I wanted to share something from a Jesus story that has come to mean a lot to me. This particular story happens like many stories of Jesus… he never seems to be looking for trouble, but how he engages with it always seems to lead to controversy.
The story is found in John’s account of Jesus’ good news, chapter nine. The heading for the chapter in my bible is simply, “Jesus heals a blind man.”
The thing about this story I would argue is that it could just as easily be titled ‘Everyone Around Missing the Point of Jesus Healing the Blind Man.” This is because Jesus is really just around for the bookends of the story, while the rest of the story is the controversy surrounding this blind man and what Jesus does for him.
Like I said though, this isn’t a story where Jesus looks for trouble, but it seems to find him.
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”
This question sounds callous to me. What if the poor blind man heard it? Bad enough he is blind, but do the disciples have to kick him while he is down?
Maybe that is part of why Jesus doesn’t really answer the question…
Instead his response is “neither… ” I would say Jesus is telling his disciples, “You are missing the point…”
When I read the question of the disciples, I see a lot of myself in it. When something goes wrong, when I see someone who has suffered, I want to know what happened. I think that on some level I want someone to blame. I think we all do.
We all want someone to blame.
I have observed something in the air, and I am hardly the first to make mention of it, but it has really started to strike a nerve more so since the elections than at any other point I can remember.
There are a lot of people who are suffering, a lot of people who are discontented, and a lot of people who are looking for someone to blame. Whether it was blaming the wealthy, or blaming those who live on welfare, blaming the immigrants or blaming the fundamentalist, everyone had a target on their back.
We were all looking for someone to blame.
There is a phenomenon in human history that has been coined the scapegoat. To put it in pretty simple terms, scapegoating is historically the most efficient way to unite a people in a common cause. This occurs when one group insists that another is to blame for their current distress. It sounds so immature really, but it really works. It worked in Nazi Germany, it worked to unite much of the South during the civil rights movement, and it still wins elections. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
So when we come face to face with suffering in this world, of course we look for someone to blame, because if we can put the blame on them, then we can shift it off of ourselves.
Good and Evil
I had the great privilege once of seeing NT scholar N.T. Wright speak in Seattle, Wa. on the problem of evil. He was speaking about the question of why do bad things happen to good people, more or less, and he said something which absolutely shook me.
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
I found out later, that he was quoting another man, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
When I heard this at the time it cut me to my core, because I saw in myself this tendency to subconsciously do that. I think we all do. We have this tendency to want to shift the blame and thus the responsibility onto someone else, and thus off of ourselves… We want to divide the world between us (the good) and them (the evil).
But when Jesus is confronted with the question of who is sinned, who is guilty, Jesus says, “Neither.”
But that is the brilliance of it all, because the fact is the bible tells us that we all have sinned.
“All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” Romans 3:23
If then the blame is not something that Jesus is willing to use to separate us, then it is actually the very thing that unites us.
“… the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
In a sense it is none of our fault, but all of our responsibility, and this explains Jesus’ next statement.
“This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me.”
Then he steps in and offers healing instead of blame.
Look at the rest of Jesus’ story. He doesn’t play the blame game, even when the blame gets shoved onto him, he takes that responsibility that is not directly his, and identifies with us, becoming the ultimate scapegoat.
God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God.
So now what?
I think that story really pushes at our culture. I think it challenges the way we live and work in the world. I think you would probably only have to spend four minutes on Facebook to see what I mean.
I am a fortunate person in that I have many friends who disagree with me on a great many things. This does occasionally put me in the firing line, especially on Facebook. It also makes it hard to be on Facebook for very long at a time.
I have some friends who talk about how Donald Trump has ruined America, that the conservative Christians have lost their witness in the world after the election. I have other friends who write lengthy diatribes against Liberal Christians or the post modern thinker. Everyone is convinced that they are so very right, so very true and good and noble. They know this because the other side is so wrong, so wicked, so evil…
The thing is, they aren’t wrong…
Neither side is completely wrong, because the line of good and evil does not separate us, but it is the one thing in all of humanity that unites us. We are all capable of and really guilty of wicked and horrible things. We are also capable of incredible goodness, compassion, love and generosity. The lines of good and evil run through each of us. It unites us…
“Rabbi… who sinned…?”
And all of us.
***Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956