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Bad Things, Good People

Bad Things, Good People

Monday, February 17, 2014 – Week of 6 Epiphany, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 89:1-18 (morning) // 89:19-52 (evening)

Genesis 30:1-24

1 John 1:1-10

John 9:1-17

While teaching a class a few years ago, I referred to a book called “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People,” by the rabbi Harold Kushner. One of my students quickly (though kindly) corrected me: The book is actually entitled “WHEN Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Apparently, people get the title wrong all the time.

When bad things happen to good people, it can be so tempting to leap to the wrong question: “Why?” My own mind played a trick on me and changed the book’s title and purpose. I wanted it to provide an explanation for “Why” rather than a response to “When.” (And yes, I had actually read the book and I still managed to forget the point!)

The disciples of Jesus in today’s gospel reading also try to get their rabbi to answer the question of “Why?” When they see a man who has been blind from birth, they ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” They want to know the reason why something seemingly bad has happened.

They are sure that the answer has something to do with sin. Even if something bad happens to a good person, there must be a sinner in close proximity, such as this man’s parents. Either his blindness is a direct punishment for his own sins, or he is blind in order to punish his parents for their sins.

Of course, the logic of these disciples is absurd. If the man was born blind, how could his blindness be a punishment for his sins? It’s hard to imagine what sin he could have committed prior to birth to warrant any sort of punishment! What, did he kick his mother a little too hard in the womb or something? The disciples insist on blaming someone who is perfectly and completely innocent.

Jesus does his best to give his disciples a satisfying answer: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” In the case of this blind man, Jesus believes that difficult things happen not as punishments for sin but as opportunities for revelation.

This response might not be satisfying in every painful circumstance. In fact, it comes a little close to the platitude that “everything happens for a reason.” But what Jesus offers is only sort of a reason. It’s really more of a purpose: “so that God’s works might be revealed.”

With this teaching, Jesus helps to train our minds against looking for reasons and for targets we can blame when we face things that we don’t understand. He directs our vision instead to whatever it is that God is trying to reveal—mercy, hope, courage, acceptance, grief, or something else entirely. Sometimes there is no reason, only revelation . . . if only we can get that mud out of our eyes.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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