HOMILY 4TH SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
BLINDNESS TO SIGHT – DARKNESS TO LIGHT
Jn 9.1-41 1Sam 6-7,10-13 Eph 5.8-14
And now for the second major miracle story from John, where the blind man is sent to the pool of Siloam, which they say means “Sent”, and then the Pharisees come the heavy with him, once again threatened by the person of Jesus, and his words and deeds, seeking excuses to sideline him and using the law to condemn and deauthorize Jesus.
It’s a story of growth in faith, as the blind man’s encounters with Jesus lead him to profess his faith in the one who has given him sight, but even moreso, insight into the person of Jesus as one sent by God to enlighten and enhance faith in him, beyond the law of Moses, from which many of the religious know-alls, cannot see past.
Jesus’ concern is always about the person in trouble, not the legal or social limitations, which could prevent a personal encounter with him. The woman at the well is on her own until the disciples come along, shocked and surprised at Jesus’ engagement with her, and acceptance of her as she is, but offering a fresh start to the way she lives her life and in her relationships.
The laws and traditions were secondary to the human being involved. It’s ironic that the law could often enough provide an excuse for non-engagement, and escaping situations where help could, and should, be given to the person in need. The parable of the Good Samaritan is the classic example, used by Jesus to challenge the abuse of the law by those who should know better among the religious leaders of the day. And yet, they continue to resent his intrusion and interference in their world, as they see it, to the point of deepening resentment and determination to get rid of him.
And so, we move on through this Lenten season, towards the inevitable climax of Holy Week and then Easter, as Jesus continues his public ministry, directly confronting and opposing those who threaten him along the way.
Back to the 4th century, and Augustine interprets the blind man as representing humanity, all of us, as Jesus offers enlightenment to those who respond to him in faith, as the blind man does, in stages. Meanwhile, his parents back out of the scene, fearful of negative repercussions from the religious leaders, although it might sound fair enough to let their son speak for himself!
Further interpretation suggests that John is writing this account, mindful of conflict and misunderstanding in the early Christian communities, where Christians were being evicted from Jewish temple worship, because of giving priority to Jesus and his message. Yet, it seems many wished to continue their old practices as well, as did Jesus, for that matter, teaching and worshipping in the Temple. His point was, however, that it didn’t have to necessarily be only there, as he continues his itinerant mission throughout Israel, and worship in spirit and in truth is available anywhere the faithful gathered, then or now, to pray.
Brendan Byrne SJ’s sees it thus: “As the drama unfolds, his coming to physical sight becomes a symbol of the further journey that he then begins, a journey out of the ‘darkness’ of unbelief to the discovery of the light of the world in the person of Jesus.” It echoes the beginning of John’s Gospel, where the light appears in the darkness, as creation emerged and evolves: “In him was life and the life was the light of humanity. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” The contrast between the blind man’s journey to sight and faith in Jesus and the religious authorities of the day is clear, as they withdraw into the darkness in wilful ignorance, denial and jealousy, waiting to thwart Jesus and his message on another day.
And Claude Mostowik MSC also has helpful observations: “Jesus openly proclaimed that he came to open the eyes of the blind (like Isaiah the prophet) and free those held captive in darkness. He showed how God is close to the broken, making him a dangerous figure… It is very difficult to silence people for whom the lights have gone on. They cannot be forced into the dark or be cowed by the outside hostility… The Gospel is less about one man’s blindness but about the blindness of the disciples, and us. Where there was healing, others saw sin.”
So, we, as followers of Jesus, are called to be a light to others in the way we apply ourselves to living his Gospel in our lives, without being judgemental or condemnatory of those who are different, nor using excuses to get out of what needs to be done, in bringing his peace and healing into our own lives and our world.
This week marks 10 years of Francis as Pope, and wouldn’t we have to say he has had a remarkable impact on you and me, our Church and our world? His focus is on proclaiming a message of hope and compassion in a world darkened by tragedy and hostility. His message and lived example is simple enough, according to the Prayer of St Francis He has massive credibility as a world leader, but again, limited by those who, like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, who prefer to live in the dark, pursuing their own selfish, and sometimes, evil agendas, without due consideration for the good of broader humanity. As Claude continues: “Pope Francis calls on us to look at people on the edges of society or marginalized from our concern. He has pointed to the blind spot towards migrants and people seeking asylum, people in prison, people of other faiths, people living with mental illness or disability or people who are homeless.”
And we also had St Patrick’s Day this week, reminded that he was one who reacted very positively to his own experience of being captured and enslaved, bringing the Gospel to Ireland as a missionary, and, did you know, being the first person to call out the evils of slavery, in the 5th century?! (Forget the snakes! It was too cold and wet for them in the first place!!)
What we do know is that, as an outsider, he came in respecting the local people, their customs and culture, and related Christianity to their lived experience of life in Ireland, to which they obviously responded with enthusiasm. He had the vision to see how to engage them with respect and encouragement, not condemnation and imposition of his own demands on them, apart from the call to faithful discipleship of Jesus. He observed and listened to them, they responded to his message of faith, and there was no looking back on their pagan ways and old hostilities, although the occasional tribal battles might have still broken out here and there!
So, we are called to be enlightened by the Gospel in our lives and so to share the light, enlightening others by our example, care and kindness.
This week, after Mass, for those who wish, we can stay to hear about Thu and Linh, who joined the “Empowerment of People with Disabilities” program, supported by Caritas Australia in Vietnam. (Project Compassion Video – Week 4)
john hannon 19th March 2023