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Rabbi, Who Sinned?

by The Rev. Matt Wise on March 15, 2023

This coming Sunday’s Gospel begins with these lines: 
 
"As Jesus walked 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?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day…” 
 
Because we humans love to look for ways to be in control (or at least fool ourselves into thinking we are in control), we can understand where the disciples are coming from here. We do not agree with their ancient and pre-scientific premise that this man’s blindness is the result of either his sinfulness, or the sins of his parents. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we still tend to seek those kind of cause-and-effect answers to tragedy or devastating illness. We ask the “why” question in search of answers that might just lead to not having to experience that kind of grief or trouble again. (More on this in Sunday’s sermon.) But for now, I want to invite us to image the text a bit differently, specifically in a way that might open it up for us.  
You may remember that the ancient Greek that most of the New Testament is written in didn’t contain the same punctuation that our modern English translations do. Truthfully, the translators had to become interpreters in many instances regarding how and where they punctuated the original text. When looking at Jesus’ answer to his disciples’ question, we might be a little disturbed that Jesus seems to be suggesting that God caused this man to be born blind just so Jesus could publicly heal him. While this outdated theology may prove something good about Jesus’ healing capabilities, it suggests something terrible about the nature of God and God’s relationship with humanity.  
 
Perhaps, however, this was a grammatical choice that the translators/interpreters chose to make. Change some of the modern punctuation (that wasn’t present when it was written anyway), and consider the implications of this possible variation instead: 
 
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind. So that God’s works might be revealed in him, we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day…” 
 
Here we have a Jesus that doesn’t try to explain the “why” of this man’s blindness, but rather states a fact: he was born blind. Then, Jesus offers that God’s works might still be revealed in the midst of this man’s situation, and that revelation has nothing to do with the man himself, but with Jesus and the disciples continuing to do God’s work around/alongside/with the formerly blind man. This grammatical iteration shifts the focus from “why” to “what next.” In other words, it prevents Jesus’ disciples (and us) from getting stuck in some unnecessary and unfounded explanation and instead moves us to action: This man was born blind, but God is still at work in him and in those of us around him if we are open to it.  
 
I offer this possibility with our annual Day of Prayer and Service in sight. 
On Saturday, March 25th, we will intentionally set out across the city to work together and on behalf of others, all in the name of a God who is always at work, even in the midst of grief and struggle. If you haven’t already signed up, please consider offering your time and labor at Crockett Academy or at Morningside Ministries. Or, if you are or have a child or youth, consider signing up for the option at St. Paul’s Montessori School.

The Day of Prayer and Service is an outward and visible sign of our community’s belief that we must indeed work the works of the One who sent Christ. It has become part of our Lenten discipline, and one of the tangible ways God moves us from “why” to “what next” when we witness people in need throughout our broader community. I hope you’ll join us. 

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