Mar. 22, 2020

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT, 2020

Readings: 1st- 1 Sam. 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13a; 2nd- Eph. 5:8-14; Gospel- Jn. 9: 1-41

“so that the works of God might be made visible”

 In this weekend’s gospel, the healing of the man born blind can be viewed as follows:

  1. It takes us back to the original creation when God made the human being out of clay (Gen. 2:7).
  2. It initiates the new creation in Jesus Christ “sent’ to heal us as the “Pool” from whom “blood and water flowed” (Jn. 19:34).
  3. It recalls our cleansing in the baptismal water.
  4. It communicates the preeminence of the dignity of human life over the Sabbath. 
  5. It portrays the power of empathy in interhuman relationships.

These are all important aspects of the saving mission of Christ and the great components of our faith. But I will love to emphasize the second and the fifth points in this homily. I will apply the biblical narrative of the blind man’s situation to the current struggle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first reading highlights God’s choice of King David. God’s plan is meant to be accomplished irrespective of human thinking. God sends the priest Samuel to anoint one of Jesse’s sons. Jesse never imagined that none of his seven big and handsome sons would fit into the category of the elect. He never conceived that the little David would become the chosen. For that reason, he didn’t mention David’s name when the celebration began. But for God, human thinking is insignificant; He chose the little shepherd-David, a man after his own heart to govern Israel. The message from that reading is this, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). 

In the gospel narrative of the healing of the man born blind, the disciples act like Jesse and question Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ These are the two reasons for which someone could be born blind within the Jewish parlance: either he is suffering as punishment for the sins of his parents or he is paying for his own sins. The disciples place judgment and blame side by side in their perception of the man born blind. In their minds they conclude, let him suffer for his sins. Jesus corrects this erroneous Jewish belief. He reminds them that none of their human imaginations is correct; neither the man nor his parents sinned. That means human suffering is not necessarily the effect of sins committed. Here, Jesus reframes the problem into a divine solution and teaches his followers, “it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (Jn. 9:3). Which are those works of God? 

First, the creation account comes into focus. God formed man out of the dust of the earth, in his image and likeness. God would do anything to free us from the force of darkness and sin. Second, the power of light will always overcome darkness. Jesus is the light of the world and as he states in this reading, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (Jn. 9:5). Light dispels darkness and evil. As Light of the world, Jesus removes the distortion of blindness thereby restoring the blind man’s spiritual insight which led him to testify, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshipped him” (Jn. 9:38). As Saint Paul says in the second reading, “light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”

The disciples of Jesus and the Pharisees demonstrate sheer lack of empathy in the gospel passage. Both of these groups focus on blame, judgment, and condemnation of the man born blind. The disciples succumb to the stereotypical manner of looking at the blind man as unworthy, punished, and condemned. They lack compassion. The Pharisees are adamant in not only accepting the reality of the man’s healing but in denying God’s work in Jesus Christ. They insist on disproving the miracle that is before them through the following ways:

  1. They start with minimizing the miracle, “Some said, “No, he just looks like him.” But the man said, “I am.”
  2. They are not convinced, so, they press further, “How were your eyes opened?”
  3. They make Jesus look like a dissident, “So, some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God because he does not keep the Sabbath.”
  4. They intimidate the man further, “what do you have to say about him?” 
  5. The evidence of the man isn’t sufficient. They invite his parents for interrogation, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind?” Mark the phrase, “who you say was born blind.”
  6. They invite him a second time and try to win him over, to make him denounce Jesus.
  7. They ridicule him on his refusal to succumb to pressure.
  8. They condemn him, then reinforce the disciples’ position, “You were born totally in sin.”
  9. Finally, “they threw him out” (Jn. 9:34).

All these actions contradict the work of God which Jesus comes to accomplish. And because the Pharisees and the disciples of Jesus lack the capacity to see the love of God in the healing of the blind man, they are the really blind. They are blind in empathy and compassion. They are blind to God’s goodness and mercy. They misjudge the man. They make him look inferior. They relegate his right to see in the background and prefer the laws of the Sabbath instead.

Within this outbreak of the pandemic COVID-19, the world seems blind in a lot of ways. The uncertainty of the next moment seems to put us in a blind spot. Fear, anxiety, and stress seem to take over our hope. We seem to be locked up in the now, in the dark doors of complaint, murmur, and self-pity. Can we raise our heads up and see the healing power of God in Christ? Yes, it might be a time of suffering, pain, loss, and frustration. Yet, in the words of Saint Paul, let us remember, "We even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Rom. 5:3-6). 

Our blindness also manifests in a lack of understanding of God’s plan for the world. What message is God sending across in the face of this pandemic? How do we interpret those messages? Now, we must open our eyes to the ocean of divine compassion which prompts spiritual and corporal works in us. Let us not act like the disciples or like the Pharisees. The blind man represents the vulnerable, the weak among us. He reminds us of those considered to be at high-risk at this time. They need our compassion. They need to feel God’s love and human affection. Yes, we should obey the rules and restrictions set by scientists and medical experts, the legislations of our state government. We need to observe the six feet social-distancing from each other. However, those rules should not outdo God’s commandment of love. The danger is that if we implement the guidelines as dry rules, we act like the Pharisees. If we dwell on the letters and overlook the spirit, the regulations become instruments of isolation, agents of discrimination and shame. They turn us into “Pharisees” who judge or even misjudge, discriminate, and condemn. Then, we’ll see more of the presence of coronavirus than the image of a human being created in God’s beauty. We relegate human dignity to the background. We’ll lose empathy and compassion. We’ll become spiritually blind as Jesus says, “But now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” Two calls to be made: call on God in prayer to open our eyes of faith and hope. Call our neighbors- the weak, and vulnerable to express our vision of Christian charity.