Partners in Mission:
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” — John 9:2
One of my great joys is when I visit congregations and get to sit in on Christian education classes/bible studies. Whether led by lay or rostered leaders, they always provide fascinating insights into the topic, which often happens to be the scripture for the day. Last Sunday I had such an opportunity as they discussed the assigned lectionary reading from John 9 for the day. John’s telling of these stories always strike me as being of the sort where he might say, “I told you that story so I could tell you this story.” And in this case John makes Jesus into something of a Lutheran Law/Gospel preacher.
When the disciples are confronted with a human being with a real problem — physical blindness — they assume there is a theological reason. Someone must have sinned for this man to be born blind. And in being born blind, he was relegated to a life of begging in the streets. In their world construct there must be a reason for this calamity, as they see it, to befall this man and by extension his family. And in so doing they look to the individual, the man, or his parents, as being those that must have sinned. The Law is clearly punishing these people for their iniquity.
Yet Jesus’ response to the man’s infirmity is not to preach to him the law but to heal him. To bring gospel hope and healing, to bring light, into his physical darkness. In that moment Jesus demonstrates that it is not the man or his family who need to be reminded of the Law but those quick to judge, including his disciples and the pharisees (the church folk), who need to be reminded that the Law applies to them as well. That they, who can physically see, have been blinded by a system that makes them unable to see God’s light in the healing of this man. That God’s mercy and grace are only for some, not all.
In the adult education class I attended last Sunday it was heartening to hear as the members of the class struggled through these realities. How such a seemingly simple thing as Jesus healing a man of blindness can take us deep into our own reality and our need in Lent to be reminded of this. That we live with and participate in systems that are, like the disciples, quick to judge others as sinful. To make decisions about others based on fear and frankly a desire that someone else be “lower” than us. Yet Lent comes to wipe all that self-promotion and our systems of justification away. We too are often blind. Blind to the suffering of neighbors, willfully not seeing those in need, choosing some to be in and others out based on a number of criteria we know all too well. But the law, when properly proclaimed, reminds us that we too live under the reality of sin. Yet into our blindness comes Jesus’ grace and mercy. Unmerited, given freely by the light of the world.
A blessed Lent to you all. As we experience the weight of sin on us and our neighbors, I pray we also can begin to see more clearly the light that sets us free. Free to live and serve for the sake of others.