“Who sinned…?”

It’s not about the cure.  Yes, this man “born blind” can now see perfectly well.  And yes, this miracle was produced on the Sabbath – a day to refrain from ordinary work, and to be honest, this “miracle” seems rather ordinary.  Spit and mud and a dip in the pool by the town gate.  No grand words.  God’s name was not shouted loud – there was none of the fuss and bother that is often associated with the miraculous.  Jesus refers (privately?) to the work of God that must be done while the sun shines.  and then Jesus drops out of the story for a while.  This is NOT about the cure.

Neither is it a question of work done on the sabbath – that questions fades quickly enough, though it gives the “authorities” a starting point for their indignation.  This is an episode that asks the question “what does faith look like?”

“Who sinned…that this man was born blind?”  A question of necessity, in those days.  You must know who sinned to know who should offer the sacrifice of atonement – and what that sacrifice might be.  Who sinned, so that we can avoid that person – so as not to be stained by their error, or drawn in to their misery.  Jesus says from the start; it’s not about sin, it’s about the work of God revealed.  Not because God delights in human suffering, but because Jesus is calling people to be aware of the divine possibilities rather than the human limitations that exist in every age, every culture, and every single human.

The argument looks like being about blindness – about “who sinned, and how…”, but the authorities give the game away when the interview with the newly sighted man continues in verse 24.  “Give glory to God.  We know this man is a sinner.”  The miracle has occurred outside their influence – No sacrifice; no proper forms have been observed.  Jesus has challenged the traditional understanding of how (and when, and why) God works, and ‘God’s representatives” are at a loss to explain the result.

When the man offers a logical, reasonable suggestion – “If this man (Jesus) were not from God, he could do nothing.”, the officials excommunicate him.  That is how power reacts to those who challenge power – with rigid and absolute decrees.  With ‘orthodoxy’.  With fear.

We can see this sort of action/reaction happening in our own time.  In government, as parties try to formulate responses to horrible and irrational acts of violence conducted by groups, individuals and even sovereign nations.  Our efforts to ‘define the bad guys’, in an era when bad and good are almost entirely subjective, are fraught with complications.  Are these acts (and their actors) defined by religious sensibilities?  Economic pressures?  Political ideals?  All of the above???  What are the things that can help us identify “Canadian values”?  Can we compel people to think and act as we do?  will that keep us safe?

The short answer is “NO” – because the values we hold include the ability to think and reason and hold different views on multiple subjects.  Safety and unity are complicated things.  Religion does not simplify things (and why would it) – This encounter in John’s gospel confirms that the search for ‘religious truth’ is a constant source of conflict.  The dominant view is not necessarily the correct view.  Religious traditions – Christian, Muslim, Jewish included – can’t even agree within themselves what constitutes “right thinking” – how can we measure behaviour according to a single, unifying religious principle?

Christians aspire to an ideal of unity – we follow Jesus whose every word and act pointed to God.  But even now, centuries after the fact, we are convicted by his suggestion that we may yet be blind where his purpose (and ours) is concerned.  “If you were blind, you would not have sin.  But now that you say ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

They who presumed to tell this once blind man that his faith was mis-placed, and his new condition was, essentially, illegitimate – the ‘experts’ who had faith figured out – they are condemned in this encounter.  And we must ask if that condemnation catches us.

Are we so sure – so confident – that God speaks, acts, and responds according to a pattern that only we understand?  Can there be no other insight; no revelation beyond our own tradition, or our own experience?  Is God defined by our weaknesses and our limitations – by our blindness – or is it possible that God has no limits?  A cure where no such cure existed.  An action unlike any other, that brings undeniably miraculous results.  Signs of the presence of the spirit of God where we imagine God should not be present.  Should we be afraid of such things, or should we not rejoice?

I’ll suggest to you that lately our faith has been less concerned with rejoicing in the things of God, and controlled by a certain kind of fear.  A fear that we may have failed.  Fear that the path we’ve chosen, and the traditions we try to honour have lost touch with the world in which we live and serve.  And even during Jesus’ brief earthly ministry, fear and confusion managed to overpower his call to joy.  Joy was only possible when it was clear that the life of faith – a life devoted to the things of God – could endure even the cruelty of the cross, and the darkness of death.  Resurrection is the triumph of joy over despair – resurrection is the ultimate cure for blindness of the type that ails us.  For by raising Jesus, we discover that God cannot be controlled or contained by human limits, human failures, human definitions, or human fears.

Refuse to be drawn into the battle for definitions where God is concerned.  Resist the urge to be fearful when the work of God takes on new forms and comes from new places.  Rejoice in the limitless power of God to act, to heal, and to change us.  And may such an ordinary act of faith free us to see God as Jesus did.

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