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Jesus didn’t try to explain the “why” of suffering

April 25, 2023

Daily Scripture

John 9:1-3, Luke 13:1-9

John 9

1 As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”
3 Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.

Luke 13

1 Some who were present on that occasion told Jesus about the Galileans whom Pilate had killed while they were offering sacrifices. 2 He replied, “Do you think the suffering of these Galileans proves that they were more sinful than all the other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did. 4 What about those eighteen people who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think that they were more guilty of wrongdoing than everyone else who lives in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you, but unless you change your hearts and lives, you will die just as they did.”
6 Jesus told this parable: “A man owned a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 He said to his gardener, ‘Look, I’ve come looking for fruit on this fig tree for the past three years, and I’ve never found any. Cut it down! Why should it continue depleting the soil’s nutrients?’ 8 The gardener responded, ‘Lord, give it one more year, and I will dig around it and give it fertilizer. 9 Maybe it will produce fruit next year; if not, then you can cut it down.’”

Daily Reflection & Prayer

People asked Jesus to explain “why,” in one case of a man born blind, in another of some Galileans unjustly killed by Roman soldiers. (Jesus added others killed in a tragic building accident.) In neither case did his reply give a cosmic rationale for suffering. He just noted that evil often strikes randomly. No one was “singled out” for pain or loss. The open-ended parable in Luke 13:6-9 taught human responsibility to “bear fruit,” not passive acceptance of whatever happens as “God’s will.”

  • In John 9, Jesus didn’t try to sort out who or what was to blame for the man’s blindness. Instead, he urged the disciples to look forward to how God’s power could work in the man’s life. What difficulties and challenges are you facing? How can you open “the eyes of your heart” to recognize and respond to God’s power at work in and through you in responding to any type of suffering?
  • We could call the story Jesus told in Luke 13:6-9, after people asked about unfair killings, “The Unfinished Parable.” The gardener didn’t debate why the tree didn’t bear fruit. He just asked for one more year to help the tree. And Jesus never said if the tree bore fruit. Instead, in 13:5 he challenged his hearers to “change your hearts and lives,” making it clear what type of human “fruit-bearing” was on his mind. What about you—how will you finish Jesus’ unfinished parable in your life?

Lord Jesus, I want my life to bear the kind of good fruit you are willing to grow in me. Keep me looking ahead, responsive to your guiding voice in my heart. Amen.

GPS Insights

Picture of Lydia Kim

Lydia Kim

Lydia Kim serves as one of the pastors of Connection and Care at Resurrection Leawood. An avid believer that growing in faith pairs well with fellowship and food, she is always ready for recommendations on local restaurants and coffee shops.

A close friend of mine died when I was seventeen due to illness. When they passed, a church person told me that “God was going to use his death to help his family confess some unconfessed sin in their life.” It was one of the rare moments in my life when I felt rage, and I decided I couldn’t follow a God who felt this way.

Reading these passages today gives me hope. Jesus makes it clear that a person’s sin is not the cause of someone’s illness or the reason that innocent people lost their lives. To me, this is a powerful reminder of who God is. God is a God of grace, love, and hope. God isn’t someone who inflicts pain on us for fun, to make us better people, or to make us stronger. Instead, God walks with us through the valley of the shadows and through our suffering. God suffers with us, and we are not alone.

I wonder what would have happened if all those years ago, the person who told me that sin caused my friend’s death had shared John 9 and Luke 13 with me instead? God works in many ways, but one way is through everyday people. Suffering still happens in this world, but what if we joined God in this mission to care about others and walk with them in their suffering? What if we offered hope instead of judgment? How might the world be changed?

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Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.