Under the heading, “No good deed goes unpunished,” note the reactions in this story: disbelief, anger, blame. Today, I want to focus on the question of “blame” that comes up right away in the story, and on a few extra words inserted into this chapter when it’s translated into English.
“Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” This was a typical ancient worldview: no one gets anything other than what they deserve, so someone sinned that this man was born blind.
I read a story this past week about a priest in Atlanta. He’s lived in the US since he was 2, when his parents brought him here from Mexico. He’s one of 690,000 people who were brought here as kids, and who are protected by DACA – protected for now, at least. I couldn’t stop thinking of that story when I read the question, Who sinned, this man, or his parents?
Jesus says something powerful: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” He upends that ancient worldview, which was present even in 1st lesson (Exodus 20:1-6), that God punishes multiple generations for sin. He doesn’t lodge the blame somewhere, but instead deals with the reality in front of him – the blind man.
But, the NRSV inserts a few words in English that change the meaning of this passage. Look with me at verse 3: “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…” But, when we read this in its original language, this is what it says: Neither this man nor his parents sinned. So that the works of God might be revealed in him, we must work the works of him who sent me…” [I reviewed this a couple of times to make sure everyone could see it.]
Jesus didn’t search for blame or cause or anything else. Rather, he said, ‘Given this reality, given this blindness, now what? What can God do from here?’ Jesus starts from here, from now, with the situation right in front of him.
What is your blindness? What do you or others look backward to see? Where do you place blame? “I wouldn’t be in this position if I’d only…” or “She brought this on herself…” [I can’t remember what else I asked here.]
Imagine now Jesus kind of coming to your defense; ‘Let’s forget about that; Let’s start over from here.’
One of the things I like about Mardi Gras Sunday is the invitation to drop the masks – masks we put on ourselves or masks put on us by others and that pretend this is who we really are. [Again, I can’t remember what I said next.]
One last thing: the weird story of Jesus and the mud – Jesus spits in the dirt, makes mud, and rubs it in this guy’s eyes. I think we can all agree that that’s kind of weird. But, remember how this gospel begins? (“In the beginning…”) What other book starts like that? (Genesis) One of the ways we read John is in parallel with Genesis. So, what happens with dirt in Genesis? (Creation). John seems to be suggesting a new creation for the man born blind. He is reborn like Nicodemus, given living water like the woman at the well. They start again, anew, from right where they are.
Today, and every day, even in Lent, we are invited to celebrate the new creation, the water, the light, the life, the love of God for us and for all who once were lost but now are found, who were blind but now can see. Amen.
There were several extemporaneous comments that I made that I can’t remember now.