Sunday, March 22, 2020
“As (Jesus) went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’”
Here’s a story from the headlines that all of you will remember. In March 2019, the FBI announced the completion of “Operation Varsity Blues,” a nationwide scam in which wealthy parents paid outrageous bribes to get their children into prestigious colleges like Yale and Stanford. Fifty people were charged in the scandal, including parents, test administrators for the ACT and SAT, and college coaches who all worked together in getting unqualified students admitted to big-name schools.
In addition to the bribes, they also falsified test scores on the ACT and SAT exams, made up fake awards and honors for college applications, paid professionals to take tests or attend classes for the students, and put the students on college athletic teams which they had no actual athletic experience. Some parents even photoshopped their kids’ faces over the bodies of professional athletes to make it look like their kids had real athletic experience.
Comedian Trevor Noah from The Daily Show had one of the best jokes about this scandal: Some of these parents allegedly paid up to $6.5 million. Which is insane. Honestly, for that amount of money, just buy a smarter kid!
It’s easy to make fun of people who seem to have many privileges. Did they earn them? Do they deserve them? Are they just slackers with more money than brains? Because WE obviously deserve all the blessings we have in our lives, don’t we? We’ve worked for them. We’re good people, and that earns us some good karma, right? We really believe in the idea of being a self-made man or woman. We get angry if people suggest that we benefit from some unearned privilege.
Let me change the conversation. What do you think would be the most difficult aspect of being born blind? What would you miss out on? What would you need help with? How do you think other people would treat you? I want you to think about that as I re-read the words of today’s lesson: As (Jesus) went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
This subject of earning our privileges, or deserving our blessings, has been around a long time. Most people believe that all of life should be happy and under our own control, so unfairness and suffering must be caused by something else. Because if the blind man doesn’t deserve his disability, then we shouldn’t deserve our ability. We shouldn’t deserve our blessings and comfort and safety and health and happiness if, he didn’t deserve his blindness. And if none of us deserves our fortune in life, then none of us can boast or complain if our life changes. Whether we win or lose, we don’t deserve what we have or don’t have.
Sometimes our ideas about what makes life worthwhile, about what we “deserve,” about what constitutes a blessing from God, stand in the way of us understanding God and living a life of meaning and purpose.
Usually, when someone comes to Jesus with a question, Jesus answers with another question, or with a parable or a challenge. In fact, Jesus was asked 183 questions in the Bible, and He only answered three of them directly. Three out of one-hundred-eighty-three.
So, sit up and pay attention. This is one of the most important questions ever asked of Jesus. And it’s one of the few times when Jesus answers a question directly. Why was this man blind? Jesus says, neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
After saying this, He spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. Telling him to go, wash in the Pool of Siloam. So, he went and washed, and came away with his sight.
Notice that there are two acts of healing in these four verses. There is, of course, the physical healing. What a great joy and blessing this man received because he went in faith, and he received his sight!
But I think the first act of healing occurred when the blind man heard Jesus say, neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. Jesus’ statement gave the man hope and in essence told him this disability was not a curse. And there’s the fact that the blind man got up and went to the pool of Siloam to wash the mud off his eyes. Have you ever tried walking across your bedroom in the dark? Most of us are reluctant to do that. So, can you imagine how far that man had to walk in the hopes that Jesus wasn’t lying to him, wasn’t tricking him, but actually had the power to heal him? We don’t know for sure where he was when Jesus healed him. But one commentary says, a trip to Siloam and back from the nearest wall of the temple, for example, would be about 1,300 yards.
Would you walk blind even half that distance on the word of a stranger? Jesus’ words gave this man so much hope that he was willing to take that risk.
There’s somethings that needs a solution, and somethings that needs a story. In this moment, Jesus gave the blind man both a solution, physical healing and a story that he wasn’t disabled by some sin that either his parents or he had committed. I want us to focus on that fact today because most of us know what it’s like to carry around certain pains in life for which there is no solution. Such as an unanswered prayer or an undeserved burden. We beg God for a solution. But what if God gives us a story instead?
I think the first part of this story would be that God can use every part of your life for His glory. Do we settle for a wimpy calling? Are we content if we’re just good people who go to church and help our neighbor occasionally? None of us are a shining examples of the love, the strength, the power and the grace of Almighty God. Part of the reason for that is because we hide our suffering and questions and pains from each other. We think that our weakness makes us less of a witness for Christ. Instead, it’s walking in faith through our pain that causes others to see God’s glory in our lives.
And not only does God know all our suffering. God can use all our suffering. God is glorified in the way we handle our suffering. Our blessings don’t draw people to God. We are in awe of those who overcome hard times, who choose joy in the face of sorrow, who choose love in the face of betrayal or hatred.
So, every blessing and every hardship, every strength and every disability, every joy and every sorrow in our lives is an opportunity for God to work out His plan through us.
Does that mean that God plans everything that happens to us? No, I don’t believe so. There’s suffering that comes from the sins of others, like abuse or neglect or divorce. There’s suffering that comes from forces outside our control, like cancer or drought or recession. God didn’t intend for us to endure this suffering alone. He intends to work through this suffering to strengthen us and make us better able to demonstrate His glory in all circumstances. People need to see the character and power of God in how we handle our suffering.
The second part of our story is that you don’t have to understand everything about God; just share what you do know about Him. When the formerly blind man is questioned about his healing, he says, the man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. A few verses later, the Pharisees question the man and not very nicely. But this man turns his hard time into an opportunity to share the truth of Jesus. He still doesn’t know who Jesus is or why Jesus healed him. He thinks Jesus might be a prophet. He didn’t let what he didn’t know prevent him from sharing what he did know. It doesn’t stop him from speaking truth to power.
This man’s story is a story of hope and love and life and grace. It’s the story of what Jesus did in him. And he refused to be silenced by the fear tactics of the Pharisees. The next time they questioned him, they accused Jesus of being a sinner. Which prompted the man to say, whether He is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!
And the final part of our story is that we never know who needs to hear God’s story through us. Many years ago, Larry was driving down Highway 240 in Memphis when he saw a car pulled off on the side of the highway. He felt that God was leading him to stop and help. He pulled up behind the stopped car and saw a young woman standing by the side of the road, staring off into space. When he asked if she needed help, she began to cry. This young mother had just come from St. Jude Children’s Hospital where her two-year-old son was undergoing treatments for leukemia. Her husband had walked out on the family not long after their child’s diagnosis. And this flat tire on the side of Highway 240 in Memphis felt like the final straw for this young woman. She felt so lost and alone.
Larry didn’t have a solution for this woman. But he did have a story. He knew now why he had felt the urge to stop. Eight and a half years earlier, when Larry’s little son was just two years old, Larry’s wife had died of leukemia. He knew what it was to be grief-stricken and confused. He knew what it was to be a single parent. He knew what it was to feel alone and helpless and desperate. And he knew what it was to rely on God for his strength. And so, Larry began sharing the story of how God worked through his grief and anger and loneliness. He shared how God had helped him to be a single parent to his little son. He told her it was a God thing. He didn’t remember exactly what he said, it’s like it came in and went out, a lot like a gift of the Spirit. It’s not necessarily something he thought about and said. It just flowed.
Larry sat with the woman while she cried. Then he changed her tire and prayed with her. And when Larry drove away that day, he understood in a new way how God had used his pain to bring comfort and strength to someone else in need.
There’s some pain that needs a solution, and some pain that needs a story. You may never get an answer to your “Why?” So, change the question to “How can God use this?” We ask God for a reason; God gives us a purpose.
In this lifetime, we may never get a solution to our pain. We may never experience healing. We may never see how God is using it. But if we give our pain to God, we can have a new story. It will be the story of how God is glorified in our weakness, not in our strength. God is glorified in our perseverance more than our power. God is glorified more by our attitudes than by our achievements. And God is using our pain to grow us into people who reflect His glory and draw others to Him.
We ask God for a solution; God gives us a story instead. Someone needs to hear the story of God in your life. How can you share it? Not just the shiny, happy parts. God is glorified in the tough parts. The good news is that God can use your bad news to share the good news.