The Inconvenient Question
Posted on March 26, 2017 by Jim McNeil
The Inconvenient Question.
John 9: 1-12 & 13-34.
We live in a time of independent enquiries.
Infants gets cremated in an Aberdeen crematorium and the parents are told that there is not enough ashes to give to the parents, but then we find that there was, just that it was too much effort for the crematorium staff to bother so they mixed the ashes with the next lot of adult ashes. We can’t trust the council staff to tell the truth, so an independent enquiry is needed to find out what really went on.
The disaster at Hillsbourgh when football fans were crushed when too many were let into the grounds. We can’t trust the fans to tell the truth, we can’t trust the police to investigate because they are accused of making the situation worse. So we need an independent enquiry to get to the facts.
Soldiers shooting protesters on Bloody Sunday. The Bombings in Birmingham. The shootings of IRA suspects in Gibraltar. The torture and killings of unarmed prisoners by soldiers in Abu Ghraib. We need independent enquiries to get to the facts.
Only those that call for independent enquiries often don’t really want the facts…what they really want is to find out who is to blame. They want to know who is to blame because they want to know who should be punished. There is nothing that can be done now for the victims, but someone should be punished.
I think that is what most of today’s passage is about.
The whole of chapter 9 of the Gospel of John is taken up with one incident.
This incident of Jesus curing a blind man, and the repercussions that come from that.
Why is this important to us?
It is important to us because I think we go through the same processes in our life.
It is important to us because I believe that what we do in life matters, and most of what we do in life comes from what we believe about how life works.
For instance, let’s start off with the disciples.
The disciples are walking to the synagogue. They are thinking religious stuff because it is the Sabbath and they are walking towards the synagogue.
And as they walk along to worship and thinking nice, holy thoughts they happen to see a blind man.
And as they see the blind man, thinking their nice, holy, religious stuff, they wonder who is to blame for this blind man’s condition.
So they ask Jesus.
Why is this blind man blind?
Is it something he did, something his parents did, something God did?
This is an important question.
One we all ask ourselves.
We live in a world of good and evil.
We know evil has consequences that are destructive.
A drug company wants to rush out a new drug so that it can make huge profits. But there are side effects that no one knows. My son Alexander had a school friend that was affected by thalidomide.
For years that drug was given as an anti-sickness drug and there was a time when people suspected what was causing deformities in children being born, but no one wanted to admit liability. So they kept on giving the drug and putting unborn children at risk.
Somebody was to blame, somebody had to pay, somebody needed to be responsible for sorting it out.
On Monday morning I heard that a quarter of all service providers in England may go bankrupt and have to hand the contracts back to the councils. These are the people that run the businesses that keep the frail at home. If they can’t do their job, and the council can’t take up the slack, then that means that other elderly carers may be put under even more stress, that more and more vulnerable elderly may have to go into care…but they may not be the places for these old folk.
Somebody is to blame for this, somebody has to pay, someone has to be responsible for sorting this out..
And that is what the disciples are saying here.
Who is responsible for this evil?
Who is responsible for sorting it out?
And you know the interesting thing about this passage?
The interesting thing about this passage is that the disciples ask this question knowing the one answer that really counts is…it’s not us.
The disciples ask Jesus who is to blame, who is responsible, and they even give a suspect pool…is it his parents? Is it himself? But they don’t say, ‘is it us?’
They don’t ask what their responsibility in all of this is.
They are disciples of Jesus,
they are going to the synagogue to hear of what God has done for them and their response to all the gifts God has given them,
and they don’t say,
‘With all the good that God has given us, what good can we bring into this man’s life?’
In fact their question implies the opposite.
Their question implies that someone should do something about that blind man, someone other than them.
Maybe the man himself needs to sort himself out, maybe his parents should do something, but someone should do something, someone other than them.
And we ask all those questions ourselves.
Why are there food banks in our country?
In the 21st century, when we have more than enough food in the world to feed everyone, why are droughts in Africa still killing thousands of children?
Why are our old people being neglected?
Why may we have to wait for over a year for some hospital procedures?
Someone is responsible for this evil.
Someone is to blame for this evil.
Someone has to do something about this evil.
And it isn’t us.
All these questions.
And I think the disciples have got it all wrong.
Strangely enough, I think the Pharisees have got it right.
Think about this.
This passage is 42 verses long.
The bit with the disciples takes from verse 1 to verse 7. Seven verses long.
The bit with the Pharisees is from 13 to verse 34. Twenty-one verses long.
So according to the Bible which of these two parts is more important?
The bit with the Pharisees.
And what are the Pharisees trying to work out?
They are trying to work out what God is doing in all of this.
Now as it turns out they have their own agenda.
Their own agenda is that God can only work in ways in which they think God should work out.
No matter what was going to be said at their enquiry, this healing shouldn’t have taken place because that isn’t the way God works. God works from Sunday to Friday, God doesn’t work on a Saturday, that’s the Sabbath.
The Pharisees may have been coming out with the wrong answers, but at least their question was the right question…’Where is God in all of this?’
Jesus’ answer lets us know.
‘His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sin. He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him.
As long as it is day, we must keep on doing the work of him who sent me; night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’
Where is God?
God should be in our heart…
And God is in our heart…
God is in our heart when we get involved.
God is in our heart where we bring healing.
God is in our heart when we see need and we don’t walk on by, that is where God is.
To be fair to the disciples, to be fair to us…maybe on their way to the synagogue they saw that blind man, and they wanted Jesus to know that they had noticed him, but they didn’t know what to do.
‘How can we help this blind man, his problem is too big for us?’
And it was OK for Jesus, Jesus could heal him, Jesus could bring God’s healing to that guy…but what could the disciples do?
Hands up all the people here who if they saw a blind beggar would think to themselves…’I am going to heal that man in the name of God and to God’s glory?’
As I suspected, no one.
But I don’t think that is what Jesus is asking us to do.
Maybe to the odd Christian he is, maybe to the odd Christian with the specific gift of healing God is calling them to heal in that way, but not to most of us.
I think what Jesus expects of most of us is to bring the presence of God in our hearts to that person.
Recently I have been visiting an old man who had a stroke and who looked like he was going to die.
I don’t think God expected me to heal the stroke.
I don’t think God expected me to stop him from dying.
I do think God expected me to be there with him so that he remembered God was always there for him.
I do think God wanted that old man to know that I wouldn’t forget about him, and to remind him that God had never forgotten about him.
Just for the record, he did get better, but that had nothing to do with me.
That was all God, but that old man needed reassurance that God was helping, and maybe I and others had a part in that.
When we are faced with the world’s problems,
And, if we are caring at all, we will be faced with the problems of the world,
then the question to ask is not, ‘Who is to blame?’, ‘Who is responsible?’
Those questions may need to be asked, but as people of faith that is not our first concern.
Our first concern is, ‘Where is God in this?’
And the answer should be, ‘In our heart as we get involved.’
Maybe in very simple practical ways, like putting money in Smartie tubes to support nurses going to South Africa, maybe putting a packet of Weetabix in the box for the food bank, maybe sitting with a friend and holding their hand as they open their worries to you.
Maybe saying a prayer with someone who feels God is far away.
But either way we reply to the question
‘Where is God?’ with the answer, ‘He is here with us.’