Asking the Wrong Questions
I always find healing stories in the Bible problematic. It’s not that I don’t believe the stories. It’s not that I don’t believe that Jesus has the power to heal. It’s that it always brings up the question—if Jesus could heal this blind man, then why doesn’t he heal my blind friend…or my mother who is dying of cancer…or my child with cerebral palsey? If Jesus is this great healer, then why doesn’t he come through more often for us? Why do so many good and faithful servants of Jesus leave us far too soon or have to live with disease or disability?
This particular healing story, helps me out a bit with my struggle with Jesus and healing. It opens with the disciples asking why this man was born blind. They think they know that it is one of two answers. Long before there was any germ or gene theory of disease and illness, any kind of sickness or disability was caused by sin. Everybody knew that. The disciples just wanted to know who exactly had done the sinning in this case—the man or his parents. Parents are brought into the mix since, having been born blind, it was hard to figure what this man had done in the womb to have deserved such a fate.
Even though we have a far more sophisticated view of illness now, we totally get where the disciples are coming from.
We still want to know why.
We want to know whose fault it is.
We need for there to be a reason.
We want there to be someone to blame.
But Jesus is having none of that. He tells them they’re not asking the right question.
Now, this is one of those passages where translation errors have skewed the meaning and interpretation of this passage over the years. The NRSV says: Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. And it makes it sound like and has been interpreted as: God caused this blindness so that God could show off one day by healing this man. Which kind of seems like a jerk move on God’s part. What kind of God does that? But here’s the thing: The words “he was born blind” is not in the Greek text. If you take the “he was born blind” out and read it word for word as it stands in the original Greek: Neither this man or his parents sinned, but in order that the works of God might be manifest in him, we must work the works of he who sent me while it is still day.
That’s a whole different way of looking at the scenario and it changes the question. Instead of asking who is to blame, the question becomes:
What can God do from here?
Given the blindness, what is the shape that God’s healing grace can take from here?
Where can God go from here, and what can we do to be a part of it?
Because stuff happens.
Genetic material gets twisted.
Bodies are not made to last forever.
Disasters befall saints and sinners alike.
The question is not whose fault is this, but what how are the works of God being showing up in this situation and what is our part in it?
Those certainly weren’t the questions the Pharisees were asking. When they realize that this blind man can see, they are aren’t saying, “Wow! God is really doing something here! What is God up to with this miracle, and how can we be a part of it.” No, they want an explanation. They want to know just how this happened, who did it, was that person authorized and didn’t they know they had no business doing it?
They were the wrong questions because they were clinging to strong beliefs rather than a deep and abiding faith.
I have always kind of thought of belief and faith as the same thing, but Thomas McAfee, who is a prof of New Testament at McAfee Theological school in Atlanta asserts that they aren’t the same at all.
Too frequently we confuse persons with strong beliefs with persons with deep faith. Persons with strong beliefs must be heard, constantly affirm the tradition. They oppose innovation. They confess their loyalty to a loving, gracious God, but they themselves are unloving and ungracious.
Whereas, people with deep faith affirm the tradition, but they are open to new perspectives and new methods without being threatened. They take to heart God’s amazing grace and his love and believe that they must mirror God’s grace and love in their own lives.
If we believe we know who God is and what God can do, then we run into problems when God doesn’t work the way we think God is supposed to. That is always the problem the Pharisees run into, because they are all about protecting their beliefs rather than growing their faith.
But if we have faith in God, then we can live into the questions and mysteries, knowing that God is indeed up to something and up to something good, even when we mere mortals don’t quite get it.
In the end, it is the Pharisees clinging to their beliefs whom Jesus calls blind, and it is the blind man who recognizes who Jesus truly is. The blind man is the one who can see.
Doubting Believer–Because a faith that struggles with questions is always stronger than one that never asks any.