Who sinned?

Fourth Sunday of Lent; 22 March 2020; Lent 4A; 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41.

Greek drama works a bit like Shakespearean drama – the critical bit happens in the middle scene. This chapter and the next forms the center of John’s Gospel, so it feels like something really important. And right in the center of this chapter comes the crisis.

The only scene in which the man’s parents appear, they refuse to answer the Jews’ question, because the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus the Messiah would be thrown out of the synagogue. That feels like the heart of the story of John’s little community (and thus Raymond Brown argues in The Community of the Beloved Disciple). It also explains John’s antipathy toward ‘the Jews.’ This was an internecine fight.

So, the man’s blindness has to do with an understanding of Jesus as the Messiah. He comes to a recognition, while ‘the Jews’ do not. Consequently, they remain in their sin. The drama opens and closes with a question about sin. The disciples ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” At the end, Jesus tells some Pharisees that because they claim to see, they remain in their sins.

Jesus responds to his disciples that the man’s blindness isn’t about sin, but so that the works of God might be revealed, and then makes mud and opens the man’s eyes. In the penultimate scene, the man comes to believe that Jesus is the Son of Man (remember, when Jesus met Nathaniel, he told us (in the plural) that we would see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man). This man comes to an understanding of Jesus that not even his disciples share.

In these times, I suppose it is human nature to want to place blame (who sinned?) concerning this virus. I wonder what it would mean to see this as chance to see the works of God revealed. It raises questions about our blindness — what is it we don’t see? It raises questions about who is the Son of Man. When certain Greeks want to see Jesus at the Festival, he replies, “Now is the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified.” For John, the title Son of Man has some connection to the cross, in a way that the other titles don’t. To see the Son of Man revealed is to see Jesus on the cross.

Perhaps John is using that title to emphasize Jesus’ connection to us (the phrase really means something like ‘the human being.’). It’s in our suffering that we see our connection to one another in ways that it is easy for us to avoid when things are good. And that connection is what make resurrection possible. That is what assures us we are not alone in our suffering. Of course, that recognition doesn’t come without controversy. There are plenty of forces in the world that don’t want us to see that interconnection. Our rugged individualism keeps us isolated from one another. And this physical distancing threatens to keep us isolated, and we’re certainly seeing plenty of evidence of people worrying only about themselves (from buying up all the tp, to partying on the beach as if nothing were wrong). The loving thing to do is to step outside of our self-interest and suffer with others (the root meaning of the word sym-pathy).

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