If Jesus were to stand here before us today, and we were allowed one question to ask him, I wonder what that would be? I guess for many, if not for most, it will be something very challenging, like “Why do people suffer? How can a good God allow suffering, and sickness and disability?”
It might seem strange to us that the disciples never asked him this question, so far as we know. When they say the man born blind, they asked not “Why does God allow this” but they assume it is God’s punishment “Who sinned – this man or his parents?”
The question is different – but in a way it is just the same. They – and we – want to ask the question why? Why is this man blind? Why is there sickness and disability? And so the answer to them is just as valid for us:
“He was born blind so that the works of God may be displayed in him”
In our youthful, active and technological world, we don’t see sickness and disability as a punishment for sin, but like the disciples we do see it as a kind of failure. For them it was a moral failure. For us it is a failure of care, because of accident, or because of genes or heredity. It is failure, it is a dis-ability. The ‘disabled’ we think, lack something which we – the rest of us - have.
But remember the words in the first reading: God does not see as man sees – man looks at appearances, but God looks at the heart.
Jesus answers the question by challenging our assumptions.
No – Jesus says. God does not want anyone to suffer, least of all the innocent. No – Jesus says. Sickness and disability are not any kind of punishment, not for the disabled nor their parents. No – Jesus says. This is not disability, but opportunity. In the midst of whatever problems, sickness and even pain, God’s glory can be seen.
We want to know why this has happened, but Jesus tells us not how we got here, but where we can go from here. And we know it is true. How often have seen courage in the face of adversity. How often are we impressed by those who seem to have so many difficulties! When we, and those close to us, experience sickness and disability, we encounter also love, and compassion. We meet dedication, and commitment. We discover the tenderness of others and the mercy of God. In suffering and affliction, God is certainly close to us. When the world is at its cruelest, God is at his most loving.
Though we walk through the valley of darkness no evil will we fear, for the Lord our Shepherd is with us, and comforts us.