Like the inquisitive disciples of Jesus who were confronted with a man born blind, I want answers. “Whose fault is it Rabbi, that this man was born blind?” Why are children born into poverty? Why is there so much pain and despair in the world? Whose fault is it, Rabbi?
Why are there pockets of hopelessness in the inner city? Why are there young men on the corner with their phones chirping when the police come near? Who sinned, this man, his parents, or society? Why are children in the city stuck in neighborhoods with failing schools and no economic and social skills that will ever enable them to achieve in the market place? Why are their homeless beggars with plastic grocery bags huddled over heat grates, sleeping under bridges, pillaging through dumpsters, walking laboriously over broken sidewalks in search of food and shelter? Why are there lines outside of shelters and soup kitchens in the wealthiest country of the world? Whose fault is it Rabbi?
The closer I have gotten to the soul of the city, the louder the questions have resounded? Who can we blame for the problems of the inner city? Some blame the individual. “Why don’t they just get a job, just say no to drugs and alcohol, take responsibility for their own lives?” Others accuse the fathers and mothers for the breakdown of the family or the government for the lack of funding for social programs that might make a difference.
Conservatives tend to blame the individual and his or her family citing personal failure and the lack of appropriate family values. Liberals blame systemic racism, social inequalities and structural evil.
We might blame the church for being silent on social issues and for not being more compassionate. Followers of Christ in the city are often stuck between unbelieving activists and inactive believers. We might even blame God for not caring enough to act on their behalf.
“Every year we have the same discussions over and over and nobody has any answers,” complained a teacher friend as we explored solutions to the dilemma of the failing educational system in the inner city. “How are we supposed to teach kids who are living in a shelter or who have been up all night without supervision? Of course they haven’t done their homework! They don’t even know where their backpacks are! It makes me want to tear my hair out! You’re tempted to feel sorry for them, and let them off the hook, but you know that excusing them will only perpetuate the problem. They need to be told, ‘stop your whining and do your homework.’ If they don’t put out the extra effort they will be hopeless victims trapped forever in the cycle of poverty.”
The blaming seems to spiral down into cycles of anger that leave us wanting, scratching our heads over the complexity of the issues, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the structures that must be confronted. Is there any system of thought that can move us forward? Is anything working? Are there solutions anywhere?
Jesus’ response to the disciples’ question about who was at fault for the blind man’s troubles is an interesting one. He doesn’t enter into the blame game at all. He doesn’t even attempt to answer the blame question. Instead he claims there is a bigger story, a glory story that is about to be experienced. There is a healing that is about to take place that would never have been experienced apart from this man’s great need.
The man’s difficulty becomes an opportunity for God to act. The negative circumstance is turned into a positive experience by the gentle hands of Jesus. A miracle would unfold that would bring healing to the nameless man born blind. It would involve the work of God being displayed in the man’s world for all to see. His story would be remembered forever.
“This happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life,” says Jesus. “As long as it is day,” he said, “we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
The Great Light of the World, the Lover of Mankind, the Model Kingdom Worker, spit his saliva onto the ground and with the same dust from which he created mankind in the image and likeness of God, he formed a muddy compact and gently placed it against the dark unseeing eyes of the man born blind and re-created his eyes. For the first time in his life the light broke forth like the dawn in the man’s life and he exclaimed, “One thing I do know, I was blind, but now I see!”
While I am growing in my understanding of the root causes of poverty and the complex issues surrounding its ugly face, I am not as concerned with knowing who to blame as I am about recognizing the glory stories, the stories of the miracles that erupt when the light and love of God meet the deepest needs of mankind.
Perhaps doing God’s work in the world means we need to spit against the night, to let our hands get dirty in the muck and mire of the city as we join the Creator in the re-creation of the world, that the work of God will be displayed and the world will take notice. The city, in its profound need, is a great laboratory of the love of God.