Summary: As [Jesus] 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....
The church is in a bad state.
I don’t mean our little parish church in particular (which is frankly doing rather well) but the church as a whole - in Sydney and even worldwide.
And I don’t think it’s because we don’t have the answers. I am an Evangelical. I believe that Jesus is the answer - I truly do, but at the risk of sounding like a smart-alec I want to suggest that the problem may be in the questions we ask, rather than in the answer as such.
I remember one fellow-parishioner here asking me a while back, what did I think could be done to turn our Diocese around from the path of self-destruction that it is currently walking with seemingly gay abandon (pun intended, but I‘ll return to that later)
I thought on this for some time but I decided eventually that the answer was really extremely straightforward. Just get the Archbishop to move into The Block in Redfern (probably the closest thing we have to a ’ghetto’ area in our city). I think that would change everything, and that quite possibly we would see a whole new approach to doing church within a year or so.
Why would this make such a difference? Are there any special truths hidden within the streets of indigenous Redfern? Not so far as I know, but living in that environment forces you to ask a whole different series of questions to the questions you ask when you’re residing in the Eastern suburbs and spending your days locked in an office inside corporation headquarters.
It’s the questions we ask that determine the answers we get, and the Bible is full of examples of persons asking God all the wrong sorts of questions:
Am I my brothers keeper?
Who is my neighbour?
And then there’s this one that we get today in John 9: “Why was this man born blind? Was it his sin or the sin of his parents?”
It’s an interesting question. It would make for a good theological paper. It’s the sort of question that religious people love to discuss, but as Jesus’ response makes clear, so far as He is concerned, it was the wrong question.
Why do we ask these sorts of questions? Sometimes I suppose it’s just idle curiosity. More often, I suspect, it’s because we want an excuse for not feeling responsible.
A guy came to my door yesterday morning asking for food and particularly asking for sugar, and of course I was tempted to ask, “what did you do with your money? Why don’t you have enough to buy your own food?”
Of course it wouldn’t be a serious question, in so far as I already knew the answer, both from his appearance and from his request for sugar. Obviously he has an addiction, but it’s tempting to ask anyway, so that I can excuse myself from responsibility, or at least feel morally superior as I do give him a handout (thankfully, I do manage to resist asking such questions nowadays).
Sometimes we ask questions of God because we’re curious. Sometimes we ask questions to excuse ourselves of responsibility. A lot of the time, I think, we ask questions because we feel insecure.
I think of all the questioning that went on in the US (and that still goes on) about why the Twin Towers were attacked? No one would deny of course that this was a tragedy that needed to be thoroughly investigated, but the questioning that followed, from US citizens in particular, revealed something deeper, I believe - a sudden sense of insecurity such that we are no longer as safe as we thought we were.
It’s interesting when you think realistically about the human cost of ‘9/11’. It was terrible, I would not want to deny that at all, but compared to what has been going on in Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine, a death toll like 9/11 would be a good day in a lot of those places.
The pain of 9/11 for most Americans, so far as I can see, was not simply the cost of human life as such, but the fact that ’if it could happen to them, what’s to stop it happening to me?’
We ask questions for different reasons - some good and some bad. What was behind the question the disciples put to Jesus that we read of in John chapter 9 - “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Were the disciples just curious, looking for a solid theological chestnut to chew over with their master as they strolled along? Were they looking for a justification so as to excuse themselves from having throw any coins in his direction? Or did this guy’s very appearance make them feel insecure?