Life Equations

A Lenten Meditation


John 9: 1-17

As he went along, Jesus saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  As long as it is day, we must do the works 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.”

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.  “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.

He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

“Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said.  

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind.  Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath.  Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

Life Equations

It was traditional in early Hebrew faith. God rewards good behavior. God punishes bad behavior. Simple equation. Probably too simple. What about all those in-between equations?

Number One:  Bad behavior that seems to go un-punished?

Number Two: Good behavior that does not protect good people from adversity. Good people who suffer illness, disability, pain. Good people who endure accidents. Good people who lose their jobs, income, homes. Good people who lose loved ones to addiction, disease, death.

Or a good person who for no good reason is born blind.  Why? That’s not fair. There is no good reason.

Except . . . That it brings us to the third in-between equation:

We see our equation in the case of the man in John’s story.  The man just happened to be begging in the spot where Jesus just happened to be passing on that very day.  What are the chances?  This was no accident. 

It was an in-between Equation. Jesus explained it to his disciples.  That man was born blind not as some punishment for sins committed by his parents, or sins that the blind man might commit if he were sighted. Rather, the man was born blind so that at that moment God’s works might be revealed in him. 

Do not misunderstand.  God does not cause adversity.  He did not create it.  Sin did, making adversity part of life on this planet.  It was Christ’s intervention at that moment in history that transformed a tragedy into opportunity to reveal God’s work.

Here are the components of the equation:

The moment.  The man.  The blindness.  And Jesus.

Let’s apply it to our own life.

The moment is now.

The man is any one of us.

His blindness is a tragedy that anyone of us has suffered.  All have carried a cross.

And Jesus. The light in a dark world where adversity knows no stranger, even the best of people.  There is Jesus, looking for the triumph in tragedy, transforming adversity into an opportunity to reveal God’s work in us.

How do we live this equation?  How do we access an opportunity to transform the tragedy in our life into triumph? How can we transform our adversity into an opportunity to reveal God’s presence?

Maybe we can do what the man on the road did.  Live our life as close to the path where Jesus walks so he will see us, maybe even stumble over us.  Put ourselves in his presence, in worship, prayer, and study.  Put ourselves in connection with each other to grow in faith and mutual healing, so that whatever cross we carry, the load will be lighter and Jesus will notice us.  He will look upon us as an opportunity to show God’s work in the world.  Maybe he will make a mud paste with his own saliva to soothe the inflammation and pain we hold.  Maybe he will heal the disease, disability, loss.   Maybe not.  Maybe when we wash our face of the mud that clouds our vision, the blindness of depression, grief, resentment, and anger at the injustice of adversity, – that blindness will be lifted, and we will be like the man on the road, stronger than he was before his encounter with Christ, and capable of seeing what others could not see.   Who, when confronted and questioned, “Who gave you your sight?  What do you say about him?”

 With the man on the road, we, too will say, “It is Jesus.  The revealer of God’s work.  He is the light of the world.  He is a prophet.  “


Who is this who Forgives?

Monday after the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Wisdom 9:1, 7-18 (NRSV)

A Reading from the Wisdom of Solomon.

‘O God of my ancestors and Lord of mercy,
who have made all things by your word,
You have chosen me to be king of your people
and to be judge over your sons and daughters.
You have given command to build a temple on your holy mountain,
and an altar in the city of your habitation,
a copy of the holy tent that you prepared from the beginning.
With you is wisdom, she who knows your works
and was present when you made the world;
she understands what is pleasing in your sight
and what is right according to your commandments.
Send her forth from the holy heavens,
and from the throne of your glory send her,
that she may labour at my side,
and that I may learn what is pleasing to you.
For she knows and understands all things,
and she will guide me wisely in my actions
and guard me with her glory.
Then my works will be acceptable,
and I shall judge your people justly,
and shall be worthy of the throne of my father.
For who can learn the counsel of God?
Or who can discern what the Lord wills?
For the reasoning of mortals is worthless,
and our designs are likely to fail;
for a perishable body weighs down the soul,
and this earthy tent burdens the thoughtful mind.
We can hardly guess at what is on earth,
and what is at hand we find with labour;
but who has traced out what is in the heavens?
Who has learned your counsel,
unless you have given wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from on high?
And thus, the paths of those on earth were set right,
and people were taught what pleases you,
and were saved by wisdom.’

Luke 7:36-50 (NRSV)

A Reading from the Gospel According to Luke.

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment.

She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

“Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”

“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?”

 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.”

And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”

Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

“Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Two men

Two sons

Both born of powerful fathers, powerful mothers

Solomon whose mother Bathsheba loved him and moved to ensure his place as King, bargaining with King David on his death bed to appoint their son as heir to the throne.

Jesus whose mother was courageous enough to accept an angel’s assignment that could have led to life as an outcast, shunned for adultery, or worse yet, stoned to death.  She was the mother who never left her son’s side, who loved him to the end, and remains hallowed to this day.

Their sons . . .

Solomon with Wisdom at his side, empowered to make wise, life and death decisions, and to build the holy Temple

Jesus with the Holy Spirit at his side, empowered to speak, to reinstate life from death, to forgive.

Both with a secure place in history.

I am not suggesting at this point to set up a competition between these two giants, rather to draw from scriptures the blueprint, the path for life they have given us.

Looking at Solomon, the builder of the Temple.  He gave us a blueprint for a Temple built to the glory of God.  Churches continue to build temples to the glory of God for worship; and for God’s work in the community at large, providing education, food, comfort, refuge, and support to those in need.

Then there is Jesus, an itinerant preacher with no resources to build anything, rather possessing resources to raise the dead, to provide generously education, food, comfort, and support to those in need.

And to forgive.

Jesus is invited to dinner at the home of Simon the Pharisee.  He is sitting at the table when quietly a woman enters and stands behind him.  She kneels at his feet and overcome by the dark chasm of her life in the presence of the holiness of god, she cries.  Her tears are so great that they give her what she needs to bathe his feet.  She releases her hair from its covering and dries them.  Then with perfume from the alabaster jar she has carried with her, she generously anoints and soothes his dry tired feet with the rich oil.

Silence falls over the room.  Only Simon’s inner voice criticizing the woman and Jesus breaks the reverie.  Jesus hears.

And in the tradition of Solomon, Jesus tells a story of wisdom that traps Simon in his own error.  Jesus then turns to the woman at his feet, and speaks, “Your sins are forgiven.  Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  That’s it.  No caveats.  No pre-existing conditions.  No “only ifs.”  No “yes, buts.” Just forgiveness.

“But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

The pharisees do not ask, how is it that he can forgive?  Who gave him the right, the power to forgive?

No.  They ask who is this who forgives?  Obviously and profoundly, it is Jesus who forgives.

And in the prayer he taught us, he made it obviously and profoundly clear that we are to forgive as well. In the Lord’s Prayer, we pray not for the ability to forgive, but the willingness to forgive.  And not just once. Not just seven times, but seven times seventy times, generously!

Jesus knew the results of a stinginess to forgive, — a seething burning wound gnawing away at the core of one’s being, eroding slowly but surely all quality of life.

He knew the results of being held in the grip of going unforgiven, –isolation, shunned, an outcast with never a chance at life, never a new day with hope.

To forgive or not to forgive.  That is the question, a life or death question.  It is a life or death decision, to build or destroy, to give life or to withhold it.

This temple we call life is not built of bricks and stones.  It is a life built or destroyed by our willingness or unwillingness to forgive others or ourselves.  It is why we pray in the same breath for food to survive, “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Jesus knew the powerful act of forgiveness.  He knew what he was giving to the woman at his feet and to all sinners:  the opportunity to go in peace, fully forgiven, to awaken to a new day filled with hope and to live fully in his light.

May we steadfastly follow his steps in wisdom, generosity, and forgiveness to guide us and direct us in all that we do as well.


The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.