CHRIST GIVES MERCY NOT BLAME
John 9:1-7, 13-17, 34-39 (Isaiah 42:14-21, Ephesians 5:8-14)
The Fourth Sunday in Lent – Series A
John 9:1–7, 13–17, 34–39 (ESV)
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.” 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. . .
13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15So the Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” And there was a division among them. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
34They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.
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?” 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. 39Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”
Pastor, who sinned, the government or the people, that this virus is sweeping the world? Pastor, who sinned, the people or the stores, that there are so many empty shelves and I can’t buy everything that I want? Pastor, who sinned, God or me, that I am so frightened, confused, anxious, worried, bored, angry, lonely, or whatever other emotions that you may be facing right now? These questions are nothing new. In fact, they are so very typical and indicative of our true human nature. A problem is encountered, and we immediately try to assign blame. It’s been going since the fall into sin. “The woman you made gave me the fruit and I ate, so it’s either her fault or your fault God.” “The serpent that you made deceived me and I ate, so it is definitely your fault that I sinned against you Lord.”
Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” There is really a lot behind this question. They saw someone suffering and in need. They knew that according to the Fifth Commandment and Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount they should try to help. But they didn’t want to. Besides, they rationalized, there wasn’t much that they could do anyway. At most they could give him a coin or two. Perhaps a meal or help guide him to some destination. But in the long run what good would that do? He would still be blind and suffering. He would still be a burden to everyone and a source of guilt every time looked at him. So rather than try to help, let’s assign blame. Once it has been determined who is at fault, then we know who should be helping. Or so our human nature thinks.
After all, no one likes to feel guilt, so if we can place blame elsewhere, then we have nothing to feel guilty over. Thus, the question. Who has sinned? Whose fault is it that this man is nothing but a burden on society? Whose fault is it that this man can’t see, and so must rely on others for everything? Who can we be angry with because of the great imposition that this blind man is causing me whenever I see him? Who can we lash out against because of the guilt that I experience every time I see this man and know that I should help? Who should feel guilty? Because it certainly shouldn’t be me.
Once the guilt has been removed by placing the blame, then responsibility also gets removed. If I’m not guilty, if I can’t be blamed for this problem, then I am most certainly not responsible for doing anything about it. Let those who made the mess clean it up. That’s not my job. That’s not my concern. And all sorts of other cutesy phrases all point to the same fact. We don’t like to feel guilty, and we definitely don’t like to be responsible for anything, even though we most certainly like all of the privileges we have. We don’t want to take the fall when things go wrong. Let someone else handle it.
All of this assigning blame. All of this transferal of guilt and avoiding of responsibility assures that one thing will happen – nothing at all. The problem still exists. The suffering continues. And no relief is given, not even the little bit that you could provide. The little bit that would be appreciated more than you could ever know.
What the disciples did in asking this question would be akin to you and some friends walking along and finding someone on the ground sweating, pale, and clutching his chest. So you ask your friends, “I wonder, is his heart attack caused because he ate too many foods high in cholesterol or because his genes are just bad?” In other words, “Who is at fault here, this man by eating poorly, or his parents by giving him bad genes? Who should pay his medical bills so that my insurance rates don’t go up?” Who should be held responsible for the current pandemic and its short- and long-term costs? I certainly don’t want to have to pay for it in any way, shape, or form.
These are the wrong things to ask, and Jesus let’s His disciples know this. “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.” This man wasn’t born blind because he was somehow a far worse sinner than the average person. This man wasn’t born blind because his parents were that much more sinful than you or I. The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t caused because the countries facing it right now are more sinful than those that so far have been spared. The people dying from this virus and its complications are not worse sinners than those who survive, or don’t get it at all. So to try to equate degree of suffering with enormity of sin is like saying 2+2 equals 10. It doesn’t add up. For each one of us is just as sinful as everyone else. The form of sin may be different, but the degree of guilt is not.
Each and every one of us has contributed to the suffering that goes on in this world through our own sins. Hence the guilt we often feel when we see others in need and yet allow our own self-centeredness to prevent us from helping in any way. Sometimes that suffering comes as a direct result of those sins that we have chosen to do. Sometimes that suffering comes as the direct result of those sins that someone else has chosen to commit. But most often that suffering comes because we live in a fallen, corrupted world where bad things happen, and people suffer. So, to spend our time in debate over who is to blame only shows one thing. That we are just as blind as the man in today’s Gospel. Not physically, but spiritually. Notice what our Lord says in His answer. Jesus doesn’t assign blame. He simply tells the disciples that this man’s suffering will be relieved by the power of God.
Jesus gives mercy, not blame, and relieves the suffering. “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.” He does so, not because sin is unimportant; but because Jesus didn’t come into the world to assign blame and exact a punishment based on the degree of sin committed. In His unending love for us, Jesus came into the world in order to show mercy. He mercifully took all the guilt of all the sins of the world onto Himself. He mercifully took all the responsibility for all of our failures, for all of our inactions, all of our blames, onto His own shoulders. Then He mercifully took the one action that would free us from the weight of guilt and shame, the burden of sins that we cannot bear. He mercifully bore our sins to His cross, suffering the full cost, accepting the full blame and responsibility, and dying for us. The proof? Look at the tomb that His body was laid in? All you find is an empty shelf and neatly folded burial cloths. The Father mercifully raised His only begotten Son from the dead, that we might know the full extent of His mercy.
His mercy extends across time and space to reach us. As He made the mud with His saliva to give the man born blind sight for the first time in his life, our Lord Jesus makes the water holy with His Word so that our hearts eyes see for the first time through the washing of baptism. As our Lord later met with the man to teach Him and strengthen his faith, Jesus gives to us His word, the Holy Bible, in order to teach us and strengthen our faith, keeping our eyes open to the light of God. To those who are wearied by the burden of suffering, Jesus mercifully gives healing, inviting us to come to His table and to receive His own body and blood, once sacrificed for our forgiveness, now distributed across time and space so that we are healed and our sight is renewed as we eat with all the angels, archangels, and all the saints, living and dead. And though we are now unable to gather together with our entire family in Christ at one time, here at Zion we have many opportunities throughout the week to receive the Lord’s Supper with our individual households or with two or three others.
What does all of this cost us? This is perhaps the most astonishing part. Absolutely nothing - for that is what mercy is. Showing compassion and not giving what is deserved, even when justice demands otherwise. Out of love, our Lord gives to us His mercy, and withholds the blame that we rightly deserve.
Having received mercy, having had the eyes of our heart opened to the light of God, we are now free to act. Through Jesus’ mercy, we also are now able to show mercy to others. In forgiving us, Jesus has also equipped us to fulfill the vocations that He has called us to. To our human nature what we do may not seem like much. A prayer, a word of encouragement, checking with your family, friends, and neighbors to see if they need anything during this time of social distancing, time spent helping with tasks great and small, a giving of those treasures that we have mercifully received, or any of a million other ways. They all help to relieve the suffering that is faced in this world. They all help to show God’s mercy and love in the face of trial and tribulation. They all give opportunities to speak of Christ’s love and forgiveness which builds up the believer, and gives the Holy Spirit the opportunity to create faith in the unbeliever. And they all can be done freely because we have freely received Christ’s merciful forgiveness. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen.