Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

There are so many questions that we don’t have satisfying answers to. How did the virus start spreading? How were we so unprepared for this? How much worse will it get? Is someone I love going to get sick, or even die? How do we allocate resources in a time of scarcity? How is this going to affect our future? We want answers! In today’s gospel (read Chapter 9 of John’s Gospel), many questions are asked--now fewer than sixteen, by my count. Most of them are not given a complete or wholly satisfying answer.   The disciples ask Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” In other words, why do bad things happen to people who ostensibly don’t deserve them. Jesus reassures them that neither the blind man nor his parents sinned, but then elaborates by saying that the man’s blindness serves to make visible the works of God. That’s sort of an answer, but Jesus’ disciples could reasonably push back and ask why this man’s disability and consequent poverty are needed to show God’s power. Granted, he’s ultimately cured--and that’s great--but why couldn’t God manifest his glory just by doing more of the good things we like, rather than allowing bad things to happen and then taking his sweet time to fix them? Couldn’t God just turn more water into wine, multiply more loaves of bread, make flowers bloom in the desert?

Many of the other questions asked in today’s gospel are in response to the miracle Jesus performs. The man’s neighbors ask him how his eyes were opened. They ask him where Jesus went. The Pharisees ask him and his parents much the same questions.  Not a lot of progress. The once-blind man can explain the mechanics of how he was healed, but no one seems to have the faintest idea how Jesus was able to do it.   I suspect most of the questions we’re asking these days are unlikely to find completely satisfying answers. This goes not only for the causes and ramifications of the current pandemic, but also the deeper theological questions we can, and should, pose. Where is God in this? Is this a sign from heaven? It’s good for us to ask questions. As humans, we have an innate desire to know, and wrestling with these questions is one of the ways we learn. But for all the question-asking we can and should be doing, we might also want to be open to a question that is being asked of us.   Of the sixteen or so questions posed in today's gospel, one stands out, because it’s the only one that Jesus asks. After the man is thrown out of the synagogue, Jesus reappears and finds him, asking “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”   Notice also the context here (context is everything!). Jesus is conspicuously absent through most of the story.  He’s there at the beginning to restore the blind man’s sight, and then he disappears. As the scene unfolds, while so many hard, seemingly unanswerable questions are being posed, Jesus is nowhere to be found. Nevertheless, bolstered by his newly gained sight--and the faith that it signifies--the once-blind man develops an increasingly stronger sense of who this unseen Jesus is: a prophet, but more than a prophet.  All of the questions lead him to proclaim to the Pharisees: “It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.  If this man were not from God he would not be able to do anything.” Jesus can do what even the greatest of the prophets could never do: transforming a hopeless situation and turning a blind beggar into a theologian. Then, and only then does Jesus reappear to ask that question: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Consider that Jesus is coming to us and asking us the very same question right now. The answer we give defines who we are.  If we can summon up the answer from the depths of our hearts, “I do believe, Lord” that means that we, like that man, have become people of faith. And if we are people of faith, then we can walk in the light, rather than stumble in the darkness. That doesn’t mean we’ll have the perfect answer to every question, but we at least know whom we’re following and where we’re headed.  That's something, right?

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