4th Sunday in Lent (Year A), April 3, 2011
Text: John 9:1-7, 13-17, 34-39
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, grace, peace, and mercy to you, from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, amen.
When you’re driving down the road, and on the shoulder a little ways ahead, you see those familiar red and blue lights flashing, and the highway patrolman leaning in to have a little chat with the driver of the nice new Corvette, what goes through your mind?…I’ll tell you what goes through mine. First, I wonder what he’s done to get pulled over. Then I look that Corvette over again, and I know what he’s pulled over for. Then the question is, ‘ooh, how much is that gonna cost him?’ And then the thoughts go from that into a little self-congratulatory mode. ‘Look how responsible I am.’ The good feelings get even better if I realize that it was the same guy who cut me off a few miles back.
There are some judgments we feel justified making because we operate with the basic assumption that if something bad has happened, well something bad must have been done to cause it. Somebody, somewhere along the line made a bad decision, whether out of ignorance or incompetence, whether they tried their best and failed, or recklessly disregarded what they knew was the right thing to do, somebody messed up, and as a result, somebody has to pay the price. We are not blind to the effects of sin. We are well aware that actions have consequences.
When major disasters strike, we see this logic played out on a large scale. If something that bad has happened, somebody really must have done something. We often see this kind of thinking among certain groups within Christianity. When the AIDS epidemic started coming to light the judgment was ‘this was sinners getting what they deserve for their sinful lifestyles.’ When Hurricane Katrina hit, certain groups could be heard saying, ‘well, look at what goes on in that town. Is it any wonder that God would call down His judgment upon it?’ Some have made the same kind of judgments upon the people of Haiti and Japan in the wake of their earthquakes.
And after our initial reaction to hearing something like this, after we calm down from how awful those judgments sound, their remains this little voice in the back of our heads that wonders ‘Could it be true after all. Could these things actually be God’s punishment for sin?’ After all, doesn’t it say in the Old Testament that when the wickedness on the earth grew too much for him to handle, God sent the flood to wipe out everyone but Noah and his family? Didn’t he rain sulfur down on the people of Sodom & Gomorrah as punishment for their sin? Didn’t we have to memorize in confirmation class “I the Lord am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of their fathers to third and fourth generation of those who hate me”? Maybe a good dose of God’s Law is exactly what the world needs to pull it out of this mess that it’s in.’
And that’s where the temptation meets us. That same strategy that Satan used on Christ in the desert, is now turned on us. Satan tempted Christ to focus on the here and now, to fix the what was wrong in that moment. ‘What’s the problem? You’re out here in the middle of nowhere and you haven’t eaten for weeks? You feel like you’re starving? Well aren’t you the Son of God? Speak and you’ll have food. Fill your stomach and you’ll be able to think more clearly. Worry about this fasting nonsense later.’
The Church, and we as Christians face this same temptation. We look at our world everyday and see the effects of sin. We see people struggling, suffering, and dying. And we think that if only we could get society to recognize how good God’s law is. How it lays down tried and true prescriptions for good living. If only people would do these things, how much better the better the world would be.
This is how the disciples and the Pharisees saw things when they looked upon this man born blind. They knew how things worked. Their eyes, the with which people have seen since Satan opened them to seeing good and evil, their eyes could see the effects of sin. If that man had to suffer blindness, obviously someone had done something wrong. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire; where there’s suffering, there’s sin. Someone made that bed for him, and we might feel sorry for him that it’s the case, but someone has to sleep in it. The disciples and the Pharisees, they didn’t make the rules. They just did their best to try to follow them and stay out of trouble. We’ll worry about that Jesus stuff later, there are serious problems that need to be addressed first.
But Jesus says “No, you’re not seeing things clearly. You’re not looking at this the right way. You’re not looking at it through me.” He takes what they see, what they can clearly observe about the way the world works, and he turns it upside down. Instead of looking at things in the here and now, he invites them to see the world through the lens of eternity. Seeing the world through Christ, through Christ, who came into the world to suffer punishment for our sin, to die the death that we deserve, sin and suffering provide an opportunity to see the work of God.
That man’s blindness, when seen in Christ, was not ultimately a punishment for his sin or the sins of his father, but rather an opportunity for him and everyone else around to see God’s mercy at work.
We gather this morning as a collection of people who were blind, who were deaf, who were dead in our sin, wretches and worms, as some of our Lenten hymns so delicately put it. But we were washed in the waters of Baptism. We were washed, we were sanctified, we were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. As St. Paul says in Romans, chapter five, “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Christ Jesus.” When we feel the weight of our sin, and the guilt that the law brings, we no longer see only ourselves, and our inability to save ourselves, but we look to Christ, and the work that He has already done for us.
Having been given this forgiveness, this new life, this new sight, we see others in a new way. When someone sins against us, it is not an opportunity to show them a lesson, to instruct them how to do things better. It is a chance to point them to Christ. It is a chance to give them Christ’s forgiveness. When people suffer from the effects of sin, we don’t simply pass by and marvel, ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’ It is a chance jump into their suffering with them. To help them. To let the works of God, and the love of Christ shine in the midst of the darkness of our world.
For that is exactly what Christ came and did for us. When we are burdened by the law, when we feel our own wretchedness, Christ comes and takes our suffering upon himself. And he uses our sin and suffering to show us his cross, and the salvation he won there for us.
Without the grace of Christ. Without the forgiveness of sins. Without the mercy Christ gives to us, there is no hope. But with Christ, there is hope. He opens our eyes, that we might see eternity with him. Amen.
Image: By Sarindam7 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons