The Blame Game

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
John 9:1-41

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

 

9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. (John 9:1-41, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of the covenant, through baptism we pass from the shadow of death to the light of the resurrection. We pray that you stay with us and give us hope, this we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

We use this (hold up fishbowl) fishbowl in Confirmation Class, and we ask the students to put any questions that they may have into this bowl. Then we, the advisors, try to answer them.  The questions have gotten noticeably more difficult as the year has progressed and especially tough since the Confirmation Retreat.   The Adult mentors, Jennifer, Ellen, Blake, George and I spend some time each Wednesday evening trying to answer some of their big questions. The questions started out something like this: Why do communion wafers taste so bad?  Why do I have to go to church?  Do you have to be confirmed to be married in the church? What is the difference between Catholic and Protestant?  Then the questions started getting more difficult; Are heaven and hell real? In the Nicene Creed where it says Eternally Begotten, what does that mean? If everything happens for a reason and is part of God’s plan, why does he (God) inflict so much pain for some people?  As you can see they are a very smart class and they are deep thinkers.

 

Some of their questions get at the heart of who God is and what God is about. It is exactly what the Pharisees were asking Jesus in our Gospel reading for today.  Today’s reading is a very long story with many twists and turns.  It is a story full of questions—questions about God.  Questions about sin and punishment, Questions about good and evil.  But, mostly questions about Jesus—Who is he? Is he good? Is he evil? Is he the devil? Is he the Messiah?

 

The story begins with Jesus seeing a man born blind, and the disciples asking one of the many questions.  On the surface, it seems like a silly question.

 

At least it seems silly to us, but it made perfect sense to them.  The disciples were playing the blame game.  They wanted to know whose fault it was that this man was born blind.   They needed an assignment of guilt — so they could say he’s blind because of this this harmful action or that sin.  They believed in a first century version of Karma.   “Somebody’s gotta pay!”   But who?   Where his parents to blame?  Or was the man being punished because of original sin?   This allocation of blame was a common belief at the time of Jesus.  The cause and effect, the direct punishment for sins was the only way to make sense of the early world.   And we fall victim to this sort of thinking all the time.  “What did I do to deserve this?”  We envision God in heaven watching with a sin-o-meter, keeping score of our misdeeds and meting out demerits for Sacred Honor Code violations.

 

But, it doesn’t work that way, which is a good thing for us; because if we really were directly punished for our sins, we’d all be a lot worse off than we are.  As George, would say, it is just bad theology.

 

But Jesus didn’t take the Pharisee’s bait.  Instead he said the blindness and healing was all about demonstrating God’s splendor.

 

Listen to what Jesus says in response, “neither the man nor his parents are to blame.” Then Jesus gets his hands dirty with mud and spit. He heals the once blind man. Then he sends the once blind man to “Go, wash,” and the man follows the order and comes back able to see.

 

Then the cycle of questioning continues.  Those asking the questions are revealing their blindness.  They are exposing the fact that they don’t get Jesus nor do they understand what he is all about.  It seems that seeing has been the focus of Lent this year.  On the one hand, here is a person born blind, yet he “sees” who Jesus is and on the other hand, over there, are the leaders of the faith, the ones with eyes to see who still don’t get it.  They are blind to what God can do.

 

Notice how Jesus has shifted the focus of the questions away from the once blind man and who is to blame for his blindness over to the possibilities of what God is doing.  But Jesus doesn’t play the blame game.  Instead he focuses on who to praise.

 

We, like the Pharisees, look for someone to blame.   We often see a situation as a curse from God, as a punishment for some past sin, then ever admit that somethings just happen.  We also look for the guilty party, that individual, that community or that nation that we can blame, because they see things differently than we do.

 

But Jesus suggests that instead of asking who to blame, we should open our eyes to see who to thank and share our appreciation.  Open our eyes to life and all its mysteries, quandaries, tragedies, and blessings is not so much that of blame, but instead see it as that of beauty and wonder.  It is a profound cure for blindness when we can see gratitude instead of blame or positive instead of negative.   Let me put it another way.  Call it perspective:

I can see them as problems or experiences to be thankful for…

…the mess to clean after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends.

…the taxes I pay because it means that I am employed.

…the clothes that fit a little too snug because it means I have enough to eat.

…my shadow who watches me work because it means I am out in the sunshine.

…a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning and gutters that need fixing because it means that I have a home.

…all the complaining I hear about our government because it means we have freedom of speech.

…the lady behind me in church who sings off key because it means I can hear.

…the piles of laundry and ironing because it means my loved ones are nearby.

…the alarm that goes off in the early morning hours because it means that I’m alive.

 

Questions about God usually lead to more questions and not many answers; because it means that my faith is growing; not knowing what the future will hold but being grateful for God who is leading the way. Not guilt, not blame, not cynicism. Instead let’s try gratitude, praise, trust, faith and love.

 

Let us pray: Come, Holy Spirit, open our eyes to the joy of your presence, and may we continue to make a difference for Jesus to everyone we encounter. In his name, we pray. Amen.

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