Lent 4A: John 9: Why?

The disciples approach Jesus with an age-old question, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to be born blind?” (John 9:2).  My mother lived this view of the world with me.  Say something terrible happened to me.  At the ready, her words came dripping out with this wisdom, “God’s punishing you!”

How easy to assume so, to think God punishes us when we mess up.  Did your eyes not, at one time or another, pore over the pages of the Old Testament?  In ancient times, God rewarded the people of Israel when they followed His Covenant and punished them when they didn’t.  No one missed this quid pro quo.

In today’s Old Testament reading, God established a Covenant with His people. 

So, Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, and the people responded with a single voice: “All the Lord has commanded, we will do.”…  Early the next morning, Moses got up and built an altar….  To the Lord, they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings.  Into basins, Moses drained half the blood from these animals, and half of the blood he splashed on the altar.  He took the Book of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people, and they all answered.  “All the words the Lord decreed, we will obey.”  Next, Moses took the blood and splashed it on the people.  “Here is the blood of the covenant, which the Lord made with you according to all these words.”  [Exodus 24:3-8]

From their own words, they promised to keep the Covenant.  So, if they did, they should expect God’s blessing, but, if not, the opposite—God censuring them is some way.  Often, a foreign, invading army came along and taught Israel a lesson.  In the Old Covenant, a link existed between Israel keeping the Covenant and God’s blessing on them. 

The New Covenant isn’t this way.  How can I say this?  Easy: Go to where God set up the New Covenant.  To do this is to understand how the New Covenant operates.  So, where do we find those words?  Ah, they enter your ears every Sunday at church—if you’re in a church following what God commands His Church to do.  Here they are:

In the same way also, [Jesus] took the cup after supper.  After He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you, this cup is the New Covenant in My blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

So, what is the New Covenant?  Nothing other than the Lord’s Supper, the only place where Jesus calls something the “New Covenant.”  For this reason, the Lord’s Supper is the center of our worship since Jesus calls this sacred eating His New Covenant.  So also do our Lutheran Confessions: “The purpose of the Mass [the Divine Service] is for giving of the Sacrament” (AC, 24, para 34). 

Is preaching important?  Yes!  Nevertheless, Jesus never called preaching the New Covenant.  Though Jesus commanded baptism, He never referred to those waters, which give us spiritual birth from above, as the New Covenant.  Neither with absolution, only the Supper. 

All right, what’s the purpose of this new and different Covenant?  Not to leave us guessing, Jesus tells us, “The forgiveness of sins.”  All this reveals a different character to this Covenant, at least as we experience it.  Now, if we suffer punishment, God isn’t punishing you.  No, this may, instead, be the result of the choices and actions you make.  “A person reaps what he sows,” Galatians 6:7 teaches.

In Jesus’ day, some Galileans died when a tower collapsed on them.  In their Old-Covenant view of life, the disciples quiz Jesus, “Did they die because of some sin?” Not willing to give an inch of ground, Jesus taught them, “No, but unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:4).

The sinful nature asks, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  To speak such a question uncovers the idea of being good enough, why something terrible should be an anomaly.  The Christian asks, “Why do good things happen to undeserving people.” 

No one is worthy in God’s eyes apart from the righteousness of Jesus.  So this truth turns every adverse event into a call to turn away from sin toward God.  Now, since unfortunate events happen each day, repentance should be part of our daily life.  To stop repenting is to quit turning toward God, which is letting your sinful nature dictate who your god will be.

The disciples did touch the truth regarding the man’s blindness, understanding sin to be at its root.  Here’s where they went wrong, thinking God punished him for some transgression, not as a result of living in a fallen world.  Every ailment you experience is part of the continuing aftershock of Adam’s fall into sin. 

From the start, God created us to receive light, not for darkness to seal us in its bleakness and gloom.  So also with ears, to experience the sensation of sounds.  Alive with God’s breath, we are a union of flesh and soul, never meant to lie broken in the dust of death.  All changed after Adam’s fall.  The blind man suffered because of the fall into sin, as do you and me.

Still, Jesus didn’t delve into a philosophical discussion.  No questions surface about “why” the man groped all his years in ever-present darkness.  Jesus didn’t direct His disciples to think he suffered blindness because of some particular sin.  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus stood unwavering.  “No, this happened so God’s works may be revealed in him” (John 9:3). 

The work of God?  “The Lord opens the eyes of the blind, raises those who are who are bent over, and loves the righteous,” Psalm 146:8 sounds forth.  “The deaf will hear the words written in the book,” Isaiah foretold.  “Out of deep darkness, the eyes of the blind will see” (Isaiah 29:18).  “Blind eyes will open, with the ears of the deaf unstopped” (Isaiah 35:5).

The prophesied day did arrive.  The Sun of Righteousness, Jesus came for those who sat in darkness, held in the clench of death’s shadow.  The Father sent Him to do what we cannot, which is why He is the “true light, who enlightens everyone” (John 1:9). 

The Gospel-bringing light of Jesus shone.  From the dust of the ground, He made an ointment and rubbed the salve on the man’s empty eyes.  Next, He sent him to bathe in the pool of Siloam, pointing forward to holy baptism.  In baptismal waters to come, Jesus will cleanse us from our sin and enlighten us with His Spirit (Acts 2:38). 

The man gained physical sight.  Now born anew, He gaped in wonder at the colors and shapes, the depth and detail.  Such a wondrous miracle, which pointed to a larger one—Jesus bestowing on him the eyes of faith.  The lesser, physical sight, testifies to the more significant, spiritual sight.  With flesh-made eyes, he will gaze on Jesus, the author of the new creation, who is the Word made flesh.  Heavenly realms will now unfold before him, for in seeing Jesus, God’s loving heart is laid bare before him.

A blind man is now a disciple of Jesus, but with perfect vision.  Not so for the disciples of Moses, with their keen eyes for God’s Law.  How sad, unable to recognize the Messiah before them.  Despite their physical sight, they are without eyes to the ways of God.

The Pharisees will interrogate and expel the man who received his eyesight from Jesus.  Unable and unwilling, they cannot recognize Jesus as the light of the world.  In sin’s blindness, they are enemies of God, raging against the Light, Jesus.

So, they will see to it that Jesus is crucified.  From this cross of death, God will reveal His most magnificent glory, where Jesus will be lifted high as our Savior.  In His death, Jesus gives life, and those who look to Him in faith, receive sight.  Only in this way can we spot the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 

So, why do good things happen to evil people?  All because of Jesus.  The Father sent Him into our sinful gloom to die our death—and to rise from the dead!  Now, He lives and shines as the Light of the world, which no darkness can overcome. 

Though we find ourselves with virus and blackness all around us, you can still rejoice.  The landscape is bleak and isolated, while we battle an unwanted disease so new to these shores.  Do not be daunted, for we can peer into realms unknown by a Gospel-granted faith. 

A tower falls on workers, and some disease causes us to quarantine ourselves.  The effects on this world are catastrophic.  By faith, we will do more than our civic duty to prevent a scourge from expanding, we will also repent.  Like we shun the Corona virus, so too are we to flee from our sins.  Like we turn toward a cure for this ailment, we also turn to Jesus, the Light amid the darkness.  No sin can overwhelm our Savior, and He can never provide too much of His forgiveness. 

The world may bloody us.  In those times, become bodied and blooded by Jesus, the all-seeing God who becomes blind to your sin.  In Christ, He spots no sinfulness but only the pure righteousness of Jesus.  Now, when your heavenly Father casts His eye on you, He beholds His Son, in whom He delights. 

In these dark and latter days, you can still find joy.  In Christ, we know the end of the story, and it’s a grand one, indeed!  By faith and in faithfulness, you can be bold to face down our flesh-borne enemies since your eternity is sure.  So, whether you serve by doing or serve by staying home, all is well in Your Savior.  Amen.

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