Mar. 28, 2017

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT

"LORD, I BELIEVE, AND WORSHIPPED HIM" (Jn.9:36) 

In today's first reading, we see the theme of judgment, faith and divine will as the priest Samuel anoints David king. Saul, having disobeyed God, lost favors with God. Samuel is asked to pick Saul's replacement from the household of Jesse. On arrival, Jesse presents all his sons except for the youngest, David, who is looking after the sheep. Samuel sees the first son Eliab and thinks he is the chosen one; he is the guy because he looks good by physical appearances. But God says no to Samuel, "Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees do I see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart" (1Sam.16:7-8). 

God does not chose any of the sons of Jesse present, so Samuel asks whether those are all his sons, to which Jesse says reluctantly of David, "There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep" (1Sam.16:11). That seems a passive comment but he's indeed the one, the youngest and the shepherd. He is the youngest of God's chosen one, a shepherd after God's heart. God's choice does not come by human qualifications. He enriches those he chooses. David is such an example as he says in the psalms, "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want" (Ps.23:1). 

The theme of darkness and light features in Paul's letter to the Ephesians in the second reading. Paul invites believers to live as children of light, to produce fruits of goodness, righteousness and truth to please God. The works of light are visible as opposed to the works of darkness. This sets the stage for the long drama in today's gospel where Jesus, the light of the world encounters the man born blind. Jesus infuses in him the light and vision of faith. Saint Paul challenges us, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light" (Eph.5:14). 

We can divide the gospel into three major sections:

  1. The pre-healing episode
  2. The healing episode and
  3. The post-healing episode

Under these episodes, we experience Jesus' encounter with the man born blind and the reaction of the disciples. We notice the encounter of the man with the Pharisees after his healing and finally his second encounter with Christ.

Stage 1- Jesus seems to have been naturally drawn to the blind man. Unlike in many other miracles, the man born blind does not make any appeal for healing. It seems rather like the disciples provoked the healing by their curiosity. They ask, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should have been born blind?" (Jn.9:2). They recline on the old Jewish stereotype of attributing physical illness to the sins of the sick person. But Jesus counters their belief. He teaches that the man is born blind "so that the works of God might be made visible through him". This, we shall see later as the man becomes an object of faith to others. Jesus points out, "While I am in the world, I am the light of the world" (Jn.9:5; cf. Jn.8:12).

Important also is the process Jesus takes to heal the blind man, "spat on the ground, made clay with saliva, smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, 'Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam' - which means sent". These actions communicate Jesus' compassion and mercy for the blind man. To receive his miracle, the blind man has to feel the warmth of God's love through created things. Jesus uses the same objects in the healing of the deaf man in Mk.7:31-37 and the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida in Mk. 8:22-26. The evangelist John does not denigrate the power of Jesus to heal without those elements, rather he uses them to emphasize his authority to perform miracles through any means; for, "Even the wind and the sea obey him" (Mk.4:41). In this miracle, also, we perceive the efficacy of the sacraments and the sacramentals- bread, water, oil, salt, etc.; the matter and form combine to bring about the efficacy of God's healing with the words pronounced by the minister. Jesus is the messiah, the one sent to declare "sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord" (Lk.4:18-19). He has absolute power to heal, and in this case, to give sight to the man born blind.

Stage 2- the encounter between the man born blind and the Pharisees. Here, we see a strong contradiction. An increasing refusal to experience or accept Jesus by the Jews confronts a flowering of faith in the blind man who truly encounters Jesus. The Pharisees refuse the Light of the World and sink more deeply into darkness. They concentrate on the physical aspect of the Sabbath, deny that Jesus is from God, accuse him of being a sinner and reject his miracle. The Jews are blinded by their unbelief, and like God said to Samuel about human beings, they dwell on appearances. They refuse to believe in the blind man's testimony as well as in his experience. The blind man summarizes them thus, "This is what is just so amazing! You do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes" (Jn.9:30).

It is ironically amazing that the man born blind is witnessing before those who have physical sight. It is amazing that the man born blind is declaring the divine origin and powers of God's love before those who see. It is amazing that irrespective of their physical sight, they are unable to encounter Jesus as God. It is amazing that the physically able are spiritually disabled. They are the ones eventually blind after all. It is amazing how darkness overshadows our inner vision even though we claim to see. The blind man bears witness to the Jews that miracles are wrought only by God. It is amazing that one's former disability has become the source of glory to God, "If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything" (Jn.9:33-34).

Stage 3- revelation and confession. I'm imagining the reaction of the blind man on meeting Jesus this last time after he's been thrown out. Would it be of excitement or shock? He's thrown out because he is defending him, yet this is the Guy who gave him his sight. He would be glad to meet with Jesus, at least to know him better. Importantly, it is Jesus who truly seeks out the blind man. He knows that this man is to be a vessel to proclaim God's faithfulness and love, hence he says to the disciples, "He was born blind so that the works of God might be made visible through him". He encounters him to save him. Scripture says, "He found the man and said to him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" (Jn.9:36). This opens another chapter in the life of the man born blind. It takes him from the realm of seeing to the realm of faith, from the physical to the spiritual, from darkness to light; our external sight should equate with our inner vision. Thus, Christ states, "The eye is the lamp of the body. It follows that if your eye is clear, your whole body will be filled with light. But if your eye is diseased, your whole body will be darkness. If then, the light inside you is darkened, what darkness that will be" (Matt.6:22-23).

This question comes back to us, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" Are you able to see? What do you see? Is your spirit darkened by sin? Does hatred, anger, immorality, malice, lack of forgiveness, etc., darken your eyes? That's what differentiates a follower from a believer. A follower may come to church but lacks vision; beats his wife, tells lies, does nasty things, etc. That's what sin does, it makes you feel it's alright. You become comfortable and complacent. Sin tells you it doesn't matter anymore. It becomes the normal way of life- addiction. With Saint Paul, today, I say to you, "Wake up, O sleeper!" Open your eyes and see the light God. Become a believer, not just a follower. Like the blind man healed by Jesus, believe and worship God.