Illness and disability have a way of disrupting our lives. Whatever we have planned for our lives is vulnerable and can be ruined by the sudden outbreak of this pandemic. A loved one falls sick and is for a while, incapable of living independently. Or, we are cut off by the coronavirus from going to our workplace. We self-quarantine and experience the odd loneliness of those stuck in nursing homes, prisons, or otherwise “shut-in.” We are all metaphorically, disabled. And now in the middle of Lent, our churches grow quiet. We ask, who caused this?
Disruptive events, like pandemics, raise religious questions. What is happening today shakes the soul. With that in mind (how can the coronavirus not be in mind right now?), consider the story of Jesus healing the man born blind found in the 9th chapter of John. Here is a man “shut-in” by his affliction in a dark place. He cannot live a normal life. He must sit and beg. Without daily charity, he starves. He has, in the words of Mae West, become dependent upon the kindness of strangers. If the illness continues, we will all be in the same place.
Our faith struggles with this.
Why him? (or why me?) The disciples want to know why this particular man was born blind. Jesus answers, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.” (John 9:3) Jesus challenges our whole notion that life is fair. Why do we believe that misfortune falls upon those that somehow deserve it? Why were some so quick to dismiss the coronavirus as something that belongs to the Chinese, because they are so crowded and foreign? Our prejudices and xenophobia work against our common good. I think this pandemic has come upon us as a lesson from God. We need to think globally. Instead of fixing the blame, we need to build ventilators.
If we learn the lesson of compassion, the coronavirus will reveal to us the glory of God. This disruption to our normal lives, has brought us to the place where we can encounter Jesus anew. Once we know we are blind, the sight-giver will come.
Until then, we must learn how to depend upon the kindness of strangers.