As is typical of the disciples, they have a good idea, but get off track in its execution. In the case of tonight’s Gospel, they understood that physical problems are the result of sin. There was no blindness, lameness, deafness, cancer, homelessness, or death in Eden. They were right—the blind man had sinned, as had his parents, all the way back to his first parents. They were right—the man was blind because of sin. But they weren’t right about his blindness being the result of a specific personal sin, a punishment visited upon him for a transgression, an external mark of an internal uncleanness.
That’s not to say specific sins don’t have earthly consequences. They certainly do. The alcoholic may develop cirrhosis. The gambler may become homeless. The one prone to angry outbursts may have a frequently broken nose or black eye. The thief has a hard time getting hired. There is fallout because of sin.
While sin does have consequences here in this life, God does not punish us for our sins in this lifetime. He no longer opens the earth to swallow us. He doesn’t strike blasphemers with lightning. He doesn’t strike you mute if you gossip. While that’s comforting, because it allows for repentance, it’s also not always good for us. It’s like Adam and Eve in Eden. They didn’t drop dead immediately upon eating from the tree they were commanded to avoid, so they thought they could hide and make some clothes and all would be fine. When we don’t see immediate divine punishment for our sins, we’re tempted to think God doesn’t see, doesn’t care, and maybe even doesn’t exist. But we mustn’t mistake God’s graciousness and longsuffering for weakness.
Sin separates us from God. The blind man had that perfectly correct when he said “God does not hear sinners.” By sinners, he means those who refuse to repent, those who gladly and openly do what they are told not to do. That is why throughout this season we are called to repentance. We have to be confronted with the fact that we are sinners, and God does threaten punishment for sin. There’s a reason Jesus warns us so frequently about the outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth. Hell is a real place with real punishment for sin. And God does not want to send anyone there.
So He calls us to repentance. And, as the Catechism reminds us, that repentance has two parts. First, there is contrition, that is, sorrow for sin. Contrition is knowing that you were born in sin, and knowing that you daily add to it by what you do and what you leave undone. Contrition is a desire to leave behind the old ways of sin.
And the second part of repentance is faith, faith that knows the price of sin was paid by Jesus Christ. Faith is confident in the words of absolution, that Jesus shed His Blood to pay the price for your transgression, your breaking of the Law, your jealousy and anger and lust and hate. All those Jesus took upon Himself and bore them to Calvary’s cross, and He tasted death in your place, being sealed in the tomb to sleep the sleep of death for you.
The faith that believes all of that, that clings to what Jesus has done in your place, is what saves you. That faith holds to Baptism, to that moment when God fulfilled what He spoke through Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your filthiness, and I will put a new Spirit within you.” There you were given a washing greater than anything that could be achieved at the Pool of Siloam. There the suffering and death of Christ were made yours, and you received the benefits of His cross and empty tomb. Though your sins were as scarlet, in Christ they are white asa snow.
So, take heart. In this life you will suffer the effects of sin. Pain and heartache will come. But in Christ, you can look through that suffering to your Lord suffering on the cross. And you know, you can be confident, you can see that eternal bliss and comfort are yours.
“If this man were not from God, He could do nothing,” the blind man said. The same God-sent Son does much for you this evening. He performs a miracle as He places His Body and His Blood in your mouth, and in His mercy and grace you receive forgiveness and salvation. By this great mercy you are relieved of your sin both now and forever.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.