The Blame Game
You’ll notice a rather raspy voice, as I was suffering with a bad bout of the flu during this fourth Sunday of Lenten. Below is both the video and manuscript for “Lenten Intentions: The Blame Game”
John 9 (NIV)
9 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
Jesus and his disciples pass by a man who had been blind since birth. Seeing him, the disciples asked: .
“Who’s at fault for this man’s blindness?”
“Is this a hereditary thing?”
“Did his parents do something bad?
“Or did he sin from within the womb before he was even born?”
“Who’s to blame for this man’s blindness?”
In other words, they were playing the blame game. Everyone knows we have to blame someone.
It happens down every avenue of life.
A woman cheats on her husband. But she blames her husband for her infidelity because he is not romantic or affectionate enough.
A man becomes a drunk. Who’s to blame? It was his wife whose constantly complaining drove him to drink.
A couple speaks of getting a divorce. Family and friends start choosing sides, ready to play the blame game.
Grades decline at school. It’s directions in the classroom. Or it’s the dumb teacher’s fault.
A woman loses her job. Obviously the boss has had it out for her for years.
It even happens in congregational life. There are far more funerals than baptisms. Resources and church participation declines. Somebody must be at fault. Who’s to blame? Some say the pastor. Some blame the deacons. Others say that the “the rotten community” just won’t respond to the gospel.
Most people seem quick to play the blame game. Yet as popular as the blame game might be, it is never helpful. It is always destructive.
It never heals and it always hurts! It destroys but never repair relationships. It tears apart rather than building up.
It divides but never united. It compounds but never solves a single problem.
The disciples wanted to know who was at fault for the man’s blindness. The disciples saw a man in misery and responded by playing “the blame game.” Jesus responded by basically saying, “Ya’ll stop that right now.”
Jesus response was simply: “Don’t play the blame game. Instead, explore how we can help. Where does he go from here? How can his lot in life be improved?”
In a prior church, a man who had lived eighty-eight blessed years died unexpectedly but peaceably in his sleep. His children and grandchildren became angry, blaming the doctors for not diagnosing a heart condition during at a recent checkup. They blamed the tobacco company for grand-daddy’s cigarette brand. They got around to blaming God. He had let grand-daddy die.
They asked me, “What do you think, pastor? Who’s to blame?”
“Nobody is to blame,” I said. “None of us go on forever. He lived a long and healthy life and then he died a peaceful, stress-free death. God blessed him. Now how can we love and bless you?” They did not want to be loved and blessed. They wanted to cast blame. Somebody had to be at fault.
Jesus basically says that we must stop blaming others. Such attitudes are counterproductive. They put us into a god-like position where we evaluate circumstance and declare judgments. But the problem is that none of us are qualified to sit in that chair. People come to me regularly presenting a problem and asking the question: “What did I do to deserve this kind of treatment from God?”
Or people come to me after observing the hardship of another, saying: “That person must have done something awful for God to punish them like that.”
Perhaps we pretend that we are way too sophisticated to think in such twisted terms. Yet I am sure I am not the only person here who has spent a restless night, tossing and turning in my bed, dealing with stresses that are beyond by control, while saying to God: “Why? What did I do to deserve this?”
“Rabbi,” the disciple’s asked: “Who sinned? Was it this man or his parents?”
Jesus responds, saying: “Neither this man nor his parent’s sin caused this blindness. His blindness is so the work of God might be made manifest.”
Jesus clarifies the connection between sin and suffering. Yes, all sin brings suffering. No, not all suffering comes from sin. Then Jesus goes another step. He teaches that whatever the cause of our suffering, it can become an occasion for the miraculous deeds of God to take place in our life.
“I am the light of the world!” Jesus said.
Then he spat on the ground, made clay of earth and spit, and anointed the man’s eyes. Some scholars say it harkens back to the story of God creating humanity from the dust of the earth. By spitting on the ground and making a mudpack for the man’s eye, these scholars say Jesus is revealing himself to be the one with the one who said, “Let there be light!”
Then Jesus says:“Go wash in the pool of Siloam,”
When the man had washed away the spit-mud-mix from his face, he was suddenly and unexpectedly gifted with perfect eyesight.
You’d think the man’s friends and family would have been excited that this man born blind could now see. You’d think they would be happy. Yet everyone seems lined up against him – his neighbors, the preachers, the deacons down at the church, and even his parents.
“With friends like this, who needs enemies?”
“What happened to you?” his neighbors asked.
“A man named Jesus anointed my eyes with clay and told me to wash. I did what he said and now I can see.”
“Where is this man?” they ask.
“Well, duh. I couldn’t see him when he did what he did. I was blind. When I washed the mud from my eyes he was gone. I don’t know where he is. I don’t even know what he looks like.”
Next enter the Pharisees, cause you can’t have a miracle without somebody from the religious hierarchy becoming knee deep in on the process.
My former pastor Steve Shoemaker calls this “theological quality control.”
Now, I am not going to say that God does not do great things among the religious crowd. If fact, God does some pretty amazing things among all sort of people: Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterian, Catholics all are given God’s grace and the opportunity to respond. Liberals, moderates, conservatives, and fundamentalist are also fertile ground among who God is ready, willing, and able to respond.
God is bigger than any box we want to put God in. No matter how hard we try, we simply cannot control the movements of God.
The formerly blind man is brought before the Pharisees, the keepers of the orthodoxy, to be interrogated about the good work God has accomplished in his life.
So, the man tells his story and they are stymied.
You see here’s the problem. Jesus did this great deed on the Sabbath. He did not conform to their orthodoxy or theology.
Wouldn’t it be easier if God would conform to our template? But God is always bigger than the box we package God in and the labels we create and apply to God’s movements.
Getting nothing from the man upon which to condemn Christ, the religious crowd extends their interrogation to include his parents.
“Yes, this is our son!” and “Yes, it is true he was born blind. But we don’t know how it happened. He’s an adult, go ask him.”
The text tells us that his family was afraid for fear of being labeled as followers of Jesus and then put out of the synagogue as a heretic.
So the religious leaders bring the man back before their tribunal. “Give glory to God for healing you,” the leaders say to the man. Well, that’s exactly what this man had been doing.
What they meant, was: “Stop talking about this Jesus fellow. We’ve made up our mind about him. He’s not from God. Give us some dirt we can use against Jesus, and we will leave you alone. Tell us the truth right now that Jesus had nothing to do with your healing. We KNOW this man is a sinner.”
The man responds: “Whether this man is a sinner or not, I do NOT know. All I do know is this: Once I was blind, but now I can see.”
The man had received sight and insight.
Meanwhile, the Pharisees were losing to ability to see and discern the work of God in their midst.
“How did he do it?”
“How did he heal you?”
Watch as the man becomes the inquisitor.
“I’ve already told you that once: ‘I was blind, but now I can see!’ Did you miss that? Are you losing your hearing, too? Or are you thinking about being one of Jesus’ disciples as well?”
“HOW DARE YOU CHALLENGE US!”
“Who do you think you are? You may be one of this man’s disciples, but WE ARE NOT. We are disciples of Moses. We don’t know anything about this man or what he’s all about?”
The formerly blind man is up to their challenge: “This in incredible. You say you don’t know where this man comes from. Yet he opened my blind eyes. Nobody has ever been able to heal a man born blind, but this man did it. He couldn’t do such a thing if God were not with him!”
The Pharisees curse the man. They excommunicate him out from the synagogue. They call him evil, the spawn of satan. “You have been steeped in sin and blindness since the day you were born. You have no business lecturing us.”
Now, have you noticed whose been missing throughout most of this narrative? That’s right – it’s Jesus. He did the healing deed and vanished from sight. Now Jesus reappears and goes to the man, saying: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The guy answers: “Tell me who he is that I may believe?”
Jesus says: “You have seen him with your eyes. In fact, the man you are talking too right now is him. I am the Messiah!”
“Lord, I believe,” the man says, and he then kneels and worships Jesus.
When you see Jesus like that – it brings about a moment of crisis. It demands that we make a decision. We are asked to declare our intentions.
What happens? God gives light and site. God gives grace, mercy, forgiveness, and life. Then is the occasion to declare the intention of our faith. Then is the moment we make a decision.
The overarching theme of our Lenten journey is about the intention of faith.
Today we are invited to not cast blame when things seem to go awry, but to open our life’s to new expressions of God’s grace.
Today we are invited to a faith that releases our control into the hands of Divine grace.
Today we are invited to live into the light of God’s Holy Spirit, becoming transformed by God’s grace.
We can’t stay where we are. We must decide. We either open our eyes to the light, or we close them tighter and stay in the dark.
Jesus says: “Go, wash!” I guess that is the Lenten intention that covers all of the above. Have faith and receive site and light by the grace of God.
“Go wash!” Give up the myth that declares that we have God safely locked up in our little box.
“Go wash!” Realize that God remains bigger and better than we have ever imagined.
“Go wash!” There is a new revelation to be had each new day, with the rising of the sun. Whatever we thought about God’s grace was too small.
“Go wash.” And when the dirt is rinsed away from our eyes we will see how great God’s love is, and our response will always be to pray:
“Oh, Abba, your grace is so beautiful!”
The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity
by: William P. Young
publisher: Windblown Media, published: 2007-07-01
sales rank: 4
price: $4.95 (new), $2.02 (used)
Mackenzie Allen Philips’ youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack’s world forever.
In a world where religion seems to grow increasingly irrelevant The Shack wrestles with the timeless question, “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” The answers Mack gets will astound you and perhaps transform you as much as it did him. You’ll want everyone you know to read this book!