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Why is this happening!?
How could this have been prevented?!
Whose fault is this?!
And maybe most of all, “how can I keep this from personally affecting me and the people I love?”
Those are the questions that have inevitably popped up as the Corona virus pandemic has expanded. And they pop up in our hearts and minds (and sometimes our social media feeds) for a variety of reasons: politics, anger, frustration, fear and anxiety.
Many of these questions are important. And many defy easy answers. Indeed, for some of them, there is no good answer. But often, these questions can get in the way of doing what needs to be done right now, and of focusing on the needs of our neighbors.
And this is actually what’s happening in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus and his disciples are walking around Jerusalem when they come upon a man who was born blind. He’s apparently sitting on a corner begging.
Without prompting, the disciples begin to ask Jesus the very same questions we’ve been hearing and thinking lately. Rabbi, they ask:
Why has this happened?
Whose fault is it – his or his parents?
And underlying those questions is the notion that somehow there must be cause and effect in play here. After all, if things just randomly happen, I have no control over them, and I can’t prevent them. But if I can figure out who’s fault it is – and what they did wrong – at least I have a fighting chance of having this NOT happen to me.
But Jesus doesn’t answer any of those questions. He rejects the idea that anybody is to blame, and he doesn’t explain how the randomness of God’s creation can allow this to happen.
Instead, he directs the disciples away from those questions, and towards what they need to do BECAUSE they see something like this happening.
Jesus literally says (and this is different from the way the NRSV translates it): “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; but in order that God’s works may be revealed in him, we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day…”
That is, God didn’t make this guy blind so that Jesus could come along years later and heal him. Instead, Jesus tells his disciples that they should focus on:
- Their works of light, rather than just debating the causes of darkness …
- The needs of the other person, instead of just trying to protect themselves …
- Being in community with those who sit in darkness, instead of standing outside and analyzing the problem (it appears that the disciples are standing there talking about this blind man in his hearing, but not talking to him! Only Jesus address the man and touches him in a sign of community and solidarity with him…)
And as this story progresses, lots of other people can’t see or appreciate the works of light that Jesus does because they’re still hung up on the questions and the causes of darkness.
So, for example, the:
- Neighbors – can’t agree on whether this is the man who used to sit and beg, because they’ve never experienced anybody having received their sight after being born blind. And since they couldn’t figure out why he was blind, or how it happened, they continue to debate (also in front of him!) whether he actually is the same guy. They talked about the guy, but they couldn’t see or participate in the works of light…
- Parents – are really worried about themselves, and whether they’ll get kicked out of their community if they’re too closely affiliated with Jesus. And so instead of rejoicing that their son can see, they drop back and punt, saying, “well, we know this is our son, and that he was born blind, but ask him how it is that he sees – he’s legally liable for himself, not us!”; even the parents are more worried about themselves than their son…
- Pharisees – can’t accept that this can be a work of light, because Jesus didn’t work in the way that works of light are “supposed” to work in their minds – you don’t work on the sabbath (and Jesus had both “made mud” and “healed”); and so they continued to debate the cause of darkness (was he really blind or not), and simply couldn’t see or be part of the works of light …
Now honestly, questions about good and evil, light and darkness and causes and effects are all important questions. They stem from a variety of real and often raw emotions. And we can learn a lot and make the world a better place by asking questions, seeking answers, and in some cases, holding people accountable.
But, especially at this moment, Jesus calls us to be people who focus on the works of light. That is, what are we going to do – both individually and as a community – when faced with darkness. How are our words and deeds and attitudes toward others going to show God’s presence and love right now.
What do our “works of light” look like? And it is instructive that the “work of light” done by Jesus in today’s Gospel came through ordinary mud.
And so maybe our “works of light” right now won’t look very flashy (or the way we normally expect “works of light” to look.) Maybe the work of light right now is the act of:
- Doing nothing – really, staying home and doing nothing (and not being potential spreaders of disease)… !
- Acting as though I have the virus and don’t want to spread it, instead of looking at others with fear as though they’ll give it to me (if I do that, it really does change my outlook, and makes me focus on the needs of others) …
- Reaching out to other people, and finding ways to be community in a time of isolation (and trying new ways to do that when we can’t be physically present to one another…)
Those are all things we need to do. And we all need to do them. And we need to do them right now.
Jesus went on to answer many questions. But his presence in the world wasn’t for an academic debate, or in order to give a few special people special protection.
Jesus came to make God’s light real and visible in the world. He showed his disciples how it was done, and he called them to do the same. And that’s still what Jesus calls us to do, especially in days of darkness.