Saturday, December 1, 2012


"And as He passed along He saw a man blind from birth.  And His disciples asked Him saying, 'Who sinned, this one or his parents that he should be born blind?'
            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.


serena said...

Absolutely beautiful, poignant and relevant scripture and blog. Thank you for posting your thoughts. I get quite annoyed with people who want to "qualify" helping others. Your blog so succinctly expressed a much needed reminder to Christians that we are to be the hands and feet of Christ without question, but with discernment giving from the Holy Spirit and not our own mind.

KenMullins said...

Since Jesus did not help everyone, He must have Himself used some criteria to determine who He helped. While the gospels do not tell us the criteria He used, it does give us a hint in John 9 "but that the works of God may be revealed in him” in other words, to bring glory to God. Since we don't have enough to help everyone, we too must decide who to help. May I suggest helping someone who is most likely to benefit long term will bring the most glory to God. Helping someone continue their addiction will not bring much glory to God.

When we lived in Omaha, NE we helped out at homeless shelter. The homeless fell into three roughly equal groups.
1) Addicts
2) Mentally Impaired
3) Runaways

The greatest successes were with the runaways; however my heart went out to the mentally impaired. We could only help then when they wanted help and they were free to return to the streets anytime they wanted. Allowing someone to decide their own fate is great when they are capable of making those decisions, but allowing adults with the mind of a small child to live on the streets is neither freedom nor compassion.

Bill Ball said...

Interesting comments Ken. But neither Jesus nor the OT Law give us any criteria for discriminating on the basis of worth. In John 5 we read of Jesus healing one man and apparently ignoring "a multitude of the sick, blind, lame and withered." As far as I can determine the guy was an ungrateful jerk who ratted on Him to the religious leaders.

Barbara Ragan said...

Every day I drive past people standing on street corners holding cardboard signs stating their need. Even more than their signs their need is shown by their posture, their face, their eyes. I hand out a few bucks, smile, wave, nod recognition, roll down the window and say a few words. Does my small token fill in some tiny way their need? My need? Does my wave recognize their humanity and in turn my humanity? Because they are made in the image of God (whatever that means) and I am made in the image of God...we have a shared heritage. My humanity recognizes their humanity and therefor their need.. I must do what I can without reservation. I am not wise enough to do anything else.

Trent said...

Well Said. Bob sent me to your blog as he thought I would enjoy it, and thus far I have.