The Call of the Christian
The Call of the Christian
We are being asked to stay home and practice Social Distancing as we seek to curb the spread of the Coronavirus (Covid-19). What does this mean for a Christian, who as a faith have often put ourselves in harms way to help others? We will dig into John 9 to see what we can learn.
During this time I hope that you and your family are safe. Know that you are all in my prayers.
Scripture: John 9: 1-41
The Call of the Christian
We are all grappling with the impact of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) over this past week. There have been many ways of doing so. Some are angry and pointing blame, others are fearful and anxious, still others have tried to find ways to make us laugh as we endure this unprecedented time. One of the funnier jokes I have seen in various forms this past week are riff’s on the ‘Where’s Waldo’ pictures. The joke being due to Social Distancing everyone else is missing and Waldo is easy to find.
It may be that we are missing people and activities that we normally engage in. That being trapped in the house for a week has you feeling some cabin fever. However, this theme of missing or being absent is central to our gospel reading from John. The reading from John is a long one, 41 verses in all. However, Jesus is only present for 13 of them. He is absent for the remaining 28 verses.
The absence of Jesus in this passage is startling and when we look at the content of the verses he is missing from it should paint a picture for us. Perhaps tell us everything that we need to know. This is what Scott Hoezee from the Center on Excellence in Preaching says about these verses, “It’s curious, isn’t it, to notice that in John 9—so long as the wrangling and wrestling and arguing is going on in an effort to debunk the miracle that had so plainly taken place—Jesus disappears from view. From verse 7 until verse 35 the Son of God is nowhere to be seen. I don’t think it’s coincidental. The minute we start denying the work of God in Christ Jesus our Lord so as to make things neat and tidy and in conformity to how we like things done, it’s pretty tough to see the real Jesus. And it’s really difficult to generate any goofy grins over his ever-surprising and always-marvelous work.” (Scott Hoezze)
The Pharisees started arguing over matters of the law, they doubt the testimony of the man who was once blind, and then they call him a sinner. Only when the man who was born blind is thrown out does Jesus reappear.
Notice that Jesus is there at the beginning when the man is blind. There is an injustice here, a right needing wronged, a person in need of healing. Jesus is present.
Move to the end and the man is thrown out and has had insults hurled at him. Once again, an injustice, a right needing wronged, a person in need of healing of being told that they are whole, that they are good enough. Jesus is present.
But for the debate about why the man is blind, about how the healing happened, about what day of the week it happened on, Jesus is absent.
Love, grace and mercy.
The driving question in John 9 is who sinned? The boy or his parents? Is he born blind because of a sin of his parents or was he born blind because of some unknown sin? The driving question of the passage is about assigning blame and explaining unfortunate circumstances. It is a question that is asked by the disciples and it is echoed by the Pharisees.
The question, who sinned, is a bad one. It is the wrong question to ask and Jesus has no desire to talk about why. What’s important is to realize that the work of God is about to happen in our midst.
It’s not why did the Coronavirus (Covid-19) appear. It’s not why did I get sick. It’s not why was I born this way. It’s about what as followers of Christ, as a community of faith are we going to do in the here and now because of these circumstances, dare I say in spite of these circumstances.
In John 9 the kingdom of God is about to become apparent for all to see. The blind man is going to literally ‘see’ because of the work of the kingdom and instead of celebrating that, the religious authorities are going to ask why, they are going to argue that the man and Jesus are sinners because what, Jesus did the healing on the Sabbath? That the man has always been a sinner since birth? Due to technicalities and silly laws that protect some, but harm others matter when we enter into times of crisis?
And we note the absence of Jesus. We note that Jesus disappears from the narrative when the questions become petty. The question that should be considered is what is God doing in this situation? The absence of Jesus should speak volumes because in this passage from John 9 God has already acted in a decisive way to restore wholeness. The absence of Jesus during the petty squabbling informs us that God isn’t interested in our arguments. Jesus is absent because there is no love, grace or mercy present.
Christians have historically stepped up to stop the hardship of poverty and suffering in the world because these are the things Jesus spoke clearly about. These are the places where we find Jesus.
Prof. Matt Skinner writes, “If Rodney Stark’s famous thesis is correct, Christians’ behavior during the Plague of Galen (165-180 CE) and the Plague of Cyprian (250-262 CE) strengthened the vitality of the church’s witness. Christians’ seemingly irrational determination not to abandon their diseased family members and neighbors made them appear uncommonly virtuous (and increased their own survival rates!). Please note: This is not an argument for exposing yourself or your community to greater threat of illness in the current setting. It’s to say that times of risk and isolation call for active advocacy, compassion, and allegiance to one another. Otherwise, why call yourself Christian?” (Matt Skinner)
We are living through unprecedented times. We are being asked to isolate but we are creatures built for community. It is difficult, but how we respond will say volumes about us and about the church. This passage reflects who the church is in the world. It encompasses our identity and when we are told we can’t be out in public, when we can’t gather with one another for our own safety we struggle. Because the call of the church, the call of the Christian is to help and render aid.
Jesus is absent from our passage when love, grace and mercy dry up. Jesus is present when healing and wholeness are required. Let’s ensure that we find ways to be present for one another and our community during this time. Pick up the phone, call one another, do a grocery run for a friend in isolation. Remember that in all of this God is at work through us. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.