On the one hand, we are only human. We are infected with fear and greed, with selfishness and a tendency toward despair. On the other hand, there is the good news of the Gospel: We are fully human. We are made in the image of God with the capacity to love one another, to be generous, to pour ourselves out for one another even as Christ poured himself out for us.
John 9: 1-7 (NRSV)
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘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 while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
Love in the Age of Covid-19
I have been remembering this week a moment in the journey of parenting. It may be familiar to any of you who have reared children through their teenage years.
Once upon a time there were two perfect parents who were raising four perfect daughters. I heard about this couple. They did not like to brag, but they were the best parents in the world. All you had to do was ask them. Even their daughters would agree, on a good day.
And then, it came to pass that one of their daughters hit adolescence.
And the daughter’s desire, her most fervent desire in the whole world, was that the family all move to Europe so that she could become a world-famous ballet dancer. Though she was not quite the star of her small town dance studio, she knew she could do better if only she were in the right environment. It seemed perfectly reasonable to her. From her viewpoint, the window to a ballet career would be open only for a brief moment; if she did not get started on this dancing career soon and very soon, the window would shut, she would turn fourteen, and that would be too old.
So, the solution was clear. Her perfect parents needed to find jobs in Paris. Now.
And learn to speak French.
Her parents sat her down and offered a compromise—a ballet summer camp with the best company she could qualify for.
But no, nothing would do except moving to Paris.
And so, the parents had to spell out for her the difficult truth that all of us must learn as adolescents.
“Honey, the world does not revolve around your desires.”
She looked at her parents in mock horror. “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
I thought of that this week as I studied John’s account of Jesus healing the man born blind.
Though we children of the Enlightenment do not think of the world in the same way as the disciples, cause and effect, sin and punishment, righteousness and reward, yet we who have received much in life can be seduced by the world’s beauty and bounty into adopting the underlying belief: that the world was created for our pleasure.
If this world God created has provided us with so much that is good, then it follows that God exists for the purpose of fulfilling our desires.
Cause and effect, sin and punishment, righteousness and reward.
And then, a virus tears through the world and reminds us: we live in a fallen world. The lens of our righteousness and the sin of the other is smudged. It no longer helps us see things as they are.
If God is in charge of meting out justice by punishing the wicked and fulfilling the desires of the righteous, then God must be falling down on the job.
A virus is no respecter of persons.
For the sinner and the righteous, the neighbor and the stranger, the rich and the poor—"all flesh is grass. Its constancy is like the flowers of the field.”
The pestilence of our present time collapses any faith that is constructed on the foundation of our own desires, on the illusion of a world that gives each of us about what we deserve. Job’s friends scratch their heads as they look upon his suffering and urge him to “Think hard. You must have done something to deserve this.”
Jesus’s answer to the disciples, if it stands by itself, is puzzling. “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
Apart from its context, Jesus’s answer points to a God who has made this man born blind a pawn in a pageant performed for an emperor in need of an ego boost. “Let me show you just how benevolent I am,” the emperor boasts. “Hold my goblet and watch this.”
Context, however, is in the text.
This story was written for a late first-century community of Jews who had come to believe that the long-awaited Messiah had come, and his name is Jesus. That belief, when it was proclaimed and lived, did not result in all their desires being met. It resulted in their separation from their families and the faith community in which they had been born and raised. It brought broken relationships, troubled marriages and broken homes.
It brought financial struggles.
But, like the man born blind and healed, they could not un-see what they had seen. They had seen and experienced the life-giving grace of a man who had died and risen from the dead. They had experienced in their beloved community of believers the grace and forgiveness of God in ways they had never before known.
So, when Jesus answered, “so that God’s works may be revealed in him,” they came to see themselves not as the questioning disciples, but as the man born blind and given sight. His calling is our calling.
Our calling is to reveal God’s love for the world in this time and at all times.
In the larger context of John’s gospel, John is one who reminds us that God so loved the world that he sent his only son, Emmanuel, God with us, to live among us, to become one of us. We are not alone. We are not victims of circumstance. We are disciples of Jesus who showed us how to face all fears and conquer them through acts of healing, generosity, and kindness for our neighbor.
In a world that is purely transactional, human behavior can be explained by two emotions: fear and greed.
Certainly, we can see plenty of both around us now. The fear of running out of essential items provokes the human heart into acquiring more, as if having enough paper products will protect us from a virus.
And the stock market’s volatility reflects the fearful catastrophically-minded seller at one moment, and the buyer’s greed the next.
But that is only part of the story.
Recently, a friend pointed me toward the writing of a man named Sean Dietrich. He writes something funny and inspiring every single day, and his stories over the past week have pointed to the absurdity of humans acting out of fear, and the loveliness of humans loving one another as Christ loves us.
I will share just one of many encouraging stories he has told over the past week:
“In Houston, a guy walks into a Mexican restaurant. Guy orders a meal. Guy consumes dangerous amounts of cheese dip. Then, this guy pays his bill and leaves. He has included a note on his receipt.
The note reads: “Hold tip to pay your guys for the next few weeks.”
The tip is for $9,400.
The server nearly has to be revived with cold water.
This happened at Irma’s Southwest restaurant, which was closing down just like every other place in town. The $9,400 was divided evenly among the staff. Each employee took home $300. It was an emotional day.
‘I mean, I don’t have words for it,’ said general manager, Janet Montez. ‘I really don’t.’” https://seandietrich.com/feeling-good-all-over/
My in-box, too, has been a cup overflowing with people who want to help. As members of this congregation and our neighborhood civic association have met online to organize our efforts to help out our neighbors, I have two columns on my spreadsheet. On one side, I have a few names of people we have identified with needs to address. On the other side, I have a long list of your names, of people who have offered to help in any way possible, shopping for those who are most vulnerable, walking dogs, getting information out, reaching out by phone to those who are isolated.
And that is where we see the love of God among us—in neighbors stepping up for each other.
In the Gospel according to John, we read the word “belief” often. If we read that word to mean something that happens inside our heads, intellectual assent to certain propositions, then we have disconnected it from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The word in the Gospel translated as “faith” or “belief” is not about the thoughts in our heads so much as it is about what we do. It is how we act toward one another. It is about how the values we hold in the deepest recesses of our hearts lead us to love one another when the world is a fearful place.
“Someone once asked anthropologist Margaret Mead what she considered to be the first evidence of civilization. She answered: a human thigh bone with a healed fracture found in an archaeological site 15,000 years old.
“Why not tools for hunting or religious artifacts or primitive forms of communal self-governance?
“Mead points out that for a person to survive a broken femur the individual had to have been cared for long enough for that bone to heal. Others must have provided shelter, protection, food and drink over an extended period of time for this kind of healing to be possible.”
On the one hand, we are only human. We are infected with fear and greed, with selfishness and a tendency toward despair.
On the other hand, there is the good news of the Gospel:
We are fully human.
We are made in the image of God with the capacity to love one another, to be generous, to pour ourselves out for one another even as Christ poured himself out for us.
Thanks be to God.