Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A
March 6, 2005
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 other four 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, begged Jesus to have mercy on them and affirmed their faith that he could do this, Jesus touched their eyes and they were cured right then and there (Mt 9:27ff). Another pair was sitting on the roadside and implored Jesus to take pity on them and open their eyes. Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes and straightaway they regained their sight and followed him (Mt. 20:30ff). The last miracle occurred in Bethsaida, when friends brought their blind companion to Jesus begging him for a cure. Jesus 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. Immediately Jesus laid hands on him a second time and 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 from the disciples about the cause of his blindness. Jesus states that the reason that man was blind from birth was to allow God’s works to show through him; his whole life in darkness until that point was so that he could encounter the saving power of Jesus but from that point onward be a tremendously conspicuous example of God’s own light shining ever more brightly through him. That truth influences the way Jesus performs this miracle, because Jesus had two healings in mind — first a physical one and then a spiritual one.
3) 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 then tells him to go to wash in the pool of Siloam. The blind man easily could have thought, “What a stupid and pointless hassle! Make me dirty and then send me, who can’t see, to wash in a pool,” but Jesus must have given that command in a way that inspired trust. By his willingness to carry out this simple command Jesus gives him, the man embarks, without knowing it, on the great adventure of faith, on the exciting journey 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.
4) The blind man’s journey has an obvious allegorical application to the path Jesus has asked the catechumens of our parish to walk this Lent. Why were they not born Catholics? Jesus would likely respond “so that God’s works may be revealed in them” now. Jesus has touched them sent them to go to be washed in the pool of baptism, and they with trust in him have gone, not knowing precisely what will happen in them, but Jesus in baptism will give them himself, the Light of the World, so that they might walk and live according to the light of faith.
5) But there’s another application to all of us in this parish, including those of us who were baptized as infants a long-time ago. Just as in physical life, our eyesight can worsen over time, so in the spiritual life, we can become gradually blind. The 20/20 vision we were given in baptism can deteriorate, so that, minimally, we need corrective vision lenses, but may need something far more drastic if we have become, in fact, spiritually blind to the light of faith.
6) Three-and-a-half weeks ago, Jesus did something to us similar to what he did to the man born blind in today’s Gospel. We went up to someone acting in His Name, who smudged our foreheads not with muddy saliva but moistened ashes, and gave us a two-part command, the very same imperative with which Jesus began His whole public ministry in St. Mark’s Gospel, “Repent and believe in the Good News!” This was Jesus’ pathway 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 therapeutic process.
a) The pathway for the cure of our blindness begins with REPENTING, which means turning away from the life of sin which blinds us. As the Catechism and human experience teach so clearly, 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, that we’re blind and that we need the Lord’s help to see. This conversion means becoming aware, as St. Paul helped the Ephesians to see in today’s second reading, that we have taken part in “vain deeds done in darkness,” and are called to “condemn them.” God allows us to be smudged with ashes and sent on a spiritual journey to wash ourselves in the “second baptism” of the sacrament of penance which begins the healing process, and in which we condemn ourselves for those vain, dark needs. At the end of that beautiful sacrament, God says to us, like he said through the St. Paul said in the second reading, “Awake, O Sleeper, arise from the dead and Christ will give you light.” We arise from the spiritual death and blindness of sin into the new light and life of Christ.
b) 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 merely 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 help. “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 same question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus is the Gospel incarnate, and “ believing in the Good News” 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!” With that docility, the Lord can then show us, in new and deeper ways, “You have seen him and he’s speaking to you now.”
7) To come to see Jesus, anew; to hear him speak to us “now” in every moment of our lives, to come to look on all things with the Light of Christ — that is the whole point of the Lenten adventure of faith. These forty days are a gift from God to help us to leave the darkness caused by sin and see Jesus and all things as they really are, as he himself sees them. So often we can think we see Jesus, we can think we hear his voice, but we’re really blind and deaf to the true meaning of his presence. The Pharisees, after all, saw Jesus physically, but they never really saw who he was. They watched him perform many miracles, they heard his beautiful teachings and powerful responses to every attempt to trip him up, but still, when they looked at him, 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 blind. So often we can behave like they did, thinking we have Jesus all figured out, boxing him into an unimposing closet of our lives, categorizing him and his teachings in the way that will least challenge us to true conversion. We can go through life without seeing things in His Light at all. We can look at others, at events, at issues in the same way people WITHOUT FAITH would. While we’re called to walk as children of the light, we can so often behave indistinguishably from all those who are walking and living in darkness. Each Lent Jesus helps us to recognize, again, that our sins number us among the blind, but that he wants to cure us, to have us walk in the Light of Life, to help us to see all things in Him who is the Light of the World — to see things, therefore, as they truly are.
8 ) How is our vision, practically, supposed to change this Lent? What does it mean to be cured by Christ of our spiritual blindness and see things in his own light? In order for us to appreciate the MIRACLE Christ wants to work in us this Lent, I’d ask you first to think what it would have been like for that man born blind returning from the pool. He had never seen anything, and now he could see everything. He could see colors. He could see the beauty of the temple. He could see where he was going. For the first time, he could see himself reflected in the pool. He could see the faces of those who were talking to him. He could see the face of Jesus. His whole life would have changed! What a huge jump in! The same jump is meant to happen to us when Christ heals our sight and helps us to see things with his light, to looking at everything through the lenses of faith, to see things as God sees them, and, therefore, to see all things as they really are. Practically speaking, it means hearing Jesus say in the various events and people we encounter through the day, “You have seen him and he is speaking to you now.”
9) One of my favorite prayers, which God always seems to answer, is “Lord, give me your eyes.” If we see things as Christ sees them, then obviously we would be seeing things with the light of faith. I beg the Lord to cure my blindness and give me his vision 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’ve tried to pass on that prayer to thousands of people in confession over the course of the years.
a) For those who have difficulty overcoming habitual criticism of others, I encourage them to pray, “Lord, give me your eyes,” so that they might see not only the good things that God has given the person, but also be able to look with compassion on the various hardships that the other person has endured leading to some of that person’s irritating habits.
b) To a man who is caught up in the slavery of lust, I encourage him to pray, “Lord, give me your eyes!,” so that he can see the other person not as a sex object, as a diving board into sinful fantasy, but rather as a beloved daughter of God, as a sister in Christ, as a person with an immortal soul who should be prayed for and loved rather than objectified and violated.
c) To those who are encountering serious Crosses, I encourage them to say that prayer, so that in the light of faith they may see them not so much as mortifications but as gifts from God to help them to grow in holiness, to acquire his own virtues, and embrace that Cross and follow him.
d) To those who have a problem with their own self-esteem and morale, I encourage them to repeat as often as they need to, “Lord, give me your eyes,” so that they can discover themselves as they truly are, and recognize how tremendously lovable they are to God, because they start to see God’s own love, patience and mercy toward them, and why he would die for them again out of love.
e) And lastly, when people have problems properly looking at their sins — either because they don’t have proper contrition for them or because they cannot let them go — I encourage them to pray for that same vision of the Lord. God will help them to see just how horrible their sins are, that each of them led to the Lord’s torturous suffering and death, that each of them was a choice of a disguised Barabbas over a disguised Christ, and each was in effect a clamor to crucify Christ. But that’s not all Christ’s vision allows us to see. When we look at them with the light of faith, we see our sins, even our most embarrassing and horrible ones, within the scope of Christ’s mercy. We are led to cry out as the Church does at the Easter Vigil, “O happy fault — o happy sin! — that brought me such a great redeemer.” We will start to see ourselves as God’s beloved prodigal son or daughter whom the Father always runs out to greet and to reconcile. 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.
10) 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 Christ were to grant us his eyes, we would see all the angels and the saints hovering around this altar. We would be able to recognize that we are about to share in the greatest event 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 he says “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 and say, with every fiber of our being, “I do believe, Lord” and bow down to worship.