Faithfulness in a Time of Fear
Good morning, Hope this finds you healthy and not too bored. Faith and Real Life can now be attended via Zoom. If you are interested download the Zoom app—it is free. We will meet remotely at our usual times—Monday at 7pm-8:30 and Wednesday at 9:30am-11am. The meeting ID is 4044082622 for both groups.
Click the link for a video message from Vernon Gramling – https://youtu.be/Xs_bQ25-Brg
Once again, the scripture is quite long. It can be found at the end of the blog.
This passage comes at a fortuitous time as we deal with the invasion of the unmanageable into our lives. In the space of a week, COVID 19 has suddenly become personal. We are all at risk of being harmed and perhaps worse, we are all at risk of causing harm. In spite of hundreds of articles, statistics and scientific models, we are all guessing. In some places social distancing went from groups smaller than 250, to groups of ten, to sheltering at home in ten days. No one knows how long this will last or how much harm it will do. Not knowing is often much harder to deal with than harsh truths.
At the same time, I don’t want us to lose focus on this important preparation for Easter. We use this season to prepare, to learn and to follow Jesus as he reveals his unexpected and unnerving path to new life. His path is just as incomprehensible to us as it was to the Jewish leaders. The ‘rules’ of human life are turned on their head. The blind man sees and the sighted men are blind. The blind man sees as the world as it is, the sighted men see as they wished the world were.
The disciples want to know why bad things have happened to this blind man. The man is congenitally blind. By any human standard, an infant could not deserve such a fate. There had to be a way to understand—a way to explain—a way to define and predict chaos. An explanation, even a damning one, would provide some measure of predictability and safety. Without such an explanation, we (and the disciples) must realize congenital blindness, economic disaster, respiratory failure and any number of the terrible things could happen to any of us at any time. Chaos is a shadow that lives uncomfortably close. We all ‘know’ this, we just have ways of insulating ourselves from the visceral part—the part where we can’t sleep, where we are anxious and where we are afraid. But pandemics and congenital blindness puncture our insulation. Where does God fit in? How does our faith help us?
Encountering the blind man precipitates these difficult questions and the disciples ask Jesus to help them: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The very way the disciples frame the question exposes their assumptions. Somebody did something wrong. Someone, somehow offended God. Otherwise, God would not allow such a thing. This way to explain the world is all too prevalent., I am waiting for some preacher to announce the Corona Virus is God’s punishment. (At least in our FIRL group, this kind of thinking was rejected out of hand but that just identified what we did not believe).
But Jesus says No. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” God is working his purposes out in God’s own way. Then Jesus heals the man.
That’s when the trouble begins. Something wonderful had just happened but it was entirely inexplicable by conventional reasoning. Everybody ‘knew’ that any person born blind must be a sinner. But now the mark of his sin was entirely removed. Instead of delight from the onlookers, the rest of the passage describes how their blindness prevented them from enjoying grace.
Because, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.” , explanations had to be found. First there were questions about the identity of the man. Was this fake news? Was the sighted man really the same man they knew to be blind. Or perhaps, he wasn’t really blind from birth. Let’s check with his parents. In the middle of all this, there is an appeal to the experts. The experts (the Pharisees) are also confused. Jesus couldn’t have authority because he had broken the Sabbath. How could a man who so obviously sinned remove sin? (In real life, we often attack the messenger when the news does not fit our world view. A very short look at our political partisanship will give ample examples of such attacks).
All of these machinations reflect the ordinary human difficulty to see outside of what we expect. When our basic assumptions are challenged, the foundations on which we stand are shaken—and most of us get a little crazy.
“How it is supposed to be” forms the foundation of our lives and it is a real jolt to learn that ‘how it is supposed to be is not how it is.” Years ago, our home was broken into. In my twenties, the idea that someone could invade our home was an idea. In my thirties it had happened. I could never enter that house again with the same sense of safety. Our homes are supposed to be safe—until they aren’t.
The same thing happens emotionally. One of the most common dilemmas I see as couples struggle to be connected is “how will each of them deal with the realization that their partner is not what they expected—or what was advertised.” No amount of premarital counseling can actually prepare people for the inconveniences of living with another human being. Relationships, love itself, is harder than most of us could have imagined. That’s not how it was supposed to be.
Jesus says to the Pharisees and the onlookers that the conventional explanations of sin are not God’s way. That is the good news but most of the characters in our story would rather drive the man away than deal with the living contradiction of their way of life.
Through it all, the blind man says very simply: “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” He didn’t need an explanation. He had been a marked man. He had been stigmatized. By definition, his blindness ‘proved’ he was a sinner. The stigma was gone. He could see. He could belong to an ordinary life that had been denied him.
On the way to the cross, Jesus is trying to teach what the cross means. And it doesn’t fit how we think. Take this personally for a moment. Each of us has an awareness of our sinfulness. Even if not explicitly judged by others, we all know ways we disappoint and fail God. Those judgments separate us from each other, from ourselves and from our God. We are all stigmatized and marked by our sin. But Jesus says What we call ‘good’ is not God’s good. And what we call ‘bad’ is not God’s bad. If we insist on our own way, we will remain blind.
In the midst of the uncertainty and anxiety of real life, it is easy to imagine that faith is supposed to calm us. Over and over we are told ‘Be not afraid’. But in real life I am. I am always amazed at how my anxiety and fear can seize me. Sometimes it is almost paralyzing. Sometimes it is background noise that raises my blood pressure or interrupts my sleep. Sometimes I am more irritable or distracted. Sometimes I am not even aware that it is present until the threat has passed and I realize how much tension I had been carrying.
Faith however, is not ‘conquering’ our fear. Faith is bringing our fear to God. We believe that the cross shows us that there is no part of life or death that does not include God. We may not understand. We may be terrified. But all of that is part of who we are. Our fears, even our ‘irrational ones’ do not separate us from God anymore than the man’s blindness. That is a human judgement. It is not God’s. He knows we are grass. He knows we are creatures. He knows we cannot make it alone.
Jesus says I know you and I love you. Can we stand such grace? It is the way to new life. Let it be so.
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work on the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The 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?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He 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.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.