Sin’s Structural Power
“Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to [Jesus], ‘Surely we are not also blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind you would have no sin; but now you are saying “We see,” so your sin remains.”
“‘Structures of sin’ are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a ‘social sin.’”
Last weekend, in the story of the Woman at the Well in Jn. 4, we saw the power of sin revealing itself through the shame that can isolate us from God and from our community. Today, we see the power of sin expressing itself through systems and structures of sin.
The Man Born Blind, in Jn. 9, is healed by Jesus. He begins to believe in Jesus. He even starts to change his life to become Jesus’ disciple. This is a good thing. His parents and community should be excited by his healing and the positive changes he is making. But this is not what happens.
Instead of rejoicing and celebrating the man’s healing, his parents and the community resist this change. They interrogate him about why he has changed. They are suspicious of the man even though he has clearly been healed. The community tries to put him back in his place, a broken beggar who is known as a sinner. “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” they ask. Then they throw him out (Jn. 9:34).
This is one of the dynamics of sin that anyone who is trying to make a significant positive change has experienced. An alcoholic who quits drinking finds himself being pressured by friends to come out drinking with them. A person who has gotten out of a dysfunctional relationship finds that their friends or family don’t understand. Someone who starts to pray more gets harassed for being “holier than thou.” The man who starts volunteering at the shelter gets teased by his co-workers. The woman who hangs a cross in her office is pressured to take it down. An individual who refuses to gossip or tolerate racist jokes can find himself isolated.
Sin not only challenges us from within through the voice of shame but it pressures us from the structures and communities around us. The world is broken. As we grow in faith, we find that it is a struggle not only with our own hearts but sometimes with our families, coworkers, and friends. The world has a way of trying to bend us to sin.
The good news is that Jesus never abandons us. “When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him… “ (Jn. 9:35). Change is hard, but God’s grace makes it possible.
Parish Pastoral Leader