Title: Pain + Difficulty = Grace SCRIPTURE: John 9:1-41
Jesus and his disciples passed by a blind man. The disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
That's a natural question. When we encounter someone with a terrible illness -- or someone whose business failed -- or someone who has just gone through a divorce -- we ask that kind of question, at least in our heart. What happened? What did that person do? Was he a smoker? Did he drink too much? Did she take care of business?
We ask that kind of question, in part, because we feel more secure if we can figure out what happened. It isn't so much that we are trying to blame the victim, but perhaps, if we could figure out what happened to him, we might avoid having it happen to us. If cigarettes caused his cancer, we feel secure we don't smoke. If her business failed because she wasted money, we feel secure because we are more frugal. If his wife divorced him because of his drinking problem, we feel secure because we don't drink that much.
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" That is a religious question. Jesus was teaching his disciples about spiritual matters, so it was natural that they would want to know how sin caused this man's blindness. If they could understand sin and suffering, perhaps they could help people to avoid suffering.
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" I wonder if the blind man overheard that question. If so, I am sure that it wasn't the first time that he had heard it. People in that time and place assumed that suffering was the result of sin. The blind man probably thought so too. He probably wondered what he had done wrong. He probably had a theory about some wrongdoing that had caused his blindness.
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Just imagine hearing that kind of comment day in and day out. It was bad enough being blind -- questions like that heaped salt on the wound -- caused the man fresh pain every time he heard them.
"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."
And then Jesus healed the man. He spat on the ground and made mud with his spittle. He put the mud on the man's eyes and told him to wash in the pool of Siloam. The man obeyed, and was healed. He who had never in his whole life seen even his mother's face could now see everything.
But the local people, seeing the formerly blind man, were confused. They were accustomed to seeing him sitting alongside the roadside begging, and now he was walking around. They had seen the deadness of his eyes, but now his eyes were bright -- sparkling. They asked, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" Some of them thought that it was, but others thought that it was a different man. Truth to tell, it was a different man -- made different by his contact with Jesus.
Jesus said that the man was born blind "so that God's works might be revealed in him" (v. 3). The man's infirmity was an opportunity for God to demonstrate his grace -- and for Jesus to demonstrate his Godly power. It was an opportunity for the people of Jerusalem to learn about Jesus -- to believe in Jesus.
We don't know how many people believed as a result of this miracle. We do know that the Pharisees did not believe. They did not want to believe in Jesus, and refused to believe their own eyes. They tried to explain away the miracle. Jesus performed the miracle on the Sabbath, so they said that Jesus must be a sinner for violating the Sabbath.
But when the Pharisees tried to get the formerly blind man to agree that Jesus was a sinner, the man responded,
"I do not know whether he is a sinner.
One thing I do know,
that though I was blind,
now I see" (v. 25).
When they tried to argue with him, he stuck to his guns. He concluded by saying, "If this man (meaning Jesus) were not from God, he could do nothing" (v. 33). The Pharisees were furious, and ran him off.
-- But I wonder how many of the local people believed because of the man's testimony.
-- I wonder how many were blessed by his courageous witness.
-- I wonder what happened from that day forward. I wonder about the power of his witness in subsequent years to those who had known him as a blind beggar sitting with his begging cup beside the road.
-- And I wonder how many people have been blessed through the centuries by reading this story in the Bible. I know that I am blessed by it today, because it reminds me of Jesus' power to transform lives.
It seems to me that the years that this man spent in blindness -- his terrible years -- were the fertile soil from which a million blessings have sprung. I would not have wished this man to be blind, but I would not have denied him the special opportunity that his blindness and his healing at Jesus' hands gave him.
As I reflected on that, it reminded me that the difficult times in our lives sometimes provide us with special opportunities to bless other people. We all experience difficult times, don't we. Sometimes we experience terrible times. When we bear our difficulties with faith, the people around us find themselves blessed by our faith -- blessed by our courage -- blessed by our grace under pressure. Our terrible times can be fertile ground from which blessings spring -- blessings with which we can bless those around us.
I remember reading an article by Gilbert Beers. Beers was a pastor and a senior editor of Christianity Today. His eldest son died tragically. In reflecting on that tragedy, Beers did not deny the pain that he and his wife experienced, but he also talked about how he and his wife had friends whom they knew as healers -- people who somehow had a healing touch for those in pain -- people who somehow always found the right words in times of trouble. Beers said that neither he nor his wife had ever had that gift. They had never thought of themselves as healers. They were never able to bless people in that way. But after the death of their son they found themselves "healing other wounded people as (they) had never done before" ("Wounds That Heal," Christianity Today, Nov. 7, 1986).
That is not a role that any of us would want to seek out. We would all like to be healers, but none of us want to experience the kind of tragedy that the Beers family experienced -- the tragedy that somehow seasoned their hearts and enabled them to become healers.
But the truth is that, sometime in our lives, we all face adversity. It might be illness. It might be the loss of a job. It might be divorce. It might be the death of a loved one. There are so many possibilities that I can't list them all. The point is that, at sometime, we all have to deal with real trouble. It is a part of life.
When that happens, we have to decide how to handle it. We have choices. We can let our troubles overwhelm us -- but we don't have to do that. We can decide to face our troubles with the kind of courage that the formerly blind man faced the hostility of the Pharisees -- believing in Jesus -- believing that God is with us -- believing that God will help us.
If you will do that -- if you will face your troubles with faith in God -- faith that God will help you -- I guarantee that your witness will be a blessing to your family -- to your friends -- to your church -- to all who know you -- and ultimately to yourself.
I remember a woman like that. Her name was Margaret. She was a member of a congregation that I attended a few years ago. Margaret had much to give thanks for -- children and grandchildren -- a home -- food on the table -- many friends.
But Margaret had much to be bitter about too -- if she had chosen to be bitter. Her husband had died far too young. Her health wasn't that good, she had cancer. I visited her in the hospital a few times during the last months of her life. Whenever I visited her, it was she who lifted my spirits -- it was she whose faith brightened the room.
Margaret’s faith in God and her love for people kept her positive -- made her a blessing to all who knew her. She died a few years ago, but the memories of her faith and courage and grace continue to bless me. She left a legacy of blessing that continues to bless all those who knew her -- a legacy that will continue to bless her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren for decades to come.
Now let me ask you to consider this: Don't you think that Margaret was blessed as well! In the end, wasn't she the one most blessed by her faith! She blessed lots of people, but above all she blessed herself -- or received a blessing from God because of her faith.
The next time that you face serious difficulty -- and there will certainly be a next time -- keep in mind that God is with you. Keep in mind that God will help you. And keep in mind that, if you will face your trouble with faith and grace, instead of anger or bitterness, your trouble will become fertile soil out of which blessings will grow -- blessings for your family -- for your friends -- for your church -- for your community -- and ultimately for yourself.
My prayer for you is that God will bless you abundantly -- in good times and bad -- through thick and thin -- in every circumstance. And, that you will bear prosperity with grace and adversity with faith. Amen.
Amazing Grace (BH #330; CH #546; CO #447; GC #612; JS #460; LBW #448; LW #509; PH #280; TH #671; TNCH #547, 548; UMH #378; VU #266)
Lord of the Dance (CO #527; GC #708; JS #554; PH #302; TH #352; UMH #261; VU #352)
Open My Eyes (BH #502; CH #586; JS #448; PH #324; TH #371; UMH #454; VU #371)
JS #448 is a different hymn, but is appropriate for the same reasons as the other hymn.
Open Our Eyes, Lord (BH #499)