4th Sunday of Lent
Since Lent began the first reading for each Sunday has presented us with great figures from the Old Testament. First, there was the story of Adam and Eve. Then we heard the story of the calling of Abraham, the father of Israel. Last week"s reading was about Moses, the deliverer of his people from captivity. Today's reading is about David, the greatest of the kings of Israel.
But David was not always a great king. Today we see him as the youngest and the least of the many sons of Jesse. Nevertheless, David is chosen over his brothers because,
Not as man sees does God see,
because man sees the appearance
but the Lord looks into the heart.
Today's gospel also deals with a nobody, the poor beggar, blind from birth. I would love to see a film depicting this incident. It would take a great comic actor to portray the role of the blind beggar. In my mind I can visualize Roberto Benigni, the greatest Italian comic actor of our time, in the role. Who can forget his exuberant performance in the Academy Award winner, Life Is Beautiful, or his even more exuberant performance at the ceremony when he won the award.
It is not hard to understand the emotional roller coaster of the blind beggar in today’s gospel. A man he cannot even see has made a paste of clay and spittle and told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. He washes and miraculously begins to see for the first time in his life. What’s the result? People can’t believe their own eyes. They can’t even believe that he is the same person. Then he is dragged into court and interrogated by officials who also refuse to believe their own eyes.
The officials next question the beggar’s parents who testify that their son had indeed been blind from birth In a way, they are also on trial since it was believed that their son’s blindness was also the result of their sin. We may think that blaming the parents for the son’s blindness is an outmoded and superstitious concept. Yet, still today many people blame their parents for what has gone wrong with their lives. Even worse, many counsellors and psychologists will encourage disturbed people to look back and blame others for their plight and not consider their own responsibility.
Even before he had healed the blind man, Jesus had emphatically denied that physical blindness was the result of sin. He continually insisted that sickness or accidents were not caused by sin but that sin was the result of turning away from the spiritual truth that had been implanted in all our hearts.
The real sin of the Pharisees was in refusing to see what God had done for the blind man. It was as if they would have preferred him to remain in darkness instead of rejoicing at his miraculous gift of sight. Today’s readings are all about seeing and not seeing, about light and darkness. As St. Paul says in the second reading,
Live as children of light,
For light produces every kind of goodness
And righteousness and truth
The Pharisees are still among us. In fact, we are all prone to see things as they did and to ignore the evidence of our own two eyes. I would like to end with a statement by Anna Jameson, a very great lady of the nineteenth century, who suffered much in her own life. She refliected on a sermon that she had heard in church by a preacher whose preaching sounded like the Pharisees.
He is really sublime, this man! with his faith in “the religion of pain,” and “the deification of sorrow!” But is he therefore right? What has he preached to us to-day with all the force of eloquence, all the earnestness of conviction? that “pain is the life of God as shown forth in Christ;”—“that we are to be crucified to the world and the world to us.” This perpetual presence of a crucified God between us and a pitying redeeming Christ, leads many a mourner to the belief that this world is all a Golgotha of pain, and that we are here to crucify each other. Is this the law under which we are to live and strive?
Surely there is a great difference between the resignation or the endurance of a truthful, faithful, loving, hopeful spirit, and this dreadful theology of suffering as the necessary and appointed state of things! I, for one, will not accept it. Even while most miserable, I will believe in happiness; even while I do or suffer evil, I will believe in goodness; even while my eyes see not through tears, I will believe in the existence of what I do not see—that God is benign, that nature is fair, that the world is not made as a prison or a penance. While I stand lost in utter darkness, I will yet wait for the return of the unfailing dawn,—even though my soul be amazed into such a blind perplexity that I know not on which side to look for it, and ask “where is the East? and whence the dayspring?” For the East holds its wonted place, and the light is withheld only till its appointed time.
God so strengthen me that I may think of pain and sin only as accidental apparent discords in his great harmonious scheme of good! Then I am ready—I will take up the cross, and hear it bravely, while I must; but I will lay it down when I can, and in any case I will never lay it on another.
Reading 1. 1 Samuel 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Reading II. Ephesians 5: 8-14
Gospel. John 4: 9: 1-41 (the man born blind).