John 9:1-41, Fourth Sunday of Lent
For the Fourth Sunday of Lent, we recall Jesus’ healing of a blind man that brought many more things to light than just one man’s eyesight. It teaches us how blind we can be to what’s going on. The Lord wants to cure us of the worst blindness: a spiritual one. Through faith in the Son of man, we receive a deeper interior vision beyond our physical sight thanks to Christ, the light of the world.
In today’s First Reading the prophet Samuel has been sent to the house of Jesse to identify and anoint the new king of Israel.
He’s been sent by God to anoint a replacement for King Saul, who was a tall, powerful man who chose to ignore the Lord’s command because he feared public opinion. Samuel thought Jesse’s son Eliab would be a good replacement, because he was tall and handsome, much like Saul. But God shuts him down right away: “man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.”
David was not considered important enough to even invite him to the feast. His father sent him to go do something “useful” while the big boys attended to serious things. We all know how the story of King David goes from there. He not only becomes the greatest king of Israel but establishes the dynasty in which Christ will be born as the Messiah. God always looks into the heart and helps bring the truth of people to light.
In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that the Lord has brought us from darkness to light, and that light has exposed the good and the bad.
Humanity was in darkness until the light of Christ came to lead us out of it. Sin not only disfigures us, but it also blinds us. With impaired vision and everyone disfigured, it was impossible for us to see the right way to live without Our Lord’s help.
Paul puts Christians who’ve now received the light of Christ on guard against a worldly outlook that seems enlightened, but actually is darkness and fruitless.
In today’s Gospel, the Lord heals a blind man and helps to see with an entirely new level of light, the light of truth.
While walking along the streets of Jerusalem one day, Jesus sees a common enough sight in the Holy City. There is a disabled person by the side of the road begging for alms. What else is the poor man to do? He has been blind from birth, so employment opportunities are limited. He has no ability to see, but he can speak. So the man born blind cries out for assistance.
The disciples voiced out the belief of their time; they wanted to pinpoint the cause of the problem theologically: Whose sin brought down this judgment upon the blind man? Jesus is much more interested in solving the problem than analyzing it. But the action he takes is strange to say the least. He could have simply gathered a crowd, given a speech, the uttered dramatic command: “Be healed!” He did it this way with others. It would have been dignified enough. But no, his action is to spit in the dust, make a paste of mud, and smear it on the eyes of the blind man, commanding him to wash off the paste in the Pool of Siloam.
What must the blind man and the crowds have thought in the interval between the smearing and the washing? Why did Jesus choose to do it this way?
Saliva was and still is considered having healing effects. We put salvia on a mosquito bite and animals lick when wounded. But why mud-paste? Because God made the dust of the earth, and saw it as good (Gen 1). And out of it he formed the first man (Gen 2) which he saw as very good. Though many religious movements have shunned material things as unspiritual, and even evil, the God of Israel appears as a rather earthy divinity. He is so comfortable with the physical world that he even allows himself to be united to it forever, becoming flesh in the womb of Mary.
The man born blind not only received the gift of sight, but he also received an opportunity to see that Jesus had been sent by the Father and had the power of God to heal. He saw a miracle happen. The disciples thought his blindness was due to either his sin or the sin of his parents. Jesus corrected them. His healing was to show God at work.
The Pharisees showed how blind they were to the power of God. They wanted to condemn Jesus as a sinner breaking the Sabbath because that was the way they saw the world.
The man born blind could not deny what was right in front of his face. At this point, the Pharisees had decided to cast out anyone who said Jesus was the Messiah. He didn’t claim Jesus was the Messiah, but he presented irrefutable logic to the Pharisees: “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him … If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”
His healing was to show God working, but the Pharisees couldn’t accept that and cast him out. But Jesus went looking for him and gave him the opportunity to believe in him as the Messiah, and he accepted wholeheartedly. Jesus had not just restored his sight; he’d given him the light to see salvation at his doorstep and the need to give witness to it.
What Jesus does for the man born blind is a sign of the whole sacramental practice of the Church he established. Physical symbols come to contain what they symbolize and transmit what they contain.
Of course this is not brand new. It is prefigured and prepared for in the Old Testament, as we heard in the first reading.
Special oil called chrism is carried by the prophet Samuel to be used in the anointing of a new king. The Philistines, a mighty people from the seacoast with superior weapons and military skill, oppress the people of Israel. The role of the King is to defend his people from their enemies, and the Philistines are formidable foes. The King will need great strength to fulfill his mission, so he is to be anointed with sacred chrism, a holy, perfumed oil first used to consecrate priests. It is carried in the hollow horn of a bull, a symbol of the power this chrism is intended to transmit. The smallest and seemingly weakest of the sons of Jesse is smeared with this oil, and from that moment, the power of the Lord rushed upon David, turning this shepherd into the first Lion of Judah.
The Easter Vigil is only three weeks away, and those who participate in it do a renewal of their Baptismal promises, lit candles in hand. And when we remember our baptism we become aware that symbols accompanied the ceremony: We were baptised with water and are reminded of the man born blind who could see after washing his eyes in the Pool of Siloam. We were anointed with chrism – like young David to become strong in our struggle against evil. And a candle was lighted to symbolize the passage from darkness to light.
As you know only too well, Lent is a time of penance and sorrow for our sins, but it is also a preparation to celebrate the light of the Resurrection. Jesus didn’t want to just show us something through his Resurrection. He wanted to show us something through his entire earthly life, bad and good. Lent is a time to let the light of Christ back into those dark corners and rooms of our life where we’ve tried to keep him out.