Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A
March 21, 2004
1Sam 16:1,6-7,10-13; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41
1) In this dramatic scene from today’s Gospel, Jesus does something different than he did in several other miracles in which he cured people of blindness. With Bartimaeus in Jericho, who asked, “Lord I want to see,” Jesus replied, “Go; your faith has made you well.” And immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight (Mk 10:46ff). When two blind men entered a house after Jesus on another occasion, Jesus asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They retorted, “Yes, Lord!” Jesus touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you” and they were cured right then and there (Mt 9:27ff). Another pair was sitting on the roadside and begged Jesus, the Son of David, to have mercy on them and to let their eyes be opened. Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes and straightaway they regained their sight (Mt. 20:30ff). In Bethsaida, there was yet another cure of a man born blind, whose friends had brought him to Jesus. The Lord put saliva on his eyes, laid his hands on him, and asked if he could see anything. The man replied that he could see people but they looked like trees. But when Jesus laid hands on him a second time then, the man saw everything clearly (Mk 8:23).
2) In today’s Gospel, something very different happens. First, unlike in all of the other cases, the blind man doesn’t cry out for help. He’s just there, along the road, and becomes the subject of a theological question on behalf of the disciples. Jesus replies to his disciples’ query, stating the whole reason he had been blind from birth was to let God’s works show forth in him. His whole life in darkness until that point was so that he could be a tremendously conspicuous example of God’s own light shining ever more brightly through him from that point onward. That truth influences the way Jesus performs this miracle. Jesus actually had two healings in mind, first a physical one and then a spiritual one. The Lord spits on the ground, makes mud with his saliva, and then goes up unbidden to the blind man and smears his eyes with mud. What must the blind man have been thinking? What would your reaction be, for example, if you were praying here in the chapel with your eyes closed and someone else came up to you out of the blue and put muddy saliva on your eyelids? The blind man in the Gospel could have easily thought that someone was making fun of him or abusing him, as probably happened often. But the Lord is not done. Jesus tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam and off the man goes. It probably would have been easy for the blind man to think to himself, “This is stupid. This won’t do anything.” But by his willingness to do this simple thing Jesus asks of him, the man embarks, without knowing it, on the great adventure of faith, on the great adventure of coming from darkness into light. Jesus allows this man, unlike the other blind men he cured — and this is the second difference from the other cures Jesus worked — to participate actively in his own healing, so that through the process, he might receive not just the ability to see the physical light of the world (as others could, like the Pharisees) but also a much deeper light, the light of faith in Jesus, the true light of the world.
3) Three-and-a-half weeks ago, Jesus did something similar to us, to cure us our whatever blindness prevents us from seeing his own Light, from seeing Him. We went up to someone acting in His Name, who smudged our foreheads not with muddy saliva but ashes, and gave us an instruction, the very same instruction with which Jesus began His whole public ministry in St. Mark’s Gospel, “Repent and believe in the Good News!” This was Jesus’ invitation for us to participate in our own healing during this blessed time of Lent, in our own coming from the darkness into the light of Christ, in our own exodus from sin to love, in our own passover from death to life. We might have been tempted to consider this more or less an empty rite, something merely symbolic — especially if we are blind to our own sinfulness — but Jesus wanted to work in us during this time a true miracle of healing, through our participation and trust in this process of healing. The pathway for the cure of our blindness first involves repenting, which means turning away from the life of sin which blinds us. Sin darkens the intellect and distorts the will so that often we can no longer even see the good clearly or easily choose it when we do see it. The repentance that is part of our cure means recognizing that sin has left us partially or totally sightless, and has caused us to walk in partial or total darkness. This repentance is meant to help us to recognize that we’re blind and that we need the Lord’s help to see. That’s why St. Paul in his beautiful second reading tells us clearly, “Take no part in vain deeds done in darkness; rather, condemn them.” God allows us to be smudged with ashes and sent on a spiritual journey — condemning these deeds of darkness — to wash ourselves in the sacrament of penance which begins the healing process, through which God says to us, like St. Paul said in the second reading, “Awake, O Sleeper, arise from the dead and Christ will give you light.” This first stage involves rising again from the spiritual death that is sin into the light of new life with Christ.
4) The second stage in our cure is believing in the Good News. Jesus says to the man in the Gospel, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The physical cure of the man — a miracle that caused a tremendous stir among the people in Jerusalem and allowed God’s works to shine in him — was a prelude to the spiritual cure of the man that would involve not just leaving darkness, but living in the Light of Christ. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man responds with a faithful willingness, as well as a humble recognition that he needs instruction. “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” “You have seen him,” Jesus replies, “and he is speaking to you now.” In the healing Jesus wants to carry out in us this Lent, he asks us the question, essentially, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He is the Gospel incarnate, and believing in the Gospel means believing in Him. With similar humility to the man illuminated by Jesus in the Gospel we’re called to say, “Show me, Lord, that I may believe!,” so that the Lord can say to us, in new and deeper ways, “You’ve seen him and he’s speaking to you now.”
5) To come to see Jesus, anew; to come to look on all things with the Light of Christ: that’s the whole point of Lent. These forty days are a gift from God to help us to leave the darkness of sin in order to see Jesus in faith as He really is. The Pharisees saw Jesus physically, but they never really saw who he was. They watched him perform this miracle. They watched him perform several other similar ones. They viewed his two tremendous miracles of the multiplication of the loaves and the fishes. But when they looked at Jesus, they were blind to the reality of who he really was. They thought they saw Him, they thought they had him figured out, they thought they had all the answers, but they were so wrong and were not really seeing him at all. So often we can behave like they did, thinking we have Jesus all figured out, boxing him into an out-of-the-way corner of our life. Although we have made a real commitment to Christ, we still can go through much of life without seeing things in His Light. We can look at events in the same way people without faith would. While we’re called to walk as children of the light, we can so often live as do children of the darkness. Each Lent Jesus helps us to recognize, again, that our sins number us among the blind, but that he wants to cure us, wants to have us walk in the Light of Life, wants us to see all things in Him who is the Light of the World — to see things, therefore, as they truly are.
6) How is our vision, practically, supposed to change this Lent? What does it mean to see things in Christ’s own light? It means to look at everything through the prism of faith in Christ, but, more concretely, to see all things as they really are, to see them as God sees them. It means hearing Jesus say in everything that happens, “You have seen him and he is speaking to you now,” in the various events of the day and the various people we encounter. And then seeing everything and everyone (including ourselves) in the reflection of his own eyes. One of my favorite prayers, that God always seems to answer, is, “Lord, give me your eyes.” I beg him to cure my blindness and give me his eyes when I’m conversing with someone, so that I can see that person as He sees them. This is especially helpful when I find a particular person difficult. Rather than seeing only the person’s defects (or what I think are defects), the Lord helps me to see what He finds so lovable in that person, what would lead Him to trade his own life for that person all over again if he had to. I can begin to see the great gifts he’s given that person, the great potential, and can look at the growth the person needs to experience with God’s own patience. It therefore allows me, on occasion, to be an instrument by which God can draw out of that person these tremendous gifts, because I’m no longer a critic; in God, in fact, I become one of the person’s greatest fans! This prayer also helps me to see EVENTS with the light of Christ, both seemingly good and seemingly bad events, and helps me to say “yes!” to his will. Especially when I encounter the Crosses God gives us every day, this prayer for Christ’s eyes and light helps me to see these occasions not so much as mortifications but as gifts from God to help me to grow in holiness, to acquire his own virtues, and embrace my Cross and follow him. Such a prayer would also help us to look at ourselves with the eyes of Christ. When we start to see ourselves in this way, we not only discover ourselves as we truly are, but recognize how tremendously lovable we are to God, because we start to see God’s own love, patience and mercy toward us, and why he would die for us again out of love. We see even our sins, even the most embarrassing ones, with the same faith of the Church that leads us to cry out, imitating the cry of the Exsultet of the Easter Vigil, “O happy fault, that brought me such a great redeemer.” With Christ’s eyes, we see that perhaps the Lord tolerated our being blind through these sins for so long, so that, like with the blind man, “God’s works” of mercy might shine all the more conspicuously in us. We can start to see ourselves as a child of God, perhaps a prodigal son or daughter that the Father always runs out to greet. The clear sense of love that comes from this recognition of our divine filiation can fill us with a tremendous joy — the type of joy God wants to give us this Laetare Sunday.
7) The Church puts the second scrutiny that our candidates for full Communion will undergo today at Mass within the context of this journey on which Christ led the blind man in today’s Gospel and which he likewise wants to lead them and us during this time of Lent. The two beautiful prayers in the rite of exorcism indicate what the Lord wants to happen to us, today, as a result of these readings. The first is directed to the Father: “Father of mercy, you led the man born blind to the kingdom of light, through the gift of faith in your Son. Free these elect from the false values that surround and blind them. Set them firmly in your truth, children of the light forever.” The second, equally beautiful and equally challenging, is directed toward Jesus and to the Holy Spirit: “Lord Jesus, you are the true light that enlightens the world. Through your Spirit of truth, free those who are enslaved by the father of lies. Stir up the desire for good in these elect, whom you have chosen for your sacraments. Let them rejoice in your light, that they may see, and, like the man born blind whose sight you restored, let them prove to be staunch and fearless witnesses to the faith, for you are Lord forever and ever.” May the Lord hear these prayers for David and Lynn and for each of us.
8 ) As we come forward today toward this altar — on this Christian sabbath, recognizing that the Lord worked most of his miracles of curing the blind on the Sabbath — we ask the Lord to remove the veils from our eyes, so that we can see everything with His own eyes in the light of faith, but in a special way to see what is about to happen. If we could see the Mass for what it really is, we would never want it to end, because we’re about to participate live in the Last Supper, in Jesus’ own passion and death, and share right now on earth in his Resurrection as we receive His Risen Body. If the veils of our eyes were removed, we would see all the angels and the saints hovering around this altar, because they see what really is occuring. We are about to share in the greatest events in all of history, the greatest love the world has ever seen or imagined, the deepest source of joy we could possibly ever have, the source of a joy the world cannot give nor take away. Jesus says to us here live, “Do you believe in the Son of Man whom you have seen and who is speaking to you now,” as I say “this is my body, … this is the cup of my blood?” Faced with these ineffable realities, may we take our cue from the ILLUMINATED man in the Gospel: “I do believe, Lord” and bow down to worship.