At the present moment, the United States government is basically shutdown because the President and the Congress cannot get along. I will not attempt to parse the exact problem, because I am almost certain that if you read this five years from now, the first sentence will be nearly accurate. Even if it’s not the budget-type of a shutdown, it’s still going to be gridlocked.
The big question is always this one: Whose fault is it? Who is responsible for this mess?
That question, though, is not unique to the United States. It is not unique to the western world. It reaches back, truly, to the Garden of Eden, but we’ve already done that. Here we have a different question. A man is suffering: he is blind, in a world without any real support for someone with that challenge.
And the disciples want to know from Jesus: Whose fault is this? Is it his? Or did his parents cause this?
Jesus, as can be expected, responds to an either-or question by taking a third option. Now, there is much here to address the existence of evil in the world, how some of the suffering we see is caused by our sin, but much of it is so that we can see the glory of God. Much of it is so that we have the opportunity to be a part of the glory of God in relieving it.
Yet something else strikes me in this passage. The disciples here make for great students of religion. There is a situation in front of them, and they want to discuss the theological ramifications of it. Here is, after all, a perfect chance to learn about the way the world works. It’s like a case study. Excellent!
We do the same thing, don’t we? We look at the news and see civil war in Syria and wonder, “Who are the good guys?” We examine immigration and parse the finer points of economics and border security. We debate government-mandated health insurance and marvel that the US hasn’t done what other countries that are going bankrupt have done for years.
In our churches, we get into the same discussions. Here’s a teen mom—what failed that she finds herself in that situation? Here’s a divorced man, an abandoned child, an unemployed father, an abused wife. And we want to figure out the causes. We discuss the ebbs and flows of fortune, and then we think of the policy we ought to have about such issues.
At the end of the day, though, the answer is not about whose fault it is. I know that we need to find systemic solutions to systemic problems, that we must both teach people to fish while feeding them fish.
I would suggest, though, that we must also do as Jesus does here: cut off the debate and help the person in pain. The disciples barely notice him, except as a teaching tool. Jesus sees him as a person in need.
How do you see people? When you see that rock star in trouble with the law? When you see that kid in trouble with the law? When you see that deacon fail?
Rather than looking first for your theological point, look at the person.
Do what you can. Then, as the situation cools, analyze it and learn what you can.
But do not overlook people in your rush to determine if it’s your fault or not. Because if you leave him blind, hurting, hungry on the road while you check your algorithm?
Then it really is your fault.
Today’s Nerd Note:
Take a look at John 9:24 and the command of the Pharisees to “Give glory to God” as they question the not-blind man. Now, take a quick look at Joshua 7:19.
This was a charge to the man to tell the truth. A few takeaways:
First, the truth brings glory to God. Deception and lies do not.
Second, the two Scriptural instances of this phrase come from interrogations regarding sin. Both involve known realities: it is known in Joshua that Achan sinned. It is known here that the man can now see. There is nothing left to debate, really.
Third, both uses seem to indicate an idea of telling the truth to clean your conscience, not to escape trouble.
Fourth, both uses show people asking questions that they think they already have the answers for.
Finally, is there cause to think that the Pharisees deliberately harken back to Achan and Joshua? It seems, generally, that the Pharisees were concerned that individual sins would bring down the nation as a whole, so are they putting the not-blind man in that same boat?