Displaying the Works of God!
Text: John 9:1–7, 13–17, 34–39
Lent 4, A
Who is to blame for all of this suffering and uncertainty we find ourselves in? It is a natural question being asked by many in our world today ... but only from the isolation of their living rooms. Is this viral threat the fault of the Chinese? Is our current danger the result of our own government’s inaction? Maybe you’ve begun questioning the motives of your neighbours every time you see them leave the house and get in their car? Don’t they care? What if they bring this suffering into your neighbourhood?
And while I’m not saying that it is right, I will say that you can’t really blame people for going there or thinking that because people have always believed that suffering is brought about by a specific sins. The human heart is always looking to lay the blame. Mostly on others of course, but sometimes even on oneself. If only people didn’t eat bats. If only the government took things more seriously. If only I hadn’t gone on that recent trip to the store for more toilet paper!
But what if the root of our present suffering is not so easy to see? Can we just make one up? Lay the blame squarely upon the shoulders of our parents who should have raised us differently? Society and its ill fated rush to blur distinctions and live in half-truths and outright lies? Can we blame all this on the fact that there is no prayer in school anymore? Someone has, I can guarantee it! All this and a hundred more!
But the problem is simply this, even if you could find the perfect person to blame for your current state of suffering and anxiety, it wouldn’t fix the problem ... because the biggest problem in times of suffering is not actually the suffering. The real problem is our perspective on such suffering. What brings meaning to our suffering is not the worth of the sufferer, or properly blaming real or imagined instigators. The real meaning of suffering is found in seeing the grace of God in action! It is being able to discern God’s deliverance not just from the physical or emotional troubles, but the spiritual troubles underlying them all!
As the Apology of the Augsburg Confession states: “Troubles are not always punishments for certain past deeds, but they are God’s works, intended for our benefit, and that God’s power might be made more apparent in our weakness.” (Ap AC Art. XIIb par. 63) It is also precisely what Jesus Himself said in our Gospel reading for today.
1As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
In the face of so much darkness we need to be reminded that Jesus is the Light of the world! The good and the bad alike all come to us to display God’s mercy. His is the mercy that gives us every good gift in this life and His is the mercy that sees us through every trial and form of suffering that comes our way. Like the mercy He showed to the man born blind in our text.
6Having said these things, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud 7and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing … 35Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
There is, admittedly, a lot of the story between v. 7 and 35. And most of it was not pleasant. Being given his sight back led this man into all kinds of misfortune and even more suffering. At the point we meet up with him again at the end of the story He is arguably worse off than when he was simply blind. Now he could see, but his character had been attacked, his parents had abandoned him, and now he was more of an exile than before this all began. It would seem horrible to think that God would be so careless with His gifts as to allow further suffering. But that would assume that the man’s physical sight was the gift Jesus wanted to give him. It wasn’t. The whole point was not to let him see, but to lead him to faith in Jesus.
And that is the point of all our suffering and misfortune, viewed properly. It is the darkness that lets us finally see the light of Christ.
35“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
There is a lot that yet may happen to us in the days and weeks ahead. And it may get much worse before it seems to get better. And that would be terribly unfair if God’s love meant that we should expect only health and happiness. But you and I know that is not the point. God’s mercy is displayed not in ease and jocularity, but in the granting of new and better life – the spiritual life within. God’s mercy is displayed not in preventing our suffering, but in allowing us to see His never-ending mercy in the midst of every kind of suffering. A mercy firmly rooted in the suffering, death and resurrection of His beloved Son Jesus Christ. For only in the cross do we begin to understand the ultimate truth behind suffering ... and God’s remarkable answer for it. And seeing our Lord taking our place on that cross, we believe. And believing won’t change those things that once caused us anxiety and grief, but it does change us in the midst of them.
39Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”
We are all born spiritually blind, unable to see our sin and unwilling to do things God’s way. But through Holy Baptism and the Word God has delivered us from the domain of darkness through His beloved Son and enlightened our hearts to know and follow Him. Jesus didn’t come to condemn (punish) the world, but to save it. And the paradox of that salvation is that only when we come to see that we fully deserve every bad thing that happens, do we then also come to see that none of it means what we think it does! The night is coming, but it is not here yet.
Times of suffering are not about you or me or them ... they are the ways and means through which God shows most clearly His ongoing love and mercy for this fallen world. They are the times and the places where the light of His life and truth shine most clearly. See the mercies of God which are new every morning! See the gift of His love, His life, His forgiveness. Be thankful for the friends and family He has gifted you with. Love them, care for them, be thankful for them. Share the Good News with them in their time of stress and they may be blessed to see things the way we do!