“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
The disciples’ question to Jesus reflected a common understanding of the time regarding the differently-abled or those suffering from various forms of physical or mental illness. Their condition was the result of some sinful act committed by them or their parents, grandparents, etc.. Actions have consequences, and if a person sins against God they can expect some sort of affliction to befall them or their progeny.
Such an interpretation of cause and effect definitely has Biblical backing in both the Old and New Testaments. Think of the plague on the first-borns of Egypt in Exodus, or Saul’s blindness as he was on his way to persecute Christians on the road to Damascus, to name a few.
Isn’t it great we in the 21st century have grown in our understanding since the days of Jesus’ first disciples? We would never ask such a question today!
I wish that were the case.
Whether we allow the question to be given voice, doesn’t it cross our minds more often than we might want to acknowledge? What did I do to deserve…? Fill in the blank with whatever diagnosis or calamity may be keeping you up at night.
Life seems much more manageable when we can boil it down to simple rules: The good guys wear the white hats, and the bad guys don the black ones. Obey the rules and keep your nose (and hands) clean, and you will succeed. If folks are suffering, on some level they must deserve it.
Yet, even the Biblical record is not this clear-cut. In fact, as I understand the narrative, once sin entered into the mix of humanity’s relationship with God and each other, its ramifications are so pervasive as to touch everything and everyone whether we are conscious of it or not.
No person nor act is totally pure, but thanks be to God, the message of the gospel is no person or situation is totally God-forsaken either.
Jesus urges his disciples to shift their perspective away from finding meaning by attributing blame for human wrong actions of the past. Instead, he invites them to consider the possibilities of how God can make abundant life more manifest in and through us in the midst of any situation.
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Lord knows the COVID-19 crisis has already provided enough examples of how similar we are to those first disciples centuries ago. Pundits on media outlets have been pointing the proverbial finger at this country or that as responsible for bringing this scourge to our doorstep. Others seek to find fault with this or past administrations for their policy short-comings. We might be beating ourselves up for either not having the foresight to get that extra family-size pack of toilet paper when we had the chance, or for having hoarded more of the stuff than we could ever expect to use in a lifetime.
While there are, indeed, valuable lessons to be learned through analyzing how we – as individuals and a world-community – have come to where we now find ourselves, as Christians we are also called to engage another question in our life-choices moving forward:
What if we were to offer ourselves, our resources, our time – the stewardship of all God has given us in life – to be used so that God’s works might be revealed in and through us? Especially at those times ahead which may seem dark, may God grant us the grace to be the light of the world wherever our journeys take us.