Sunday, March 2, 2008

4th Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of Lent
A cycle

Reading 1. 1 Samuel 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Reading II. Ephesians 5: 8-14
Gospel. John 9: 1-41 (the man born blind).

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. There are many reasons why the Church uses this famous story from the Gospel of St. John on the 4th Sunday in Lent. Traditionally, this Sunday is known as Laetare Sunday. Laetare is the Latin word for “rejoice,” and now that the penitential season of Lent is more than half way over, we are called to rejoice at the approaching prospect of Easter. Certainly, the blind man is today’s gospel had reason to rejoice. Even more important is the great spiritual significance of this miraculous cure. Didn’t the prophet Isaiah foretell that the Messiah would bring sight to the blind.

I would love to see this episode put into film. It would take a great comic actor to play the blind man. It is such a long reading with a message so perfectly clear that I would only like to dwell on a couple of points. Let's try to imagine the scene in our minds. Jesus is walking with his disciples when they see the blind man. In the ancient world blindness, like many other physical infirmities, was considered to be caused by sin. This is why the disciples ask Jesus “who sinned, this man or his parents?”

Jesus disputes the ancient belief—the man’s blindness was not caused by sin, either his own or his parents’. The beggar, blind from birth, suffers from a physical not a spiritual illness. Maybe that is why Jesus uses such a physical means of healing him. His method seems gross to us. He spits on the ground, makes a kind of clay paste, smears it on the man’s eyes, and then tells him to go wash it off in the nearby pool of Siloam, the central water storage reservoir in Jerusalem.

When the blind beggar gains his sight, no one else can believe his or her own eyes. First, his neighbors, then the Pharisees can’t believe. He is repeatedly questioned in a courtroom scene that is almost comical. His parents are also brought in for questioning.
Finally, the beggar on this greatest day of his life is thrown out of the synagogue, which means banishment from his community. At that point Jesus seeks him out to comfort him and offer him spiritual healing. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

This was not the only time when Jesus worked a physical cure in order to show that spiritual healing was even more important. Remember when he cured the paralyzed man, he first forgave his sins and then told him to take up his pallet and walk to show that He had the power to heal our souls. He tells the Pharisees that the blind man had no sin, but that they are the ones who are spiritually blind.

Especially during the season of Lent we must put ourselves in the place of the Pharisees. Have we become spiritually blind? Are we living as St. Paul says in today’s letter to the Ephesians as “children of light” or have we succumbed to darkness? Most of us don’t take part in what he calls the “fruitless works of darkness,” things “shameful even to mention.” Nevertheless, we may, especially as we get older, become somewhat spiritually visually impaired.

I know a man who two years ago was told by his eye doctor that unless he had surgery, he would be blind in five years. The surgery was successful and now the doctor thinks that he may have 10 to 15 years of sight. There was, of course, the risk that this delicate surgery might not have succeeded and things could have even been worse. In any case it made the man think that he should make the most of his few remaining years of sight. He should not waste his vision on trivial, stupid, unimportant, ugly things.

Our lives are the same. No matter how much time we have left, we should make the most of it. As St. Paul says,

Awake, O sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.

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