The following is something I’ve written for a public speaking workshop on Monday. The setting is a fictional fundraising dinner for a new Anchor home for the disabled going up in our area. While the dinner is simply the fictional setting, there really is an Anchor home going up in Hamilton. So I thought I’d post the following to encourage you to give, and even if you don’t live in Hamilton perhaps it will inspire you to give to the disabled brothers and sisters in your area:
When you meditate on a passage of Scripture, you never know quite where it will take you. As it is, the following meditation from John 9 will wander from 9/11 to a world without the Paralympics, to bank cards that work like saliva mud. I do think that it holds together, though, and that this account of Christ healing a blind man provides plenty of insight into how we ought to treat the disabled among us. Let’s read verses 1-7.
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed 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.’
Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”
Often when we see suffering, whether on a large scale in the news, or even in the life of a particular person that we know, it can happen that we start wondering whether or not God’s judgment is being displayed. After 9/11, prominent American Christians, like John Piper, interpreted the attack as God’s judgment on America’s sins. It is human nature to want to explain tragedy, to place the event or the person within a larger story that we can understand.
And is this wrong? I mean, we are quick to acknowledge God’s blessing in someone’s life, to acknowledge that God has looked favourably on him. So is it wrong to acknowledge that God has looked unfavourably on someone, and to attribute it to a particular sin in the person’s life? After all, the reason Christians often do this sort of thing is because it is right there in Scripture. Throughout the Old Testament we see God punishing sin with judgments in this life, with sickness, war, and death. In fact, in the book of Deuteronomy, where God lays out the regulations of His covenant, He guarantees earthly punishments for the Israelites’ disobedience. So when the disciples in our passage attribute the man’s blindness to sin, at the very least we can sympathize with their question.
Now, Christ’s answer is a profound one. To use the theme of this passage, He opens the eyes of His disciples to the real reason for the man’s disability. To put it another way, He gives His followers the real story behind the facts. In the first place, He doesn’t give the disciples the answer that they want. He does not explain the man’s blindness by attributing it to a particular sin. And in the second place He shows that it’s not so much that the question is a good or bad one, but that it misses the point.
You see, it isn’t that Christ forbids us from trying to explain the reason for disability. Quite the opposite, actually. Because what He gives us here is the real explanation, the real way that we ought to interpret the disability in our midst. “It is not that this man sinned, or his parents,” says Christ. That’s the wrong interpretation of the facts. Rather, it’s “that the works of God might be displayed in him.” This is the frame of reference Christ gives us; this is the story we ought to tell ourselves about those who are disabled. They are there to display the works of God.
But that’s quite broad, as the phrase “works of God” can mean many things. But Jesus is not being general here. He’s referring to something specific, and that specific thing is the fact that He is about to heal this man. The work of God in our passage is the work of healing. In fact, much of Christ’s work on earth was healing work, and this directly relates to His mission as God incarnate. As the Lamb of God, His healing represented in a physical way the spiritual healing He would purchase for us on the cross. This is something that the Pharisees, in the rest of chapter 9, refused to see. They refused to see that what Jesus did to that blind man summed up all the law and the prophets.
So if the work of God here refers to healing, how does this apply to us who don’t have the power to heal. No one here has the power to spit in the mud, rub it on a man’s eyes, tell him to jump into a pool, and so heal his blindness. But I want you to imagine for a moment that you did have that power, that all of us here could heal any person with any disability or sickness. Even if we here were the only ones who had that power, imagine what we could do. If it took on average thirty seconds to heal one person, just to give it a number, and you worked for eight hours a day, one person could heal almost a thousand people. Now if all of us here had that power, we could put the local hospitals out of business in the morning, and rid the world of Ebola in the afternoon. We could spend the next two months making the Paralympics unnecessary, and the two after that shutting down every cancer ward in the world. In our lifetimes we could make infectious disease a distant memory for mankind.
And why do I invite you to imagine this impossible scenario? What’s the point of this fanciful thinking? Well, in the first place, the point is to present you with an obvious fact: if we had this power, we would use it. We would use it as Christ did, both in obedience to God’s law and out of compassion for the suffering around us. The parable of the talents, right? And in the second place, the point is to use the power of healing as an analogy for a power that we do have. It isn’t a power that excites the imagination like the above scenario does. It’s quite mundane, really. In fact, Scripture commands us to keep it private, to keep our left hand from knowing what our right hand is doing. I am speaking, of course, of the power to give.
We are here to raise money for a home for the disabled among us, so the particular giving that concerns us is the giving of money. Now maybe the fact that that we mostly use our money to purchase material, earthly things makes us separate our money from its spiritual potential. But its practical qualities should not dull us to the fact that money shines with God’s grace. If we have been blessed with more money than we need, then we ought to understand that our bank cards function a lot like the paste that Christ applied to the blind man’s eyes. They obviously don’t have the power to heal. But they are the means by which we can display the works of God in the lives of the disabled.
The works of God that Christ did were works of healing, because God’s work is a work of healing. Now the works that we can do with our money, works of kindness, works of compassion, works of providing care to those who cannot care for themselves, those are no less the works of God than the act of healing. Our God is as much a kind God, a compassionate God, a providing God, as He is a healing God.
Brothers and sisters, the disabled among us confront us the way the blind man confronted Christ. And as my imagined scenario above illustrated, if we had the power to heal we would heal them of their disabilities. We would think nothing of it. But while these hands don’t have the power to heal, they have the power to give. They have the power to display the works of God in those who are disabled. So use that power, and think nothing of it. Be tenderhearted and merciful, and think nothing of it. Use it so that those who are not believers who come into contact with these brothers and sisters might ask of them, “Who is it that cares for you like this?” And may it be that the divine kindness of God shines through the mercy of man, so that He is honoured, and so that those who walk in darkness may be drawn to the kindness of His gospel light.
The disabled among us confront us the way the blind man confronted Christ. How ought we to respond?
If you are interested, here is how you can donate to Anchor.