The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

We see abstractions; Jesus sees people (sermon for March 2, 08)

with 3 comments

Jesus heals the man born blindFourth Sunday in Lent (March 2, 2008)

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

Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem. Watch what happens . . .

John 9:1-41
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?”

So they see a guy who’s blind. Their thoughts go one place: somebody’s been bad.

For 2,000 years what’s about to happen will be talked about. But the possibility of this poor guy getting well doesn’t even seem to have occurred to them. Apparently, they’re thinking about him very differently than Jesus is.

What was their question? “Who sinned?” Let’s see how he answers:

Jesus 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.

They live with the assumption that tragedy happens because somebody is bad. They see this poor fellow as a case study in the nature of good and evil. And Jesus says they’re off the track. It’s the wrong question. It doesn’t happen that way. Forget about that. He wants them to look for what God might do about it. Don’t you love it?

Their question – who sinned? – is more common than you might think. Quotes:

  • [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

People still look at tragedy and assume it to be the judgment of God. But Jesus says, “That’s the wrong question. … There’s no such cause-effect here.” Yes!

Remember this. Next time you hear someone blaming someone else’s sin for a tragedy, you can say, with the authority of the Word of God: There’s no such cause-effect here. Next time somebody at work or school claims that God whacked somebody, you can turn them to John chapter 9 and say, “It doesn’t work that way. That’s the wrong question.”

If all that’s the wrong question, what’s the right way to think about it? Look instead for what God can do.

Watch him give a hint, now, about what he means by that:

“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.”

The right question has something to do with looking for what God can do; and now we learn it has something to do with working – sort of, getting on with it. Hmmm. What’s he setting up here?

He 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.

Oho! That’s what God can do. Jesus saw it. When they first walked up, Jesus’s disciples scarcely saw a person at all – they saw a theological controversy, an opportunity to analyze, a chance to cluck over how he probably got what he deserved.

Jesus saw a human being in trouble. Jesus talked to him, and touched him. He looked for what God could do, and joined in with it. They had seen only an occasion for blame that had little to do with them; he saw a person God cared about and knew why he was there.

By the way, look how John tells it:

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.”

He 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.

Sent, sent, sent, and sent. Jesus is sent, the man is sent, and he’s sent to a pool called “Sent.” You think maybe there’s a point John’s trying to put across here? The disciples thought they were out for a walk, making observations, learning abstractions. Jesus is saying we are sent! Judgment isn’t our problem; we’re here to fit in to whatever God wants to do, right here, right now. We’re sent.

Remember the quotes I read earlier?

  • [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

It’s backwards. They’re focused on judgment, rather than on what God wants to do through them. We’re sent to see what God can do. Thousands – maybe millions – have gotten it right and gone to the Gulf Coast to help.

And the rest of the chapter is about the simplicity of just helping versus the theological abstractions people use to get out from under it.

Soon 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.”

They 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.”

“So where is he?” “I don’t know.” They 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.”

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

See? He can’t be from God, he doesn’t have his abstractions right.

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

They 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.”

The 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?” His 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.”)

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

Simple.

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

I think he’s getting tired of this.

With 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.”

The 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.”

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

Ah, there we go. Now we see where they’re coming from. “You’re nothing but dirt.” Maybe he causes earthquakes.

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The 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?” “Master, I believe,” the man said, and worshiped him.

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

Jesus sees people; his disciples argue over principles.

When I write about poverty on my blog, I get responses from many Christians who want to ponder the abstractions of how helping poverty should work. Is it right for the government to do it? What if we help someone who ought to be providing? Is God pleased if people help others whose hearts aren’t in it? Where’s the dividing line between personal help and government help? How can we take money from some and give it to others? What if someone takes advantage of us?

I think Jesus would say, “Fix the problem. Get people fed and clothed and cared for. Then work out the fine points of philosophy about who should take it from there and how it should operate and what’s in everybody’s long term best interest. First, stop the bleeding. First, see people in need, and look for what could be done.” We want abstractions; Jesus wants healing. We could end most world hunger in 12 months if we wanted to care for people more than we wanted to get the details just so.

Like Jesus and his first disciples, we’re not just observers of life, we’re participants in it. We’re sent. God intends to bring in a Kingdom of love, and he intends to bring it in through people like you. Our job is to look for what God could do.

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.

Sound familiar?

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!


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Monte AsburyAll Scripture from The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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3 Responses

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  1. Thanks very much, Calvin, for those kind words! I am so glad you found it helpful and took the time to let me know.

    Monte

    June 21, 2008 at 10:25 am

  2. Thanks so much, I am the Director of a ministry, and your wisdom has really taught me how to really help people. May The LORD continue to bless and keep you, and make His face to shine upon you, and give you peace.

    Calvin Carson

    June 21, 2008 at 9:28 am

  3. thank you Monte. I am feed so well by reading your blog regularly. Here’s to more of the hope of God with us and in us and through us! Keep writing – it is what I need.

    nancy

    March 9, 2008 at 3:38 am


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