Suffering and Opportunity
4th Sunday of Lent
March 26, 2017
Here are the three principal actors on the stage of our gospel this Sunday (John 9:1-41). First we have all the scribes and Pharisees: they have the power of sight, while in fact they are spiritually blind. There is a blind man, who is sitting by the side of the road, begging for alms. Finally, Jesus and his disciples are passing by.
For some reason, the sight of this handicapped man raises many questions in the minds of the disciples: “Whose sin caused this?” This question comes right out of the religious thought of the time: the more prosperous and healthy I am, the more God has blessed me. The more I have to suffer and be deprived, the more sin I or someone in my family or country has committed. Many of us, too, have the tendency to think that we have done something wrong when we have to suffer. But Jesus tells us clearly that this is not always the case.
This gospel touches on one of the greatest paradoxes of our lives: why must we suffer? Try as hard as we might, suffering cannot be completely avoided, no matter how much money we have, no matter how healthy we are. Far from being a curse, Jesus implies here that this man’s blindness is actually a blessing for him because it became an occasion to meet Jesus, to be touched by Jesus.
It is true that our sufferings are sometimes caused by sins, and we have to live with the consequences of our actions. Sufferings, however, are also opportunities to encounter Jesus in a new way. This is particularly true because Jesus also suffered for us, so he understands what we are going through. Note that Jesus is careful not to fully answer the question of why the blind man had to suffer, nor does he fully answer our own similar questions. But he does indicate that, if we truly have the spiritual eyes to see, each trial we have to go through is actually another opportunity to love Jesus, to trust Jesus, to have a deep encounter with the suffering Christ.
Jesus invites us to think differently about the difficulties and sufferings of our lives. We know from scripture that God will ultimately work everything to good in our lives, according to his will, in his own time, and in his own way (Romans 8:28). The Pharisees had no need of Jesus or his teachings or his miracles. The blind man, being needy, is also the one who is most open to the gospel. God most frequently uses our neediness to come into our hearts in a deeper way. Our difficulties are the doors with which Christ will strive to enter our hearts, if we have the eyes to truly see him there.