3-26-2017 Fourth Sunday of Lent
Mar 27, 2017
Lent IV / A / 2017 / The Man Born Blind
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
The readings on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent are all taken from the Gospel of John, and they are all about conversion—an appropriate theme for this season of Lent. Last week was "The Woman at the Well," in which a Samaritan women discovers Jesus as the Living Water. This week, "The Man Born Blind," a blind man receives sight and recognizes Jesus as the Light of the World. And next week, "The Raising of Lazarus," Jesus is the one who transforms us from death to life. Living Water. Light of the World. Life Itself.
All of the readings are classics, filled with important details, full of theology and spirituality that guide us through this Lenten season to Easter. So let’s take a look at today’s Gospel—and see what riches are hidden there.
Jesus is passing by, and he "sees" a man described as "blind from birth." We can stop right there for two important insights. First, Jesus always takes the initiative: he "sees" us and finds us. Second, the man is blind from birth. We might say that all of us are blind from birth. We are born into the dysfunction caused by sin, and this sin has skewed our vision. We can’t see properly! Jesus is the one who clears our sight so that we can come to know and see the truth. As Jesus says, "I am the light of the world."
To cure the blind man, Jesus makes a salve with saliva and clay. St. Augustine says this symbolizes the divinity (saliva) and the humanity (clay) of Jesus—the Incarnate Lord wiped onto the eyes of this blind man. Jesus tells him to "go wash in the Pool of Siloam" which means "sent" in the Hebrew. The Gospel of John often describes Jesus as "the One sent," so the pool is washing in Jesus, being "dipped into Jesus." What does that remind us of? Baptism. We are blind going into the water; we can see when we emerge from the water. Baptism produces vision. It produces light so that we might see.
But this is only the beginning. There are consequences to this new life—baptism doesn’t take away the challenges of life! The first consequence is that the blind man’s neighbors and friends don’t recognize him. He has been "reborn" in the Pool of Siloam—a new man, the same, but different.
When asked if he is the "man born blind," the man responds, "I am." Those two words are frequently used by Jesus ("I am the light of the world"), and they call to mind the divine name given to Moses, "I am who am." The Gospel of John wants to tell us that we "put on Christ" when we were baptized—as St. Paul says, "It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me."
Things get more heated in the story . . . first with the parents of the man, who are too afraid to support their own son. Then the Pharisees intervene twice, accuse him of being born in sin, and "throw him out" of the synagogue.
The story rises to a noisy crescendo, but then it is silent. The man is abandoned and alone. But Jesus finds him (important!), and says, "Do you believe in the Son of Man." Only now, having passed through suffering and rejection, is the man able to make the supreme act of faith: "I do believe, Lord," and he worshipped him. Faith always leads to worship.
For the man born blind, conversion brought sight, but it also brought challenges. Through his endurance, and fidelity, the man born blind comes to know Jesus ever more deeply: as a "man," as a "prophet," as "one sent by God," as the "Son of Man," and finally as divine "Lord."
When the Lord opens our eyes, everything changes. And we see the Truth. May God give us all the grace of conversion during this Lenten season—that we might see.