The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Jesus: Tragedy isn’t judgment (readings for Sunday, March 2)

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God’s judgment sure gets blamed for a lot. Which is strange, when you consider how resoundingly Jesus thumps such thinking. Consider these examples:

  • [Israeli Member of Parliament] Shlomo Benizri blamed gays Wednesday for the earthquakes that have shaken the region in recent months . . . —Haaretz
  • As emergency teams fight to reach survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, a conservative group in the US has claimed that the hurricane was an ‘act of God’ in judgement [sic] on the city. —Ekklesia
  • “All hurricanes are acts of God because God controls the heavens. I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that.” —Rev. John Hagee (right), as quoted in Wikipedia
  • For Hagee and for CUFI [Christians United for Israel], all roads lead to a “nuclear showdown: with Iran. Diplomacy would only make God angry. As Hagee warns in Jerusalem Countdown, ‘Those who follow a policy of opposition to God’s purposes will receive the swift and severe judgment of God without limitation.'” —The Nation on Rev. Hagee, whose CUFI lobbies Washington for invasion of Iran and no-questions-asked military backing of Israel

I’m so glad it isn’t like that. How unwilling the church has been to admit that Jesus disavows the imprecations of the Old Testament! In the gospel reading for this Sunday, he rejects the tragedy- is- judgment world-view. Watch:

Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 2, 2008)

John 9:1-41; Ephesians 5:8-14; 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23

John 9:1-41
True Blindness
1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” 3-5Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world’s Light.”

“You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.”

Get it? Looking for someone to blame for inexplicable tragedy is asking the wrong question. It doesn’t work that way. Our task is to watch for what God could do, and be energetically at work

6-7He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man’s eyes, and said, “Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “Sent”). The man went and washed—and saw.

8Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, “Why, isn’t this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?”

9Others said, “It’s him all right!”

But others objected, “It’s not the same man at all. It just looks like him.”

He said, “It’s me, the very one.”

10They said, “How did your eyes get opened?”

11″A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ I did what he said. When I washed, I saw.”

12″So where is he?”

“I don’t know.”

13-15They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, “He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”

16Some of the Pharisees said, “Obviously, this man can’t be from God. He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”

Others countered, “How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?” There was a split in their ranks.

17They came back at the blind man, “You’re the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?”

He said, “He is a prophet.”

18-19The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”

20-23His parents said, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see—haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.” (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That’s why his parents said, “Ask him. He’s a grown man.”)

24They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind— and told him, “Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor.”

25He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”

26They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27″I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?”

28-29With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”

30-33The man replied, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”

34They said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.

35Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”

37Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”

38″Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.

39Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

40Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”

41Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure.”

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Ephesians 5:8-14
8-10You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You’re out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.

11-16Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

Wake up from your sleep,
Climb out of your coffins;
Christ will show you the light!
So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Samuel 16:1-13
God Looks into the Heart
1 God addressed Samuel: “So, how long are you going to mope over Saul? You know I’ve rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your flask with anointing oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I’ve spotted the very king I want among his sons.”

2-3 “I can’t do that,” said Samuel. “Saul will hear about it and kill me.”

God said, “Take a heifer with you and announce, ‘I’ve come to lead you in worship of God, with this heifer as a sacrifice.’ Make sure Jesse gets invited. I’ll let you know what to do next. I’ll point out the one you are to anoint.”

4 Samuel did what God told him. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the town fathers greeted him, but apprehensively. “Is there something wrong?”

5 “Nothing’s wrong. I’ve come to sacrifice this heifer and lead you in the worship of God. Prepare yourselves, be consecrated, and join me in worship.” He made sure Jesse and his sons were also consecrated and called to worship.

6 When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Here he is! God’s anointed!”

7 But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”

8 Jesse then called up Abinadab and presented him to Samuel. Samuel said, “This man isn’t God’s choice either.”

9 Next Jesse presented Shammah. Samuel said, “No, this man isn’t either.”

10 Jesse presented his seven sons to Samuel. Samuel was blunt with Jesse, “God hasn’t chosen any of these.”

11 Then he asked Jesse, “Is this it? Are there no more sons?”

“Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s out tending the sheep.”

Samuel ordered Jesse, “Go get him. We’re not moving from this spot until he’s here.”

12 Jesse sent for him. He was brought in, the very picture of health— bright-eyed, good-looking.

God said, “Up on your feet! Anoint him! This is the one.”

13 Samuel took his flask of oil and anointed him, with his brothers standing around watching. The Spirit of God entered David like a rush of wind, God vitally empowering him for the rest of his life.

Samuel left and went home to Ramah.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Psalm 23
A David Psalm
1-3 God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.

4 Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

5 You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.

6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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