Fruitful Life @ Trinity
Karma or Grace, John 9:1-41, Fourth Sunday in Lent A
      • Bible Trivia
  • How Great Thou Art
      • Psalm 23NRSV

      • John 9:1–7NRSV

  • One of my professors at Drew told me that there are two types of people during a crisis—owls and roosters.
    Owls would tell you that the night is getting darker. Roosters will tell you that the dawn is coming. Historically, roosters tend to be right. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.
    During this trying time, you will hear good news and bad news, but don't listen to the owls. Listen to the roosters. And most importantly, don't be an owl, but be a rooster. Jesus wants you to be a rooster. You are called to share the good news, not bad news. You are called to be the light of the world, just as Jesus is the light of the world.
    Growing up in a Buddhist country, I was familiarized with explaining human sufferings in terms of karma—cause and effect. It has a tone of negativity, the tone of an owl. Later I learned that it's not just in Buddhism, but also in many other cultures around the world, including Judaism. The question is, is it really how life works? Is everything explainable in a simple cause and effect schema? Is it really how God functions?
    These days, I have heard people explaining away the coronavirus pandemic as some kind of karma or the outcome of human sin. If so, whose karma is it? Whose sin is it?
    Seeing a man born blind, Jesus' disciples had a similar question as to whose sin it was.
    As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:1-2).
    According to karma, if someone is poor or suffering, it might be caused by his own sin in this life or his previous lives. In this case, the disciples thought his blindness could be an outcome of his ancestors.
    The problem with the belief of karma is that we could become indifferent to human suffering. What goes around, comes around! "He is eating his own fruit," type of mental equation.
    What Jesus said is quite refreshing to the world that loves believe in karma.
    Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." (John 9:3-5).
    As I mentioned in my previous messages, whenever you see the word "light," think about "grace." How did Jesus shine his light? He shined it with grace upon grace.
    Jesus was saying that we should not justify someone's suffering in terms of whose sin it was, but we must see someone's suffering as an opportunity to do God's work—the work of grace.
    Jesus said, "We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work." What it means is that we must take every opportunity to show grace when we still can.
    Last week, Sophie and I arrived at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York after a long flight from Burma. We followed the signs directing the American citizens where to go. A man followed us even though I noticed he was holding a red passport. He should not have been in the lane for U.S. citizens.
    My wife tried to help him by asking the guard where he should go. The guard pointed him the direction, which was quite simple—go straight and turn right—but he kept asking my wife where it was? I stepped in and said in plain Burmese, "Go straight and turn right. Follow those people," with my finger pointing to the direction, which was quite close by, but he refused to go there and kept asking where he should go spinning around like a chicken with his head cut off. I thought I had never seen a man so stupid.
    Sophie walked him to the place. I was impatient after a long flight, and we still had to get back into our long line. Giving him direction was not our job, after all. The guards were there for this job, but he became so dependent on us. He looked educated enough to know some basic English to follow directions.
    After getting him to the right place, I told my wife, "I have never seen a man so stupid." She said, "I sympathize with him. We were once new in this country, and I would have appreciated the help." I disagreed, "But, this guy couldn't even follow a simple direction, even when I told him in his own language. He was spinning like a chicken with the head cut off. We were not that stupid when we first came."
    Maybe I was impatient because I didn't sleep well on the plane, but Sophie slept all the way through. Some times you need to sleep well to maintain your patience and grace.
    What would Jesus do? Based on the scripture we've just read. Jesus is saying, now is the opportunity for grace. If we wait until we are not tired but full of energy to help, the opportunities could have been gone. Jesus said, "the night is coming when no one can work."
    Jesus' answer reveals that God doesn't function according to karma, or cause and effect, but on grace. Only grace will end the suffering of this world because humans are not capable of maintaining good karma.
    If life functions on karma, we have no hope. We are stupid sinners, and we are prone to sin. Only grace can save us from sin.
    Jesus then did the work of God's grace by restoring the eyesight of the man born blind. The rest of the chapter is a humorous revelation of the disgrace of the religious leaders. You can read it for your edification.
    This is about an individual, but how about seismic calamity like a pandemic that we are going through? Isn't it the outcome of corporate human sin? Jesus said no. He used two tragedies of the day in Luke 13:1-5.
    At that very time, there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way, they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.
    Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did." (Luke 13:1-5).
    Jesus said, no, these tragedies were not because of their karma, but, he said, "unless you repent, you will all perish as they did." What does repentance mean? Most people think repentance means regret, but that's only a partial meaning. Repentance in Greek means changing behavior. You must not only regret but also have a behavior change to constitute repentance.
    Based on the context, repentance is about changing from disgrace to grace. He said, "unless you repent, you will all perish as they did." Obviously, he was using the tragic deaths as a metaphor of the ultimate perishing on the judgment day.
    What it means is that you will not survive the judgment day unless you live and practice grace.
    How do we apply this message to the current pandemic? I believe Jesus is telling us to take every opportunity to exercise grace. I understand we all have fears, and we have our own concerns about the uncertainty of our lives, but we find ourselves set free when we exercise grace.
    In his book, "Man's Search of Meaning," Victor Frankl recorded his observation of some amazing people in the Jewish concentration camp. They focused on caring for others instead of dwelling on their own plight. Maybe, this is the book we need to reread during this trying time.
    In fact, most interpretation of karma is wrong. Karma is both a Pali and Sanskrit word for "doing" or "action," but most people think it is about the "effect." It is a choice you make now.
    Jesus wants you to choose grace. That what being the light means. He wants you to do grace without determining whether one deserves it or not—without judging their karma. He wants us to do grace while there's still an opportunity.
    I'm glad that Sophie helped that man at the airport. After a night of good rest, I was ready to help him, but the opportunity was long gone.
    Let us take every opportunity to bestow grace without judgment because we have received from Christ grace upon grace. Grace changes our focus on others. Grace sets us free from self-absorption. Grace brings us blessings for doing the work of God.
    May God bless you and keep you safe. Amen!
      • John 9:1–2NRSV

      • Luke 13:1–5NRSV

  • Amazing Grace
  • Blessed Assurance

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