Is Your Belief Based only on Blessing? – Francis Alvarez, SJ

John 9:1-41, Fourth Sunday of Lent

When Jesus heard that [the Jews] had thrown [the man who had been blind] out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (John 9:35)
If I were Jesus, I would have asked that question earlier in the story – just after the man who was born blind went to the Pool of Siloam, washed, and was able to see for the first time. How can you say no to the question “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” right after experiencing a miracle? But Jesus asked that question after the man was thrown out of the synagogue. If I were that man, I would have had some hesitation about my answer. I would have thought, “Yes, now I can see, but I have also been rejected by my neighbors and my community. So… ummm….”

One might argue that belief in the Son of Man always comes with rejection. After all, if he whom we profess to follow was himself rejected, scorned, and crucified, should we, his followers, not also expect some form of crucifixion in our lives? Moreover, if in our following of Christ we do not experience opposition, conflict, or rejection, maybe we should ask ourselves if we are following Jesus close enough. This does not mean that we should go out and seek suffering. It is the Kingdom of God we are missioned to seek, but we should not be surprised when, on the way, we run into difficulty.

But why can’t it be all blessing? Why do we have to face challenges also?

In The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch gave us his answer to the question, “What would you say to the world if you knew it were your final chance to impart some wisdom?” One life lesson he wanted to share was: “Brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.” I would like to give this a slightly different spin: “Brick walls are also there to show us what we really want and what we really love.”

In our faith lives, is it just the blessing we receive from God that we love, or is it the God who is the source of blessing? We can be confronted with what our real answer is when we run into ‘brick walls.” Will we still believe in the Son of Man when we are rejected, scorned, and crucified? Will we still believe in the Son of Man when blessings run dry and we are deluged with trials?

Psalm 23, our responsorial psalm today, proclaims, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall lack. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul… You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” But what if all we face is lack? What if we find ourselves not in verdant pastures but in arid deserts? What if we long for rest and repose but have no choice but to continue trudging along? What if our tables are bare and our cups are empty while our foes laugh at our plight? Will we still believe that the Lord is our shepherd? What kind of shepherd is he?

Many wise people have said that fake religion tells us, “Do not fear. No trial will come to you.” True religion sings a different tune: “Trials will come to you. But do not fear.” How can we not fear? Psalm 23 assures us, “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.” What kind of shepherd is the Lord? He is the shepherd who will never leave us alone.

I once met a young lady whose story sounds more tragic than even the most dramatic soap operas. In a span of three months, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, she lost her job, and then her fiancée broke up with her. But as she shared her troubles with me, she had a constant refrain: “Thanks God pa rin.” Over and over, every recounting of every difficulty was met with “Thanks God pa rin.” In the end, I had to ask her, “Thanks God pa rin? But for what?” Her answer: “That he hasn’t left me.”

The man who had once been blind was asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” after he was rejected by his community. Maybe this is the proof that he really had gained his sight. Now he could see what truly mattered the most.

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