Fourth Sunday of Lent – A

Readings: 1 Sam 16:1b,6-7,10-13a; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Little Faith will bring your Soul to Heaven,
But Great Faith will bring Heaven to your Soul.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent customarily is called “Laetare Sunday,” and it takes its name from the opening words of today’s Mass, the Introit’s ‘Laetare, Jerusalem.’ The Latin word ‘Laetare’ means ‘rejoice.’ So, today the Church rejoices in joyful anticipation of the Easter mystery.

  • After Sir Walter Raleigh was beheaded in the tower they found in his Bible these true and striking lines, written the night before his death:Even such is time, that takes in trust 
Our youth, our joys, our all we have, 
And pays us but with age and dust; 
Who in the dark and silent grave, 
When we have wandered all our ways, 
Shuts up the story of our days. 
But from this earth, this grave, this dust, 
My God shall raise me up, I trust!All the things of this world he had lost, but he had kept his faith; and faith spoke to him of a hope and life beyond the grave.
  • A poor heathen woman became a Christian, and was remarkable for her simple faith. In accepting Christ, she took him literally at his word. Some months after her conversion her little child fell sick. His recovery was doubtful. Ice was needed for the little one, but in that tiny village, away from the great cities, it was not to be had. “I’m going to ask God to send ice,” the mother said to the missionary. “Oh,” but you can’t expect that he will do that,” was the quick reply. “Why not?” asked the simple-hearted believer. “He has all the power, and he loves us. You told us so. I shall ask him, and I believe he will send it.” She did ask him, and God answered. Soon there came up a heavy thunder storm, accompanied by hail. The woman was able to gather a large bowlful of hailstones. The cold application was just what was needed, and the child recovered.—The Illustrator.
  • When the impotent man and the healing pool and the Master came together, there was health and hope. When the little lad and the few loaves and fishes and the Master came together, there was sufficiency and even abundance. A thirsty woman, an ancient well, and the Master, and there were streams of living water flowing into human hearts. A rugged fisherman, a broken net, and the Master, and there was discipleship, and a story to tell. Wherever a human need and a sincere faith and the Master meet, there is transformation and consecration. If we bring our lives, weak and insufficient, to the Master, he will remake us.—The Upper Room.
  • Dr. McCormick, in “The heart of Prayer,” tells of a good woman whose daughter had died after a painful illness. She came to her minister and said, “I fear I have lost my faith in prayer. I used to believe that anything I asked for in the name of Christ, I would receive. When my child was sick, I besought God in an agony of desire for her recovery. I believed that God would answer my prayer. When she died I was stunned, not merely because of my grief, but because it seemed to me that God had failed me. I pray still, but the old faith in prayer is gone.” This good woman was the victim of wrong teaching. She had, in a word, been led to substitute faith in prayer for faith in God. If our faith in prayer is uppermost, then any disapointment will shake that faith. But if faith in God is the great fact of life, then no matter what may be the outcome of our petitions we will still trust.
  • One night a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” he knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: “Jump! I will catch you.” But the boy protested, “Daddy, I can’t see you.” The father replied, “But I can see you and that’s all that matters.”

Just as last week there was a dominant image of ‘water’ that tied the Scripture Readings together, this week we have the image of ‘light and sight’ that does the same, ‘giving us joy in our heart.’ But, of course, the readings and their selection are much richer than just an image or symbol. The central theme of today’s readings is that God makes everything new in and through Jesus Christ. We are children of the light baptized into the glory that is Christ. We are initiated into the life of Christ who is the light of the world.

In the First Reading we hear that the Prophet Samuel is sent by God to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse to anoint a new future king of Israel in place of Saul. The Reading emphasizes the Lord’s surprising choice: a shepherd boy, the youngest among the sons of Jesse. David will become Israel’s most famous king. The description of God’s choice of David over his brothers is a tale of human blindness, our inability to see spiritual truth as God sees it. Divine wisdom searches the soul, knowing every thought of the mind and knows those who will live as children of the Light. The prophet Samuel is reminded that the Lord’s vision goes deeper than outward appearances. David is portrayed as the least likely of his brothers to be chosen for greatness – it never even occurs to his father to present David to Samuel as a candidate for divine election. But God sees into the heart and directs the prophet to anoint David, causing the spirit of the Lord to rush upon him – “There – anoint him, for this is the one!” Then there is a great joy. The gesture of anointing signifies both God’s choice of David and his consecration for the mission entrusted to him, shepherding God’s people as king. The blindness of those around David to his potential for being an instrument of God’s power is a symbol on many levels of how sin can blind us to God’s will for us and for the world.

In the Second Reading from his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul contrasts the time of darkness before baptism and the time of light that results from baptism. He tells the Ephesians and us too that once we were in darkness but through baptism we have been brought into the light of the Lord. So, we are to live as children of the light. In this time of light, we are called to make the ‘seeds of light’ grow and produce – to bear the ‘fruit of light’ that is found in all that is good, right and true. Our sharing in the light-life of Christ must be reflected in the way they live. There should be no dark corners in our lives. He says, not only must the children of the Light not participate in the unfruitful works of darkness, but also, they have an obligation to expose them. Christ does not shine on those who remain in slumber and not heeding to light.

The quotation at the end of the reading, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will will give you light!” is probably an early Christian prayer associated somehow with the Baptism ceremony. It shows how the Christian moves from a negative to a positive state – from sleep to wake, from death to life from darkness to light – and how Christ is the cause of this transition.

GOSPEL: The disciples ask Jesus , “Why was he born blind? Was it because of his own sins or the sins of his parents?” There was in people’s minds at that time a close link between sin and a chronic sickness or disability. One was a punishment for the other. We remember when the paralysed man was let down through the roof at the feet of Jesus seeking to be healed of his disability, surprisingly, Jesus’ first words to him were, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Here, however, Jesus changes the direction of their question. “His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins. He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him.”

He will be the focus of one of the seven great signs which Jesus is seen to perform in this gospel.

A Life of Light

The story keeps emphasising that the man was blind from birth. To heal him then means the beginning of a completely new life, a life where he can see. he will enter a new world of brightness. Not to know Jesus is to live in blindness and darkness. In fact, this story is an illustration of Jesus’ statement: “I am the light of the world”.

In the beginning of the story, the man is blind – he cannot see; he is a beggar – he has nothing; he is an outsider – no one accepts him. his affliction indicates that he is a sinner or the son of a sinner and so a person to be avoided. In the end, when he is able to see, he becomes a disciple of Jesus. In terms of the Gospel, it is the logical and inevitable outcome. Once we really see Jesus, we are hooked.

In the beginning he was blind, he was in darkness. In the end he is in the light, because Jesus is the Light of the world.

Mud and Saliva

Jesus heals the man’s eyes. In doing so he uses mud and saliva. People believed that saliva could heal and they were right. We know now that our saliva is a kind of antibiotic. That is why dogs and other animals lick their wounds. (In our own case, one’s saliva may be applied to heal very effectively minor but persistent skin blemishes.)

Here, Jesus by using mud also helps us to remember God used mud to create Adam, the first man. here, too, there is a new creation. Jesus is making a new man. St Paul calls the baptised Christian a “new person”. Then Jesus tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. This is symbolic of his baptism.

Is it the Same Man?

After his healing, the man’s friends and his neighbours discuss his identity. Is it really him? But the beggar was blind and this man can see. Because he has changed, some people cannot recognise him. When we are baptised, when we become committed followers of Christ, we too should change. Maybe some people will say, “You are not like the way you were before! You are not the same person since your conversion and baptism.” In fact, that is what they should be able to say.

Not Keeping the Rules

Because they are not satisfied, neighbours bring the blind man to see the Pharisees. They are the sources of orthodox thinking and fidelity to the Law.

In fact, Jesus had healed the man on the Sabbath and the methods he used were a violation of the letter of the Law. Their argument went, that if Jesus truly were from God, he would not be breaking the law. On the other hand, if he was a sinner, how could he do these things? Sinners cannot do the work of God. This led to division among the Pharisees themselves because they refused to follow out their own logic.

The Pharisees then interrogate the blind man. He keeps telling them just what Jesus had done for him. For him the answer is quite simple: Jesus is a prophet. Sabbath or no Sabbath, his actions are clearly from God. “How could a man who is a sinner do things like this?”

But the Pharisees cannot accept his argument. If they accept, then they have to accept Jesus and his teaching also. So they do not even want to accept that the man was ever blind!

Avoiding Trouble

Now they turn to question the man’s parents. The parents know very well that their son was born blind but they are afraid to say so. They know that now if anyone says Jesus is the Messiah they will be expelled from the synagogue. They will no longer be part of the community. Many Jewish Christians, known to the readers of this gospel, would have had this experience. Later on, thousands of Christians would have a similar experience, ostracised for their faith in Christ.

Unfortunately, the man’s parents were prepared to sacrifice their integrity rather than suffer such a punishment. So the parents push the argument back to the son: he is an adult; he is well able to answer for himself.

Who is Really Blind?

The Pharisees again ask the man to tell the truth. “We know that Jesus is a sinner. He cannot do these things.” The healed man stands his ground: “I don’t know if he is a sinner. I do know I was blind and now I can see.” For the umpteenth time they ask, “What did he do?” Exasperated, the man replies: “I told you already. But you will not listen.” He begins to mock them. He is more daring now, not afraid. “You want to be his disciples too?”

This makes them angry and they begin to abuse him. “You are his disciple. We are Moses’ disciples. No one knows where that fellow [Jesus] came from.” In a sense that is perfectly true because the Word was with God from the very beginning. On the other hand, Jesus’ origins are perfectly obvious as the cured man is well aware: “How strange! he cured me. Sinners cannot do such things. God does not listen to sinners. God listens to those who respect him and do his will. Never before was it heard that anyone had cured a man born blind. If Jesus is not from God he could not do this.”

The Pharisees are now very angry. They resort to the traditional belief: sickness as punishment for sin. “You were born and raised in sin. You want to teach us?” And they expelled him from the synagogue. This was indeed the experience of many Jews who became Christians. And the experience of many others later on, expelled by their families, relatives and society.

Found by Jesus

Jesus hears that the man has been expelled. He goes in search of him and finds him. “Do you believe in the Son of Man, that is, the Messiah?” Jesus asks him. “Tell me who he is and I will believe in him.” He does not recognise the man Jesus for this is the first time he has seen him with his new vision since his healing. Says Jesus, “You have seen him. He is talking with you now.”

“I believe, Lord,” the mean replies and falls down on his knees before Jesus. He is now a disciple. A disciple is someone who knows and can see Jesus as his Lord and Saviour. “I came to this world so that the blind could see and those who see become blind.”

The Pharisees ask, “Do you mean we are blind, too?” “If you were really blind [like the man],” Jesus tells them, “You would not have sin; but because you say, ‘We can see’, you are guilty.”

Jesus turns around their conviction: a blind man is a sinner. Rather, says Jesus, it is those who think they can see when they cannot who are the guilty ones.

There are two kinds of people:

– like the blind man, they accept Jesus’ teaching and are the sheep of his flock;

– like the Pharisees, who refuse to believe, they do not belong to Jesus.

(Immediately following this passage, John’s gospel will speak about Jesus as the Good Shepherd.)

Those who sin, those who refuse to listen, those who are proud, are the really blind people.

The Pharisees, who thought they could see, were the real sinners. And the man born blind who accepts Jesus can really see.

A practical and simple prayer is “Lord, that I may see.” It is a short prayer, but when it comes from the depths of my heart, it is a powerful prayer. Remember that other blind man named Bartimeus? he was told that Jesus was passing by, and he was determined to get his attention. Those around him tried to silence him, but he shouted all the louder. And he also was cured. To another man Jesus asked the pointed question, “Do you want to be healed?’

The greatest good we can do for others is not by giving them money, though that can at times be what is needed, but in helping them appreciate what they already have. It is good to affirm others and make them feel both loved and worthwhile. Many people have grown up with a poor self-image, and they just cannot see the good in themselves. This is another form of blindness, and it is a blindness in others that any one of us can have power to heal. The most certain proof that the Spirit of God lives in us is our willingness and ability to affirm and bring a blessing to other people.

SOME INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES:

The more we know of God, the more unreservedly we will trust him; the greater our progress in theology, the simpler and more childlike will be our faith. — J. G. Machen.

Faith is not a distant view but a warm embrace of Christ. — John Calvin.

Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends. — George Muller.

Faith is to believe what we do not see, and the reward of faith is to see what we believe. — Augustine.

Live in faith and hope, though it be in darkness, for in this darkness God protects the soul. Cast your care upon God for you are his and he will not forget you. Do not think that he is leaving you alone, for that would be to wrong him. — John of the Cross.



Fr. Gaspar Fernandes, OFM Cap.

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