Fourth Sunday of Lent
Are we, in some ways, “walking in darkness,” unaware of our true spritual state, blind to the gravest of our faults and to the needs of others. The Gospel remedy is to let the Spirit of Jesus shine into our hearts this very day, to take away our blindness and help us see things his way. But sometimes too, by undervaluing our gifts or being only too burdened by our failures, we might fail to make our proper mark in life – just as young David’s family never imagined that he could possibly serve God’s people as their king. St Paul assures us that each individual person is gifted and chosen, enabled through baptism to live in God’s shining grace, and to share it with others.
1 Sm 16:1,6ff. Against all the odds, David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, is chosen to succeed Saul as king of Israel. God’s choice is not ruled by human standards.
Eph 5:8-14. By our baptism we were taken out of darkness and brought into the light. We must live in the light, allowing the goodness of Jesus to shine through us.
Jn 9:1-41. Jesus gives the gift of sight to a man born blind. This proves his claim to be the light of the world; and this gift of spiritual sight continues to be given, if we ask for it.
– that we may appreciate the marvellous gift of sight, both physical and spiritual, and give God thanks for what we see around us.
– that our merciful Jesus may open our eyes to our own sinfulness, and show us where we need to change.
– that he may take away our prejudice against others, and help us to appreciate their merits.
– that Jesus may open our hearts to show compassion towards those who are blind and to the most deprived in our communities.
Punishment For Whose Sin? (John Walsh)
One of life’s mysteries that often troubled Jewish thinkers in biblical times was the connection between suffering and sin. This conundrum was specially acute before they came to believe in the resurrection and the after-life. For if devout and upright people were to be rewarded by God, and there was no life after death, then any reward would obviously have to come in that person’s life-time. The problem was how often the wicked seem to prosper in this life, while good people are often burdened with sickness or misfortune. How can that be just?
Even Jesus’ own disciples assumed that wherever there was suffering, that person must have sinned, to deserve it. So they put the question to him, as we read in today’s gospel, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, so that he was born blind?” in his reply, Jesus refuses to apportion blame to either. He simply remarks that, in the divine scheme of things, the whole episode can show God at work, even in the case of a man born blind. The miracle performed in curing the blind man will show Jesus as the one gifted with divine power, able to transform, and give people new life, so that they become children of God.
We are inclined to regard conversion as a once-off occurrence in time. But not so. Conversion, or turning to God, is an on-going event. God is for ever near us, saying to us, “Now is the time,” and so there is no standing still. The Pharisees were people who wanted everything to remain clear and fixed. They represent those people in every generation who condemn anyone whose idea of religion differs from theirs, and they insisted that theirs was the only way of serving God.
For sheer drama, today’s gospel encounter is one of the most brilliant scenes in the life of Jesus. In a few sentences, St John reveals the inner character of each of those involved. The former beggar stands before his betters (the Pharisees,) and is relentlessly badgered by them in order to force him into denying his cure by Jesus. But he displays an extraordinary strength of will by not allowing himself to be browbeaten by his questioners. His refusal to be bullied to their purpose is a lesson to all of us, who have had the grace and knowledge of God through the sacrament of baptism, so that we may give witness to Jesus Christ before the world.
In response to prolonged questioning, he sticks to the fact of his cure, refusing to be drawn into speculation to explain it. He even dares to suggest that because of their intense interest the Pharisees were also considering becoming Jesus’ disciples! On their part, this leads to the last resort of people losing an argument – to abuse and insult the opponent. They called him an utter sinner since the day he was born.
Then look at the poor parents of the blind man, whose fear is quite palpable. They dreaded being debarred from the synagogue, and so, rather than compromise themselves in the affair, they make their son answer all further questions about the cure. But the real defendant in the whole case was Jesus, and he was being judged in his absence. “We know that this man is a sinner,” the Pharisees say, in reference to him. But the man who was born blind confronted them with an argument they could not answer. If Jesus had worked a miracle, then he could not be a sinner, because God does not grant the wishes of a man who is evil, but responds to the prayer of good people.
This new light came to the man born blind, an inner light by which he could believe in Jesus and worship him. If the Pharisees only realised the extent of their own blindness, they might keep searching for the light. But because they were sure and their beliefs were beyond question, their wilful, sinful, blindness to the light remained.
At St Paul’s conversion when his sight was restored his first words were, “Lord what am I to do?” His advice to the Romans on this is directed at us too. “Let us give up all things we prefer to do under cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light. Let us live decently as people do in the daytime” (Rom 13:12f).
Finding The Way (Liam Swords)
One Sunday morning, I had to cross the city of Paris, to celebrate Mass in the Irish church there. As I was approaching the Metro, I was stopped by a young girl. She was blind. She asked me to help her cross the street to the entry to the Metro. When we got there, I offered to help her find her train. She thanked me but declined my offer, assuring me that she would have no difficulty finding her way. I watched in fascination as she made her way confidently, tapping her little white cane, through the maze of corridors leading to her platform, where she duly boarded the train. The system is so user-friendly that it is almost impossible to go astray, provided that you have eyes and can read. Everything depends on following the directions. This shows the direction and leads you to your train. How that blind girl navigated her way with only a white cane and her other senses to guide her almost defies explanation. But she did, without hesitating, and I had to walk hard, to keep her in view. The beggar in today’s gospel was blind from birth. He had never seen another human being. And yet, like the blind girl in the Metro, he must have had an awareness of his environment that would make sighted people seem almost handicapped.
Nature has a marvellous knack of exploiting the potential of the other senses to compensate for the one that is lost. What this blind beggar lacked by sight, he made good by insight. As a beggar man, he encountered huge numbers of people everyday. Many of them would turn their heads, lest they prick their consciences and hurt their pockets. He did not see that but he saw their indifference, their meanness. He sensed their disapproval, their anger. He could see what the teachers of religion were blind to – that his blindness was not the result of sin. They, like their counterparts today who see in the AIDS epidemic the punishing hand of an angry God, suffer from spiritual blindness.
It is an ailment that seems to thrive particularly in religious environments and its symptoms are easily recognised. The closed mind that refuses to be enlightened. The narrow prejudice that distorts the truth. The overbearing intolerance that brooks no dissent. The blind fanaticism that masquerades as religious zeal. None of them strangers in our modem world.
The message of today’s gospel is that the blind see, while those with sight are blind. The real miracle was that the blind man recognised Jesus as the Messiah, which the religious experts failed to see. As the poet expressed it: “There are none so blind as those who do not wish to see.” St Paul draws the conclusion for us:
“You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord. So be like children of light, for the effects of the light are seen in complete goodness and right living and truth.”
Sight to the Blind (Jack McArdle)
Like last Sunday, today’s gospel is both lengthy and full of wonderful insights into the mind and mission of Jesus. It has to do with blindness of many kinds, not least being the deliberate blindness of the Pharisees, and even of those who actually witnessed the miracle. One sentence of Jesus gets to the core of today’s gospel. “I have come to give sight to the blind, and to show those who think they can see that they are blind.”
With the growth of information today, there are vast changes occurring in all areas, affecting economics, politics, ecology, education, religion, social life, and genetics. This can spawn its own problems, but it must create constant problems for those who try to resist change. “This is the way it was done, and that is the way it should continue to be done.” One example is in the area of medical and remedial care. The whole scene is changing, with phenomenal growth in alternate forms of medicine. There are new words coming at us all the time. My generation knew nothing about reflexology, aromatherapy, psycho-synthesis, or acupuncture. Speak of Enneagram or psychometrics, and you run the risk of being accused of some New Age involvement.
Jesus came to make all things new, and when he enters a person’s life, that person is changed utterly and forever. The religious leaders of his day were typical of fundamentalists down through the ages. Nothing must interfere with tradition, and it was necessary to live within the narrow confines of a confining legal system. To live is to change, and to become perfect is to have changed often (Cardinal Newman).
I really don’t know why Jesus went through the ritual of the spittle, the mud, and the water, in order to heal the man. He healed other blind people with a touch, or simply a word. It might well have been a test of faith. He sent the ten lepers on their way, and they were healed as they journeyed along. He sent the centurion home and, before he reached home he got word that his servant was healed. I often think that this is how Jesus heals many of us. We ask for his healing, and nothing seems to happen immediately. Maybe, after asking for his healing, we should go on our way, and expect to notice the healing taking place gradually as time goes by.
As the story unfolds today, you will notice that the man’s eyes were really opened, and that includes the eyes of his soul. I think of Jesus healing the total person, or not at all. I couldn’t imagine him healing someone, and then to have that person going away filled with resentment against another. Such a person was not really healed at all. The man in today’s gospel was totally healed, and he ended up on his knees, worshipping Jesus.
A practical and simple prayer is “Lord, that I may see.” It is a short prayer, but when it comes from the depths of my heart, it is a powerful prayer. Remember that other blind man named Bartimeus? He was told that Jesus was passing by, and he was determined to get his attention. Those around him tried to silence him, but he shouted all the louder. And he also was cured. To another man Jesus asked the pointed question, “Do you want to be healed?’
The greatest good you can do for another is not to share your riches with him or her, but to reveal his riches to himself. It is good to confirm others, and make them feel worthwhile. Many people have grown up with a poor self-image, and they just cannot see the good in themselves. This is another form of blindness, and it is a blindness in others that any one of us can heal. The most certain proof that the Spirit of God lives in you is your willingness and ability to confirm other people.
Wash at the Pool of Siloam (Tommy Lane)
In Vienna in Austria there is a church in which the former ruling family in Austria, the Hapsburgs, are buried. When royal funerals used to arrive the mourners knocked at the door of the church to be allowed in. A priest inside would ask “Who is it that desires admission here?” A guard would call out, “His apostolic majesty, the emperor. “The priest would answer, “Sorry I don’t know him.” They would knock a second time, and again the priest would ask who was there. The funeral guard outside would announce, “The supreme emperor.” A second time the priest would say, “Sorry I don’t know him.” A third time they would knock on the door and the priest would ask Who is it? The third time the answer would be, “A poor sinner, your brother.”
That story reminds us of the fact that we are all sinners no matter what our rank in society or Church. But nowadays we don’t think of ourselves often as sinners in need of Gods mercy. A bishop one said that Catholics in times past believed Our Lady was immaculately conceived but that now we believe we are all immaculately conceived. What is our attitude to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Confession? Unfortunately sometimes now that sacrament is treated as a joke and joked about. Why would people treat it so flippantly or make it the subject of jokes? Is it because we have forgotten the value of that sacrament? And if we have forgotten the value of the sacrament of Reconciliation is that because we have forgotten that we are all sinners even if we pretend otherwise?
That reminds me of when Jesus healed the blind man. Every miracle of Jesus is meant to teach us something and this miracle teaches us that Jesus came to cure our spiritual blindness. There were others present who had their full eyesight yet they were spiritually blind. They were the Pharisees, whose blindness Jesus failed to heal. Is it just possible that we may have a blind spot with regard to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and our need of God’s mercy? During this season of Lent may I suggest that we go to the Pool of Siloam to wash our spiritual eyes so that we can see again what is the Lord’s call to each of us. This Sacrament of Reconciliation is so important that I aim to receive the receive it once a month; and I would also like to recommend you to receive the sacrament once a month also.
Healing the Blindness of the Heart (Munachi Ezeogu)
Jehovah’s Witnesses are great at house to house evangelism. I remember a blind man who used to frequent our neighbourhood on this mission.. He usually began by raising up his red-edged Bible and shouting, “I was blind but now I see.” This way he would attract a group of people around him and begin witnessing to them. If you needed a distinction between physical and spiritual blindness, this is it, he said. Physically he was blind, but spiritually he was clear sighted, or at least so he believed.
Today’s gospel centres on the analogy between physical and spiritual blindness, as do most of the Gospel miracle stories where Jesus heals blind people. The early Christians saw physical blindness as a metaphor for the spiritual blindness which prevents people from recognizing and coming to Jesus. These stories testify, therefore, to the power of Jesus to heal not just the blindness of the eye but, above all, the blindness of the heart.
The clue that the evangelist intended this story to be read on these two levels, physical and spiritual, is found at the tail end of the story, when Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, andthose who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (John 9:39-41)
The mission statement he gives here is valid not only for the Pharisees but also for the men and women of our time. To learn from Jesus we must first admit our ignorance, to be healed we must first acknowledge our blindness, to be forgiven we must confess our sins. The I’m-OK-you’re-OK mentality so prevalent today may in fact not be too far from the mentality of the Pharisees
From earliest times today’s gospel story has been associated with baptism. Just as the blind man went down into the waters of Siloam and came up whole, so also believers who are immersed into the waters of baptism come up spiritually whole, totally healed of the blindness with which we are born. For, like the blind man in the gospel, we are all born blind – spiritually, that is.
Another reason why this story was used in the preparation of catechumens for baptism is that it spells out dramatically what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus. It is, in fact, a story of how a blind man who used to sit and beg became a disciple who went about witnessing to Jesus. As in last week’s story of the conversion of the Samaritan woman by Jacob’s well, this story of the healing of the blind man shows that the one thing you need to qualify to bear witness to Jesus is not doing a certain kind of studies but having a certain kind of experience. The crisis of faith in our time is not different from the crisis of faith of the Pharisees, namely, thinking that true piety means knowing and following the Book. But Christianity has a lot more to do with knowing and following the Person, the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
First Reading: First Book of Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”
Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”
Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light- for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Gospel: John 9:1-41
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask himself.”
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.