Steeped In Sin

John 9.34
“You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!”

Reflection: Steeped In Sin
By John Tillman

The Pharisees are partially correct in the above passage; the formerly blind man, was steeped in sin at birth. Where the Pharisees were in error was denying that they were also steeped in sin.

There are two ways of thinking about sin. One sees sins as individual actions. In this calculation, we total sins up, like fines in a legal system. We interpret sins as individual, unconnected actions that are less than perfect good.

This is the mode of sin evaluation favored by the Pharisees and many modern Christians. We prefer to think about sin in this manner because it is measurable and allows us to look at ourselves in comparison to others. No matter how bad we are, we can always find someone who makes us look good by comparison.

This thinking also leads us, like the Pharisees, to see those in difficulty or hardship as suffering from their own sin and wrongdoing. This allows us to further exclude and punish them while absolving ourselves from any responsibility to help them. Today, many view the poor through this lens, seeing generational poverty as the fault of the poor, and the community’s responsibility as minimal or non-existent. This view of the poor can’t be found anywhere in scripture—except perhaps in the views of the Pharisees.

Sin is not just some bad things that we sometimes do. Sinful actions are “sins” but sin is more than actions. It is a condition. It isn’t just a condition that we live with. It’s a condition that we live in. Paul tells us that creation groans to be released from sin, and we feel its effects. Sin is pervasive. It seeps into every crack and corner of our souls.

Sin isn’t like a disease, a condition inside our bodies, as much as it is like an environmental condition, an inescapable influence that surrounds and penetrates us.

Sin is gravity. It is our atmosphere. It is our water. We are radioactive with sin. It vibrates out of us in ways that damage and harm us and anyone we come near.

We need Jesus not to help us make better choices and “sin less.” We need Jesus because only his righteousness is the antidote to the radiation poisoning of rebellion.

We can blind ourselves, like the Pharisees, refusing to see our sin. Or we can admit our former blindness and seeing Jesus, we can say as the formerly blind man did, “Lord, I believe.”

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to root our the remembrance of them from the earth. — Psalm 34.15-16

Today’s Readings
Exodus 30 (Listen – 5:06)
John 9 (Listen – 4:56)

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Read more about Suffering and Sin
We feel less responsible for problems in the world when we can believe that only the lazy are poor, only the promiscuous are in danger of sexual assault or disease, only hedonists become addicts, and only nihilists suffer depression or have suicidal thoughts.

Read more about The Focus of Christ’s Anger
Jesus spent time with people who, by every cultural definition and religious law, would be under God’s wrath. Sinners. Heretics. Financial swindlers. Race traitors. Fallen women. Lepers. Foreign occupiers. Shouldn’t Jesus have been angry with them?

Light and Dark and Joy :: Joy of Advent

John 9.4-5
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.

Reflection: Light and Dark and Joy :: Joy of Advent
By John Tillman

Like Advent’s candles, Advent’s joy shines most beautifully in the dark.

At times we over-spiritualize darkness, dressing it in a black hat as a mustache-twisting villain. There are some good reasons for confusion. The Bible often analogizes darkness as evil, even though darkness itself is not evil. Darkness is not sin, although the Bible speaks of us using darkness to hide our sin, and that we stumble in sin because of spiritual darkness or blindness.

When the disciples and religious leaders saw the man born blind, they saw only sin. Jesus saw God’s glory.

Darkness is not dark to our God. That means that God is not blind to our sins, but it also means that we do not walk in darkness alone. We walk with the God who knows the darkness as well as he knows the light.

Darkness is part of the cosmos that God created and called “good.” At creation, God created sources of light and set boundaries for shadows. He set the orbits of intersecting heavenly bodies, the timing of eclipses, of comets, and supernovas, giving us tools of light and darkness to help us mark the seasons and times of life. The celestial event that guided the Magi was set in motion eons ago by the very one whose birth it proclaimed.

We, like our universe and our Savior, were conceived and grew in darkness. Our first heartbeat and our first thoughts are in darkness. Our first movements are in darkness. Our first relationship begins in darkness. We come out of the darkness, by God’s grace, as children of the light. Our first glimpse of light is after our birth and before our first breath of air.

Before healing the man born blind, Christ proclaimed that he was the light of the world. Like the blind man, we wait in darkness in order that we may see the light and show it to others. In our hearts, the light is present always. It is our task to birth that light into the world.

We speak often of Advent as a time of darkness, and it is. But it is only dark because we are waiting for a light which we are sure will come. The Advent darkness we wait in is working with the light, helping us to have joy in anticipation and faith in what we cannot yet see.

Prayer: The Morning Psalm
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me. The Lord will make good his purpose for me; O Lord, your love endures forever; do not abandon the works of your hands.  — Psalm 138:7-8

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Zechariah 6 (Listen – 2:08)
John 9 (Listen – 4:56)

Additional Reading
Read More Blossoming of Joy in Adversity :: Joy of Advent
What are we waiting for?
Advent’s path to joy passes through trials, arrests, suffering, and the cross. Let us follow Christ.

Read More A Prayer of Hope :: Hope of Advent
During Advent we trim our lamps and supply ourselves with oil that we may be ready when Christ comes. Lord, as the world grows darker, the hope we have in Christ, burns brighter.

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