indeed healed, but the back side of that miracle is that he points the religious leaders with all their pat answers in a new direction if they would only heed. The miracle is not that the man or his parents were forgiven, and therefore he was healed. Not for a moment. The miracle is that he was healed so that the word of God’s love in Christ could be shared. And that is exactly what he did—he shared that story.
May we be a community who loves in the middle of crises and hard to understand events, and in so doing be the presence of God.