“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
Distractions are a welcome relief from all of the bad news of a raging pandemic.
Tom Brady was another distraction when he revealed on Tuesday that he was leaving the Patriots. Even with all that is going on, when this news hit, it found its way to the top of my Boston Globe news feed. I’m not a big football fan, but even for me it was a welcome distraction.
Brady deserves the honour of GOAT – Greatest Of All Time. He helped transform a lackluster team into a six-time Super Bowl championship team.
On the other side of the coin, when someone commits a crime and then ends-up going to jail, we can say they deserve it. What they chose to do was intentional and it had consequences.
But when we speak about accidents or diseases, the word deserve is completely out of place. Someone walks away from a car accident and another dies. This has nothing to do with one deserving to live and another deserving to die. Accidents don’t work like this.
Someone gets the Corona Virus and someone else doesn’t. One doesn’t deserve to be sick and another deserves to be healthy. Disease doesn’t work like this either.
But too often that word deserve gets thrown into the conversation when it simply does not apply. One of my most poignant moments as a pastor was when a grieving mother asked me at her son’s wake, “What did I do to deserve this?”
She thought that somehow she had so offended God that He would take her son, that she deserved something this horrible. Her faith, which should have been a comfort, made her feel worse.
Sadly, the way we talk about God can lead people of faith to think like this. How common it is to pray with the words “almighty God.” If God is almighty, some may then assume that God is in full control, all the time, of everything.
If God is in full control, then we may imagine that there are no accidents. Then, when an accident or disease does strike, we ask what did we do to deserve this?
This can be so offensive that some people turn away from God. If God truly were like this, I would not be a pastor. I would not even be a person of faith. This would be a cruel and cold God, and one not worthy of my attention. But this is not our God.
I think this is something we need to remember as we’re in the midst of a worldwide pandemic with very local consequences.
Whatever happens we need to remember as Clint Eastwood’s character says at the end of the movie Unforgiven, “Deserve has nothing to do with it.”
The virus isn’t sent by God because someone deserves to get it. Not washing your hands may have something to do with getting it, but God doesn’t.
And that’s exactly what Jesus tells us today in the Gospel.
Jesus and His disciples encounter a man born blind. The disciples, as people accustomed to talk of almighty God, assume that the man’s blindness is deserved in some way. But he was born this way? How could he deserve blindness sitting in his mother’s womb?
So the confused disciples turn to Jesus. They ask Jesus, the rabbi, the teacher, “‘Who sinned, this man or his parents?’”
Somehow this guy deserved to be born blind because everything must have a reason, they thought. Nothing is accidental. Nothing is by chance. Deserve is universal. But Jesus’ plain answer is basically, “Boys, that’s not that way God works.”
Accidents happen, disease happens, and it doesn’t have anything to do with deserve. They just happen.
That’s a hard lesson sometimes. I think we may want God to be in full control so that we can maybe pray our way out of bad things, but bad things still happen to good people. And that’s a hard lesson.
But Jesus won’t leave it at that. To put an exclamation point at the end of His teaching, Jesus goes through the actual, physical work of making mud and placing it on the man’s eyes. Jesus could have healed him in so many ways, but Jesus goes out of His way to make work out of the miracle.
This is important because it is the Sabbath and according to God’s law no work may be done on the Sabbath. This sets up a whole confrontation with the religious experts, and this lays out the path for Jesus to say that God is much more concerned about us than He is about rules, even what we call God’s rules. Compassion trumps everything else when it comes to God.
So even though accidents and disease add random suffering in our lives, even though we can’t always pray our way out of them, Jesus wants to make sure that we know God cares, even when, especially when, bad things happen to good people, Jesus wants us to know that God cares.
I think during Lent we might want to think about Jesus’ cross not so much as atonement for sins, but as God’s at-one-ment with us. The cross is not about how bad we are, but about how much God cares for us especially in our darkest moments.
This is the cross’ at-one-ment. This is God’s ineffable compassion.
In this time of unusually widespread suffering, we can find comfort in Jesus’ at-one-ment and we can share it with others.
We can check in on those who may need some extra help.
We can be extra courteous everywhere. The people at the grocery store are under a lot of pressure. The people at the hospitals and doctors’ offices are out straight.
Many people don’t know about jobs or how they will pay bills. Recession looms. Parents wonder how they will care for children with schools closed for who knows how long.
Let us go out of our way to be kind and patient with each other, and care about each other.
And may Jesus bless our world with healing. May He guide the intelligent men and women who are working to find a vaccine. May He protect the care-givers. May He lead our leaders. And may this pandemic pass so that we may return to the extraordinary blessings of the ordinary. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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