John 9:1-41, Fourth Sunday of Lent
Fr Joe Roche was our professor in the theology of Grace, oh some 500 years ago. Most of you are familiar with the teaching method back then. Straight lecture, exposition of concepts and terms, arguments, counter-arguments. Very informative, if anything, but pretty much cut and dried. But there was this one rare morning when Fr. Joe stopped lecturing and broke into a story.
“There were two orphan girls—a teenager and her seven year-old sister. They begged on the street all day, everyday. And on their way home, they’d often stop by a small store that sold knick-knacks. Big sister always had her eye on a small bracelet of fancy stones. After a bit, they’d go on home. Then came the birthday of big sister, during which they still begged on the street. On their way home, they stopped by the store again and just as big sister was about to admire the bracelet, it was gone. She was crestfallen and went home sad. When they got home, little sister fished something out of her pocket, something wrapped with scrap paper, and gave it to her big sister—happy birthday. When big sister opened it, it was the bracelet. Little sister thought big sister would be happy. Instead, she said, ‘How did you get this? You stole this. You stole this from that store! Don’t you remember what mother told us before she died? That we should never steal? You little thief!” And she dragged her crying little sister to the store to return the bracelet. The little one couldn’t get a word in edgewise no matter how she tried. In the store, big sister put the bracelet on the counter and started apologizing profusely to the clerk. The clerk shook his head as she tried to explain and apologize; whereupon, little sister just ran out of the store, sat on the sidewalk and buried her face in her little hands. After big sister stopped talking, the clerk looked at her in the eye and sternly said, ‘Your little sister did not steal this bracelet, young lady. She bought it and gave everything she had.’” Apparently, little sister had been saving a little bit every day for many days, so she could buy her big sister a birthday present.
Whereas everybody noticed that the man blind from birth could now see, nobody appreciated it. Instead, every person he turned to said he should not be seeing. “You were blind from birth, how could you see now?” “You were healed on the Sabbath, when healing is forbidden.” “Whoever healed you is a sinful man, as sinful as you are.” Even the poor guy’s parents wanted nothing to do with him because they were afraid of “the law.”
So, there was something beautiful that happened that day: a poor beggar, blind from birth, received the gift he must have dreamed of all his life. But what he got was a scolding all around, because he wasn’t supposed to receive that gift. It was all wrong. He should have stayed blind because (a) he didn’t deserve the gift of sight for being a sinner, and (b) the day he received it outlawed it. Magagalit ang Diyos, they all seemed to say. Magagalit ang Diyos. “But I could see,” you could almost hear the man whimper. “Hindi. Magagalit ang Diyos.”
Spit and dust…that was all it took to heal the man blind from birth; two virtually worthless stuff, spit and dust; free, no charge—but resulting into a dream come true. Libre, walang bayad! But as it happens, dear sisters and brothers, we are often scared of divine gratuity. When God gives us a freebie, especially an extravagant freebie, and turns “spit and dust” into, say, a “favorite bracelet” or the gift of light and a dream come true—we go grateful but we get nervous. Underneath our gratitude quivers an anxiety: “Hmm, ano kaya ang hihingin ng Diyos bilang kapalit? What’s the catch?” Because we figure, it must written somewhere that when God waxes magnanimous, we better be ready for what he’s going to ask for in return. If you think about it, this no-such-thing-as-free-lunch, this is really what rules human freebies, isn’t it? It forms part of how relate with each other. What has happened, though, is we’ve transmuted it to God. So just as we become anxious when someone is terribly magnanimous to us, so too do we second-guess what God’s generosity might be all about, because sooner or later, he’ll be sending us a bill. And if we don’t pay the bill, magagalit ang Diyos. Magagalit ang Diyos.
Divine gratuity terrifies us, doesn’t it? Even if we see more than enough signs that God gives us pretty much everything that we need—our life’s “favorite bracelets”, so to speak, our dreams-come-true, healing from our suffering, safety for our family, unrelenting forgiveness—even when we barely deserve half of it all—something about divine gratuity terrifies us. “But I can see,” the man blind from birth tells us. “From worthless spit and dust, the Lord has made shining light for me!” But something in our hearts somehow says, “No. Magagalit ang Diyos. No.”
For what is left of Lent, dear sisters and brothers, let us pray to God to really open our eyes so we could really appreciate divine gratuity, God’s extravagant freebies. Let us pray in such a way that we really get God’s message that might go something like this: “Anak, did it ever occur to you that I give you what you need—and much, much more besides—because I love you and that’s it? Because I love you. I love all of you. Libre. Walang bayad.”
God really gives us his everything, sisters and brothers. Jesus, our Lord, was everything to God. So God gave us no less than his everything.
*image from the Internet