Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent, Year A 2014
It is perhaps difficult for us to understand the intricate thinking of the Pharisees or to fathom the many, many purification laws of the Hebrews, but many of these were second nature to them, just as many of the traditions and rules we have in the Catholic church become part of who we are and we don’t even think about them much. It is only when someone questions them or an outsider laughs at them, do we pause to think about the meaning of them. We make the sign of the cross when we enter church or begin prayer – most of us don’t think twice about it, but we hear someone making a joke about a Catholic brushing away flies before he prays, and we pause to consider what we do.
There were things that Jews just didn’t do on their Sabbath days. Basically, they did not work, so anything that seemed like work was forbidden them. I doubt they thought about it much; it was just there and they did it the way they were supposed to. Now the Pharisees, because they were such religious conservatives, began to very picky about the rules and applied them even when it might not have made sense to do so. I say all this because Jesus apparently was breaking rules when he cured this blind man today. First, and foremost, he was doing it on a Sabbath day. You apparently couldn’t ‘doctor’ on a Sabbath. But even more, he was making a building material by wetting and mixing clay. This was also forbidden. Why, you couldn’t even mix your animal’s food – you could provide it, but the animal had to mix it itself.
Obviously, because we are outsiders to these traditions, it is easy for us to see that someone is really missing the point here. Isn’t an overall good happening enough to take precedence over rules? Jesus has taken a man who has never seen before, blind from birth, and given him his sight back. Certainly that should overshadow the minutia of rules being broken. But for the Pharisees it wasn’t.
This scene obviously took place not too long before Jesus’ death. You might have noted the words “that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). Sides had been taken and the Pharisees were not on the side of Jesus. What is not so clear in the text but was factual was that this blind man, now seeing, would probably be “put out of the synagogue”, excommunicated we would say, because of his new belief in who Jesus was. To be ostracized from the synagogue would be a dreadful thing because he would be cut off from the community in which he lives.
But the man has experienced Jesus, and has experienced in a way like no other, and so at the very least he knows that Jesus is a prophet, which is what he declares to the Pharisees. In the attempt of the blind man to convince the Pharisees that Jesus was from God, he was fighting a losing battle. Their minds had been made up – even though it was still controversial and there was some division. In the end, they call the blind man a sinner – echoing the opening lines of the reading today that suggest that infirmities are caused by sin – and they excommunicate him from the synagogue. He may have gained his sight, but he lost the community that was dear to him.
When Jesus heard what had happened he sought the man out and confirmed what the man had probably been thinking – that Jesus was the Messiah. He believed Jesus when Jesus said “the one speaking to you is he”, and he worshipped Jesus.
I struggled this week to see why the Church combined this Gospel reading with the story of David’s election by God. The story of Samuel being sent to look for a King in Bethlehem, and subsequently realizing that God’s ways are different from our ways in that the election fell on the youngest son rather than the eldest son – a boy who tended sheep (a very lowly and distrusted profession) but who was destined to be a King of Israel. What connection was I missing?
And after reflection I realized that it had to be all about ‘sight’. Samuel couldn’t see the person God had chosen to be King until David was brought in, and what does Samuel notice most about David but his “beautiful eyes”. Can this be a metaphor that David would have the sight needed to recognize God and be the King Israel wanted? And then we sing “The Lord is my Shepherd” tying together the fact that like David, Jesus is also our shepherd. In Ephesians today the meaning is even more clear – “Once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light…Christ will shine on you.” And in the Gospel Jesus explains that he has come “into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see…”
We are like the blind wandering around in a world whose beauty we cannot see, clouded by much sin and corruption. But Jesus allows us to see, he says. And what is it that we see? We see the light of Christ, we see the heavenly kingdom reflected on earth, we see our sins and faults for what they are, we see the beauty of God’s word, we see the struggle of the Church to continue to bring light to the world, we see things as they really are – and we are like the blind man – enabled to see Jesus for who he is, truly is – our Messiah, our Savior, our Light, our Way to God.
These readings are chosen in the Lenten season to give us hope on our 40 day journey, to help us look outward as well as inward. Too much self-reflection may make us miss the point that there is light at the end of the Christian tunnel, and that light is Jesus. We want to keep moving toward the light, aware of our frailties, our sinfulness, our pride, but allowing the light to point out these defects, and choosing God, getting rid of these – just as Jesus got rid of the blindness of the man today, so that we too may continue to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah. Our infirmities, our sicknesses, our failures are not caused by sin, but they can be ways to let us see the light. Victims of cancer often acknowledge that they now see things in a very different way. We pray today that as we quickly move through our 40 days of fast and prayer, we all get glimpses of light and come to Easter with full sight, bathed in the shining light of Christ.
And this is the Good News I pray for you today!
Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - Teaching the Church Year”]