Summary: Friend of Sinners, Pt. 4
MORE THAN CONQUERORS (JOHN 9:1-7, 34-39)
One embarrassing game day, after giving up nine home runs in a row, Charlie Brown cried out in despair, “What can I do?!!” He complained to his catcher, “We’re getting slaughtered again, Schroeder. I don’t know what to do. Why do we have to suffer like this?” Schroeder turned around, walked away, and quoted to a bewildered Charlie Brown: “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.”
Linus, who overheard the quote, explained to Charlie Brown, “He’s quoting from the book of Job, Charlie Brown…seventh verse, fifth chapter,” but added, “Actually, the problem of suffering is a very profound one.” But before Linus could continue, Lucy interrupted, “If a person had bad luck, it’s because he’s done something wrong, that’s what I always say!” Schroeder corrected her, “That’s what Job’s friends told him, but I doubt if…” Again, Lucy quipped, “What about Job’s wife? I don’t think she gets enough credit!”
By this time, Charlie Brown’s head was turning left and right, straining to hear what everyone had to say as all the players had gathered at the mound and were speaking out of turn. Schroeder opined, “I think a person who never suffers, never matures. Suffering is actually very important.” Lucy yelled, “Who wants to suffer? Don’t be ridiculous!” A newly arrived kid turned to Charlie Brown: “But pain is a part of life.” And Linus voiced to Snoopy, “A person who speaks only of the “patience” of Job reveals that he knows very little of the book!” The last frame has Charlie Brown resigning to himself, exclaiming: “I don’t have a baseball team. I have a theological seminary.”
Suffering is a prominent subject in the Bible, an unavoidable topic for Jesus, and a staple of life. As someone said, “Preach on suffering and you will never lack an audience.” In John 9, Jesus met a blind man who was never short of hearing theories on suffering, usually negative ones from people who hardly knew him at all. On this occasion, the disciples postured on the cause of suffering. They were not the only ones who believed that the blind man had some explanation to do or something to hide; the Pharisees, too (John 9:34). In one episode, Jesus rejected the popular theology of suffering, overturned the suffocating view of Sabbath work and alienated religious officials.
What kind of attitude, behavior and mission characterized Jesus when He was around people who suffer? Jesus saw them as vessels for God’s work- made to conquer and not suffer, and cared for their mind, body and soul.
How did Jesus view suffering? Does God delight in man’s suffering? What is the way out for those who suffer? Let us examine Jesus’ reply to the disciples, then his contact with the blind man and, lastly, his conversation with the blind man.
God Cares for Sufferers’ Personal Dignity
9:1 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 work of God might be displayed in his life. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work 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.” (John 9:1-5)
First, in Jesus’ reply to the disciples’ question, He gave dignity not only to the blind man but to all who has suffered mental anguish from a weakened physical condition.
For the disciples the blind man on the road was a foregone theological, moral and philosophical conclusion. The blind man was a freak of nature, his existence a sore to the eye and his condition a judgment from God. From the way the disciples posed the question, they seemed to have no conceivable answer except the culpability of the victim or his parents. They could not have picked on a better target, a worse man or an easier prey: the man was born bind, not made blind, half blind or almost blind. It was a proof of guilt, but who was the black sheep - parent or child? Who in the family did it? Was it nature or nurture?
Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” He emphatically, dogmatically and categorically rejected the judgment call and resolved him from guilt. The first Greek word Jesus uttered meant neither, none of the above, not even. This is the only instance Jesus had ever answered a question, began a sermon or initiated a conversation with an exclusive “No.” He repeated the negation in Greek to make sure the disciples get the point: “Not” this man sinned, “not” the parents. Not individual sin, collective sin or any outstanding, living or unknown sin. Not what the parents did to others, what the blind man brought upon himself or what is merited from God.