March 22, 2020

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Psalm 23

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41

The man born blind in this extended story in John’s Gospel knows isolation. He knows social distancing.

The disciples ask: Who sinned, the man or his parents? The cause of the man’s blindness and subsequent fringe existence is assumed to be the result of sin’s cause-and-effect, quid pro quo. Given this, the man’s painful circumstances can be justified and those not so afflicted can distance themselves and rest easy that nothing similar has, or will, befall them. He deserves his fate and we can therefore ignore his suffering. Then, as now, human beings want to think we are in control and, if things are going well, deserve our good fortune.

Jesus, however, tells a different story in this series of exchanges. The man’s blindness is, in fact, not the result of his sin nor his parents’ sin. Whatever the cause of this man’s blindness, Jesus will use it to reveal the work of God. What the disciples and the community understood as an occasion for judgment and distance, Jesus made a place of grace, healing and inclusion.

I wonder, as fewer of us worship together and more of us find normal routines disrupted as a result of the spreading COVID-19 virus, how we will react to this crisis? What will we assume and how will Jesus seek to reveal himself, correct our wrong understandings and bring healing? Could this crisis, if we respond rightly, be an occasion for more radical care, greater compassion and wider inclusion, or will we miss the opportunity to show the love of God to those most in need of it?

No one will be unaffected by this pandemic. My daughter, a freshman in college, is now home for the foreseeable future. The day this missive gets to your email inbox, my high school senior will be at home, too — at least for the day, perhaps for much longer. The markers of March are upended, no madness or weekly worship or spring break trips. More painfully, visiting loved ones in nursing homes is strongly discouraged if not prohibited. Whole grocery store aisles are rendered empty as those who are able stock up on toilet paper and bleach and hand sanitizer. Those already on the edge are being pushed closer to falling off. Families experiencing food insecurity stress about what it will mean for schools to close and the source of their children’s breakfast and lunch with it. The gig economy (code for no health insurance, no paid sick leave, no safety net) is revealing how perilously many of our neighbors, if not us, live.

If we were blind to this truth before, this pandemic should force us to see it now. We, like the disciples in John’s Gospel, may have been tempted to look at those on the edge, if we saw them at all, and assumed their plight was somehow their fault. In the wake of travel bans, school closures, event cancellations and the realization of our interconnectedness and the ripple effect of these necessary disruptions, will our eyes be opened to those in our community and around the world who have been marginalized and excluded? Can this crisis become an occasion for our belief in Jesus to alter not only our understanding of the man born blind, but our treatment of him? Can this anxious season become an occasion to reveal the work of God in us and among us and through us?

Friends, we have no idea how long this public health crisis will last, nor the extent or duration of its many repercussions. We do know, if we will receive the sight Jesus came to give, that those on the fringes and margins, those barely getting by or hardly holding on, are hurting — they were before this pandemic, they are now and they will be after this is over. Too many of God’s beloved children are isolated, socially distanced, walked over, unseen and left out. Jesus tells us in this text that their circumstances are decidedly not a result of their sin and ought instead to be an occasion to reveal the loving, healing, compassionate work of God.

As we church people seek to be faithful in these tumultuous times, the questions we must ask ourselves are: Who is the most vulnerable? Who is the most easily disregarded in our community? Is it international students remaining on mostly empty university campuses? Homeless children in school districts now closed? People working in the gig economy without paid leave, health insurance and now much needed income? Health care professionals who are exhausted and stretched? Those who clean the spaces we want to know are safe? Workers dependent upon the travel industry? The list is long and differs from one community to the next. What is consistent no matter where we are is the reality that this illness is indiscriminate. We are inextricably connected to, and dependent upon, each other. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. We can no longer be blind to those all around us in need of life’s basic necessities of food, water, shelter, healthcare, community and love.

Can disciples of Jesus stop looking for ways to blame people for their painful circumstances and instead look for ways to reveal the work of God in their lives, in our communities, in our world? If ever there was a time to come together as the church and unabashedly show others the healing love of Jesus, this is it. As we prayerfully discern how to do ministry virtually or remotely, let’s remember those for whom isolation and social distance has been the norm, not the exception. Let us see them and ask God to reveal to us how we can extend the healing love of Jesus Christ.

My prayers are with all of you as you seek to lead in your church and community. You are not alone; the Spirit will give you the words. Christ can, and will, do more than we can hope or imagine. May the peace of Christ be with you and may God use this crisis as an occasion to bring us closer, increase our care for each other and show the world we are Christians through our love.

This week:

  1. Who are those this crisis is impacting the most in your community? How can you reach out to them?
  2. Why do we seek to blame those who are suffering?
  3. When have you been on the edge of community? Have there been times when you felt isolated? Times when you could not see Jesus or his love? Did anyone reveal God’s love to you?
  4. The psalm appointed for this week is Psalm 23. Read it daily as you discern how to respond to our current public health crisis.
  5. What are your spheres of influence and how can you show the healing love of Jesus in them?
  6. What will this challenging season teach you? Your congregation? How will you act on what has been shown to you now and in the future?

from: Looking into the Lectionary with Jill Duffield in The Presbyterian Outlook