(By Fr. Dexter Brereton)
Jesus teaches us that the suffering of others is not meant to brand them as sinners; but rather as God’s desire to let His Glory be seen through their sufferings.
This Sunday from John 9: 1-41 we have another long passage telling the story of the healing of a man born blind. Like last week’s story of the conversation between Jesus and an unnamed Samaritan woman, this story would have been traditionally used for baptismal instruction as it displays the same journey of progressive enlightenment and understanding into who Jesus is, on the part of the formerly blind man. At the beginning he knows of “a man called Jesus” then he names in as a “prophet” (v. 17), a “man from God” (v. 33), “Son of man” (v. 35) and in the end Jesus is worshipped as Lord (v. 38).
For our bible reading we may divide the passage into several pieces, with each portion being rich in insight. In the opening scene, Jesus and his disciples spot a man who had been born blind causing them to ask “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents for him to have been born blind?” Jesus replied ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned,’ ‘he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’ As a Christian I am lifted by Jesus’ rejection of the ‘blame the victim’ mentality which we have also inherited in Trinidadian culture. There is a national tendency to understand people’s suffering and poverty in moral terms, so that misfortune is often understood as divine punishment for sin.
Years ago, a young Japanese woman was murdered in Port of Spain, and in his commentary a high official seemed to have suggested that she may have brought her own unfortunate death upon herself. She had gotten her just deserts. There is a freshness in Jesus’ response which refuses to see the man’s blindness as an act of God’s vengeance. God did not create death or suffering. To look at suffering is not to look at God but at the face of God’s enemy. I am happy when Jesus says of the victims of murder, or violence or rape, “neither they nor their parents sinned…”
Thank you Lord for the people like Jesus who challenge the assumptions that we make of the differently-abled and who remind us that everyone was born so that “the works of God might be displayed in them.