Like Crystal, this story speaks to me.
The disciples ask : Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?. What is taken for granted by these disciples with such a question?
Rabbi — teacher. Not Lord. Teacher. They aren’t quite there yet despite the earlier before Abraham was, I am which should have knocked their socks off.
And the providence of God. Clearly the man could have been born with sight if God had so allowed. His blindness is an evil. And it must be understood as God’s punishment for sin — a greater evil. Yet who sinned. He was born with this condition.
Jesus deconstructs their question. Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. Jesus does not give into their assumptions about punishment in this life for sin. Nor does he make the move we might expect from modern day liberal Christians that what we call evil is relative. Or the move by modern day mystics, that all that happens is a gift from God and therefore good.
No. This man was born blind into a world without social welfare programs and into a land occupied by a foreign military. He was doubly oppressed. First by his disability and secondly by a world that left him only two options, beg by the side of the road or do not eat.
And so Jesus’ answer is that the evils that happen in this life are not God’s punishment upon us either for sins of ourselves or of our fathers. They are opportunities for the goodness and power of God to become manifest in this world. And again, he adds to this wisdom, an injunction, we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day. We not. Not You. We. Together we respond to evil by bringing forth goodness.
AIDS was not and is not a punishment for the sin of homosexuality. The Tsunami is not God’s judgment upon this world. My disability is not God’s punishment upon me or upon my parents for anything we did or deserved. Each is an opportunity for good — for God’s good to shine like a beacon through our responses to the suffering the pain the sorrow.
To say otherwise is to set our faces like flint against the Christ and the spirit of Christ working in us. It is to define ourselves outside of the Christian faith no matter what other doctrines we are willing to affirm in the abstract.
Now it is easy for me to point a finger at the churches. The churches have a lousy track record. Slow to respond to the AIDS crisis. Using it as an excuse to condemn the sexual lives of others. Refusing to make worship spaces handicapped accessible. Continuing to use disabilities as metaphors for sin and moral lack in sermons and liturgies.
And yet the finger points towards me as well. How much of my spirituality is about earning heaven? These last two years have been difficult ones for me. Unhappy work situations sandwiched extended periods of layoff. My response — though natural — has been to resent my situation, feel sorry for myself. And this has impaired my efforts to bring forth good in the situation. I still have moments when my anger at my former employer wells up within me.
I am not called to a natural response. I am called to a supernatural response. I face the evil in my life. And I recast it as an opportunity for God’s redemptive love to become manifest. And to work towards that aim.
Easier said than done.