A question that arose in reading this Sunday’s Gospel, “Are we willing to allow God to use our lives completely, even our suffering?”
The beginning of the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John begins in a narrative of Jesus and his disciples walking along, and as they pass by a man, blind since birth, the disciples pose the question:
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
What a question!
In the culture of Jesus’ time, it was firmly believed by the Jewish people that when bad things happened to someone, it was a punishment for sin, and even could be passed on to one’s children. For example, in the discourse on the Ten Commandments, we hear: “I the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation” (Ex 20:5). We hear again, “…I…am a jealous God, inflicting punishments for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me….” (Dt 5:9). It was also thought that when a person was richly blessed with children and success, it was because they found favor with God. The narrative of the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel says to Mary, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28).
From this viewpoint, we can understand how the Disciples of Jesus might ‘jump’, in a sense, to such a conclusion. Even in our day, with the terrible disasters in Haiti, and most recently in New Zealand and Japan, some groups have drawn this same conclusion, stating that God is punishing these people because they do not accept Jesus.
We would be wise to take to heart how Jesus answers this question of His Disciples. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
How does Jesus respond? He says:
“Neither he nor his parents sinned: it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”
It is interesting to note, and it is characteristic of Jesus in the Gospels, to not give a direct answer on morals, but always manages to broaden our view of God’s omniscience (all-knowing beyond the finite view that we have). He takes finite, nearsightedness, and thrusts us into a bigger a picture. Jesus is revealing a more complete picture of God. “…that the works of God might be made visible through him.” In other words, ‘For God’s Glory.’
I can already hear many people asking, “But…how can a good God allow this innocent man to live out his whole life blind? For what?”
This brings us back to the question posed at the beginning, “Are we willing to allow God to use our lives completely, even our suffering?” Or, “For His Glory”?
Most of us have experienced those moments in prayer – for me, it often happens following the reception of Jesus’ Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist – where we pledge ourselves to Him and to His service? We might recall prayers such as, “Jesus, I am yours. Do with me what you will.” And other such prayers in our moment of gratitude and communion with our Creator and Redeemer. We sense we are in the presence of the Holy, and want to give everything. It is in such moments we can unreservedly respond to this question – ‘Are we willing to allow God to use our lives completely, even our suffering?’ – with a wholehearted “Yes, Lord. I am yours. Do with me what you will.”
The challenge is, when we exit the sanctuary where we’ve encountered our Lord in a tangible way and resume our daily routines – we find that moment of euphoria wearing off – do we still carry that intentionality of self-giving with us? Or do we begin to redefine our limits of our ‘self-giving’?
The perfect of example of undeserved suffering is given to us in the Old Testament in the narrative of God’s servant, Job.
The book begins describing Job’s character:
“In the land of Uz there was blameless and upright man named Job, who feared God and avoided evil. Seven sons and three daughters were born to him; and he had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred she-asses, and a great number of work animals, so that he was greater than any of the men of the East. His sons used to take turns giving feasts, sending invitations to their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when each feast had run its course, Job would send for them and sanctify them, rising early and offering holocausts for every one of them. For Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned and blasphemed God in their hearts.” This Job did habitually.” (Job 1:1-5)
And we know that God was pleased with Job, because He says so in his conversation with Satan:
“The LORD said to Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job, and that there is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil?”” (Job 1:8)
Satan argues that Job has no reason not to please God because he has been given everything:
“Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing? Have you not surrounded him and his family and all that he has with your protection? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land. But now put forth your hand and touch anything that he has, and surely he will blaspheme you to your face.”
And thus, the story of Job’s suffering unfolds:
- His cattle were stolen in a raid, and the herdsman were killed.
- His sheep and shepherds were destroyed by lightening.
- His camels were seized in another raid, and the caretakers were killed.
- His seven sons and three daughters were killed when the house they were in collapsed.
All in one day. A disaster. What would our response be if such atrocity would befall us? How would you respond in the face of such devastation? Would you be able to respond as Job did:
“Then Job began to tear his cloak and cut off his hair. He cast himself prostrate upon the ground, and said, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I go back again. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD!” In all this Job did not sin, nor did he say anything disrespectful of God (Job 1:20-22).
Lord, I love you. Do with me as you will.
The story doesn’t end here, but is only just the beginning of Job’s trial of faith. For, Satan complained again, that Job could endure loss, but what if he suffered personally. Physically. And God, allowed it to be so, with only the condition that Job’s life be spared. And we are told, that “Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD and smote Job with severe boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.”
The story reads further, how Job’s own wife counsels him to turn from God. His best friends accuse Job of wrongdoing (sin). We too, might question, “how would God let this happen.”
For God’s glory. This is a hard thing…a very hard thing for us to take in. That a man would be born blind so that “God might be made visible through him.” That a good and righteous man might undergo what appears to be senseless suffering.
Job gives a perfect response for us when his own wife tells him to turn from God – to give up. To take back his own life that he has always lived for the Lord. Job simply says: “We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil?”
Returning back to the Gospel of John, Jesus makes mud and anoints the man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash. The man, then goes and he washes off the mud, and could see. The man’s life of blindness is changed into an array of light and color. This event has a rippling effect upon all who knew this man to be once blind. It calls into question the power of God manifest in Jesus. In the doubt of the Pharisees the once-blind man who now sees, explains, “It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man (Jesus) were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”
It is as though the blind man accepts all of his former hardship in exchange for what he has now. Not only physical sight, but inner sight into the wonder of God and His infinite, loving, mercy. With Job, he too says, “Lord, I love you. Do with me as you will.”
Saints will Arise: Laetare Sunday (Fourth Sunday of Lent)
New Theological Movement: The Blindness that Leads to Redemption
Deacon Greg Kandra’s Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent