Spring is here, yet it hasn’t truly arrived at our hearts. The coronavirus pandemic shuts down our social activities, paralyzes local and global economies, and makes us hunker down and distance ourselves from one another. Postponed and cancelled, closed and banned… these disheartening words buzz our ears every day. On my way to the church this past week, I saw Montclair and Verona’s downtown almost empty. Many local businesses were closed. Restaurants, barber shops, nail salons, bakeries, coffee shops. And I heard stories of the most vulnerable neighbors around us. The stories of uninsured and undocumented people who cannot even see the doctors, stories of people who just got laid off…their lives are at great danger amid this crisis.
One day, in my prayer, I asked God, “Why? Why Lord? For how long?” I’m sure, I was not the only one who asked God such questions recently. In the face of a crisis, we Christians often raise questions and try to understand our situation from a theological point of view. Regarding the coronavirus crisis, I know, some Christians point out the stories of plague in the Bible and say, “This crisis might happen because of our sins. God might teach us to be faithful again.” And others find some similar events described in the Book of Revelation and say, “Look. This is the sign of end time. Jesus is coming soon. God’s judgment has just begun.” Well…what do you think? Would it be right? Wrong?
Whether right or wrong, I understand, it’s natural for us to try to make some sense out of this overwhelming experience. As humans, we try to use our reason and apply some logic to figure out what’s going on around us. But before we jump to our own answers and conclusions, I believe, we should be honest with ourselves first. I mean, we should honestly accept the fact that there’s no way that our theological answers can be clear enough or right enough to explain all things about the crisis. Whatever answers we find, the bottom line is clear. Human reason is too limited, and our faith is too dim to fully grasp the way God works in our lives. And for sure, we don’t have any authority to claim our answers in the name of God.
Then, what’s the point? Now, let us look into today’s Gospel story and see how Jesus responds to this subject matter. In the story, the disciples meet a man who was born blind. Looking at this man’s misery, they try to find out a theological reason for that. Soon, the disciples come up with a fairly good answer. They assume that his blindness is the punishment for sin. So they ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2) Jesus replies, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned” (9:3). Jesus simply denies, it’s not because of anyone’s sin, and God didn’t cause his pain.
Let’s take a look at how Jesus answers: “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him (9:3).” At this point, we should be very careful. Here, Jesus in no way means that God intentionally made the man born blind in order to give Jesus a good chance to heal him and show off his power. By no means. To know what he truly means, we should read the following words too. “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world’” (9:4-5). Here, Jesus’ point is this. The man is blind. That’s a reality. But the fact that he is blind…is not something for you to theologically comprehend. It’s not your work to figure it out. But he’s there, for you to work the works of God for him. Find ways to help him and heal him with God’s compassionate love. Then, you may see how God’s works are revealed in him.
After saying these, Jesus opens the blind man’s eyes. He shows how the work of God can be actually revealed through this man and how he himself can be the light of the world. Later in the Gospel story, like the disciples, the Pharisees also try to figure something out about this man. They also think that the man was born blind because of sin. And for the Pharisees, it’s impossible for Jesus, who is a sinner, did such a work of God. So they scrutinize the man. But what can he say? He just answers, “I do not know whether [Jesus] is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (9:25). Reasoning and sense-making on their own did not make the blind man’s situation any better. But it was the graceful work of God, it was the compassionate love of Jesus Christ that saved the blind man from his lifelong pain and gave him a new life.
Today, this Gospel story gives us a great lesson. In fact, the crisis, the time of suffering is upon us. We see many people in need. And we feel vulnerable too. This is a reality, a painful reality. But it’s not our job to prove a theological rationale behind this crisis. It’s not our work to ask unanswerable questions. Rather, as Jesus said to his disciples, we must work the works of God in this crisis, so that God’s work of grace and love can be revealed in many people’s lives, even in this grave situation.
Then, what is this work of God? We already know all too well. This work is to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. This work is to overcome our fear with our faith in God. This work is to hold onto the promise of new life no matter what. This work is to trust in Jesus and find new ways to extend his love across our distance. This work is to take care of the vulnerable, help them and pray for them. Yes, this work basically is to bring the light of Christ to others in this time of darkness.
Why? Why Lord? For how long? Whenever we ask, Jesus calls us. He tells us: don’t get stuck in your worries about the crisis, don’t get bogged down in your questions, but do God’s work as children of light. The Epistle reading for today tells us, “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). So let us find again this light inside us, and reveal the light during this challenging time. Now is the time for us to leave behind all depressing thoughts but focus on doing God’s work. Now is the time for us to be the church, be one Body of Christ, in new and creative ways. And now is the time for us to trust the Lord, our Good Shepherd, who is with us always even in the valley of the shadow of death. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim