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Praying about Jesus’s miracles: Let’s find someone to blame!

Lynne Baab • Wednesday May 1 2024

Praying about Jesus’s miracles: Let’s find someone to blame!

Human brains love dichotomies. If this thing is true, then this other thing is wrong or a lie. Human beings also love to assign blame. Something inside us longs to believe that the universe is ordered and logical. Therefore, when things go wrong, someone or something must be at fault.

In John 9, the human love for dichotomies and blame is on full display. Jesus and his disciples have just left the Temple because some of the Jewish leaders started throwing stones at Jesus.

“As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” (John 9:1-2).

Someone has to be at fault when things go wrong. The disciples look to Jesus to clarify who did wrong. Jesus’s answer is “neither.” Jesus doesn’t seem to need the dichotomies and blaming that we love.

Jesus makes mud from dirt and saliva, puts it on the man’s eyes, and tells him where to go and wash. The man’s eyes are healed. The drama continues, with the Jewish leaders interrogating the man. Then, they switch topics to the Sabbath.

“Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided” (verses 14-16).

Is Jesus from God or not? A man from God wouldn’t heal on the Sabbath! Only a man from God can heal a blind man! A conundrum that the Pharisees can’t solve.  The drama then shifts to some very challenging words from Jesus.

“Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains” (verses 39-41).

Another dichotomy: Am I a person who sees or am I blind? What do I say about myself in the area of spiritual vision? A whose fault is my lack of spiritual vision? Maybe dichotomies and assigning blame are related.

I am interested in patterns of blame because I tend to blame myself when things go wrong, with a few notable exceptions. I have noticed others who consistently blame forces outside themselves. While I’m thinking I should have done better in various situations, I’m hearing others place blame on people and employers, as well as policies and the general incompetence of various groups of people. I find it reassuring that the Gospel of John shows the human desire to blame. I love that Jesus completely short-circuits the question of blame with his answer “neither.”

Jesus, the Lord of the unexpected, help us move away from our need to blame ourselves or others when things go wrong. Guide us through your Holy Spirit, heal us, and grant us perspective.

While I find “neither” the most encouraging word in the chapter, I find all the dichotomies discouraging. Humans then and now continually need to put things in good and bad categories. Jesus seems to be advocating for humility. If you think you see, you don’t. If you acknowledge your blindness, Jesus will help you see.

Jesus, you give sight to the blind. When we are blind, guide us through your Holy Spirit to turn to you for clear vision. When we are arrogant about our ability to see, humble us and shape us into your image. You emptied and humbled yourself in coming to earth. We find it so difficult to do the same, so we need the power of your Holy Spirit working in us.

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Next week: The Syro-Phoenician woman's daughter. Illustration by Dave Baab: The Church of the Good Shepherd, Lake Tekapo, New Zealand.

Book highlight — Two Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian Life. In late 2019, I came across a quotation about holding grief in one hand and gratitude in the other. I wrote a series of blog posts about that idea in late 2019. During the pandemic, it was the single most helpful idea that enabled me to cope. So, I wrote a small book, drawing on scriptures about grief and gratitude. In the book, I also discuss societal trends that make grief and gratitude difficult. Today, with a very challenging 99-year-old mother as well as other difficulties in my life — along with great joys and blessings — I continue to affirm the profound significance of holding grief in one hand and gratitude in the other. The book is available in paperback, kindle, and audiobook.

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