Jesus answered, 'Neither he nor his parents sinned -- but that the works of God may be revealed in him'" (John 9:1-3).
I've often gone to this passage to bring comfort to persons who've been suffering in ways that defied any explanation; I've used it as a text for the funeral of someone who had finally come to the end of a long life of pain and suffering; or the funeral of a child who lived only a few days with a congenital defect; or who died of SIDs. I have tried to use it to comfort those grieving parents and loved ones who were asking, "Why?"
However, the passage is just the opener to one of the more humorous stories in the Bible (at least from my slightly warped perspective). John 9 is a story about spiritual blindness.
As I meditated on some recent events in my own experience, as well as some conversations I'd heard, my mind kept coming back to the disciples' question above. Now I don't know their motives or the reasonings behind the question, but it reminded me of similar questions or comments I'd heard before, asked by well-meaning (?) Christians when faced with the pain or suffering of others.
- Years ago, when relating as a pastor to my congregation about a young man dying of AIDs. I was asked, "Is he gay?
- Comments about panhandlers that I've heard many times, "How'd he get that way?" or He'll probably spend it on booze or drugs."
- How about this response to my reading passage after passage about our responsibility to the poor. "The biggest cause of poverty in this country is single parenting," spoken in front of at least a half dozen single or formerly single parents.
The list could go on ad nauseam. It seems we want to assign a reason for the suffering we witness -- perhaps to excuse our own lack of compassion. We seem to be simply repeating Cain's question, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
But when Jesus was confronted with people who were suffering, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually, we never read of His asking questions or making comments like this. He just reached out in compassion. It didn't seem to be a matter of concern to Him as to how the particular person got into the mess they were in.
He healed physically and emotionally ill persons. He comforted grieving parents. He cast our demons. He forgave sinners of all sorts.
We might suppose that Jesus was just reacting against the harshness of the Old Testament Law and to some extent, He was. But if we look at what the Old Testament has to say about those in need, we realize that Jesus was expressing the compassion of His Father for those in need -- a compassion already encoded in the Law of Moses.
"You shall not wrong or oppress an alien ...You shall not oppress a widow or an orphan ...
If you lend money to My people -- the poor among you ...
exact no interest from them ..." (Exodus 22:20-26 -- read all of it).
See also Exodus 23:4-12 and many other references to the poor, the alien, the widow and the orphan -- and God's reaction to the mistreatment of them.
When confronted with need of any sort, the question is never asked as to how that person or those persons came to be in the mess they were in, whether by Jesus or any Old Testament saint.
But what I have heard over and over again coming from those who claim to be followers of Jesus is a demand that those in need be somehow "worthy" of care.
Jesus came into this world to save sinners. None of us are or were "worthy" of His grace. And our responsibility is to demonstrate to other sinners the grace of Christ -- no questions asked.