4th SUNDAY OF LENT – March 19, 2023

 

4th SUNDAY OF LENT – March 19, 2023

1 Sam 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Eph 5: 8-14; Jn 9: 1-41

 

Theme: Anointing, Light, and Water

We are on the fourth Sunday of our Lenten journey to Easter Sunday. The liturgy of the first Sunday taught us that the devil continues to tempt us today as he did with our ancestors Eve and Adam, and with Jesus in the desert. He knows that sin separates us from God and from our brothers and sisters, that is why he leads us to sin and so damages our relationships with God and with one another. His objective is to see us condemned as he is already condemned. The scripture readings of the first Sunday invited us to resist all the temptations of the devil as Jesus did in the desert. On the second Sunday of Lent, the Bible readings taught us that we are on our journey of faith, not only toward the Paschal Mystery of Easter but also toward our heavenly “Promised Land” at the end of time. The story of the transfiguration we heard in the Gospel showed us what our bodies will look like in the kingdom of heaven. Unlike Peter who suggested building three tents there, meaning that to stay there in that “glorious state”, Saint Paul encouraged us to bear our share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes, not from human beings, but from God. So, our “journey of faith” consists of bringing the Gospel to others so that they too may share the glory of the “Transfiguration” at the end of time. The scripture readings of last Sunday marked the beginning of a series of John’s Gospel until the end of Lent because the Church prepares the catechumens for the sacraments of initiation that they will receive in Easter. In the Gospel of that third Sunday of Lent, we heard the story of the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Two topics directed that conversation: the “Living water” and the “Divine identity of Jesus”. The way God provided drinking water to the thirsty Israelites in that Sunday’s first reading, is the same way Jesus told us through the woman that he had Living Water to offer us which would give us eternal salvation. Regarding the second topic of their conversation, Jesus led the woman step by step in her faith journey until she realized that the one speaking with her was the Messiah. The woman became a missionary; she brought the news to the townspeople drawing them to Jesus. The catechumens who will be baptized on Easter and all of us who will renew our Baptismal Promises are expected to become the missionaries who bring the Gospel’s news to others inviting them to come to Jesus and have their own experience with him. In this way, they can say as the townspeople of that Samaritan woman, “We no longer believe in him because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

 

Like last Sunday, this Sunday’s liturgy invites us to reflect on our journey of faith which culminates with God’s revelation. All the Bible readings share the same themes of Anointing, Light, and Water. The first reading recounts the story of how Samuel anointed David king of Israel. In the Gospel, after anointing the unnamed man born blind with clay made from his saliva, Jesus uses water to bring light to this man. And Saint Paul teaches us in our second reading that once (before baptism) we were darkness, but now (after baptism), we are light in the Lord.

 

We need to know the background of our first reading to grasp its message. Before Israel’s transition to leadership under a king, each tribe of Israel was led by a judge. Samuel is the last of these judges when the people requested one king to govern all the tribes like other nations. (See 1 Samuel 8: 5). Samuel feared that with one person as a king, the people would start worshiping the king and so they would disobey God. But per God’s command, Samuel appointed Saul as the first king of Israel. However, God rejected Saul because he failed to obey his Word. Though Saul continued to rule Israel, God asked Samuel to anoint David as a second king. This is now our first reading story. Samuel anointed David in secret.

 

Per God’s order, Samuel fills his horn with oil and went to Jesse’s house in Bethlehem to offer sacrifice to God and also anoint one of Jesse’s sons. He invites everyone to come and join him in the rite of the sacrifice. Seven sons were present excluding the youngest David who was shepherding the flock of his dad at that time. Samuel examines all seven sons one by one looking for a sign that would indicate to him who will be the king. Pay attention to what God tells him, “Do not judge his appearance… Not as man sees does God see because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16: 7). Samuel requests that David be called. Then Samuel anoints David as the king of Israel. The reading ends with this important detail, “… and from that day on, the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.”

 

There are a couple of things that this reading teaches us. First, God’s statement to Samuel, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.” To select or vote for political, and religious leaders, people today seek physical and intellectual qualities: good-looking, fortune, and many diplomas. God teaches us that the “heart” of the person prevails over the “appearance”; the “spiritual life” of the person is more important than the “physical”. Our societies today are full of leaders who do not fear God. They promulgate laws that are against Natural Laws. They do not care about the poor and marginalized. We are called to consider the “heart” of the leaders whom we vote for but not by their “appearance”.

 

Second, from the time David was anointed, the Spirit of the Lord remains on him. Note that other Old Testament figures received the Spirit of God temporarily for a specific task. In the case of David, the narrator uses one important detail saying that the Spirit of the Lord “remains with him” from that moment. This echoes what was told to John the Baptist, “On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit” (John 1: 33, NABRE). Jesus is the New David. At Easter, the catechumens will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. And all of us will renew the gifts of the Holy Spirit that we received at the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. This Holy Spirit is going to enable our eyes to see the “light” that Jesus brings into the world as our Gospel teaches us.

 

To better understand our Gospel’s story, we need to remember that the healing of the unnamed man born blind occurs during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles (chapters 7-9). Two themes marked this festival: light and water. (Zechariah 14: 7-8). The Temple was lit with gigantic menorahs for a week. On the last day of the feast, they would take water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it out on the Temple’s altar. Jesus attended this festival. Chapter 8 tells us that during the feast, he had a very serious debate with the Jews regarding his divine identity. Especially, when Jesus declared that before Abraham came to be, “I AM”, the Jews picked up stones to throw at him. He hid and went out of the area. As he was running away, he met this blind man. On his (John 8: 58-59). Our account continues from here.

 

The story contains eight scenes: Jesus and the disciples (vv. 1-5), Jesus and the man born blind (vv. 6-7), the blind man and his neighbors (vv. 8-12), the blind man and the Pharisees (vv. 13-17), the Pharisees and the parents of the blind man (vv. 18-23), the Pharisees and the blind man (vv. 24-34), Jesus and the blind man (vv. 35-38), and Jesus and the Pharisees (vv. 39-41).  

 

Talking about the first scene, Jesus saw the blind man on his way out of the Temple. His disciples asked him a question to find out who is responsible for his blindness, his parents or himself. Note that the Pharisees believed that birth defects were the consequence of sin committed by either the parents or the child himself in the womb. Even today, some people believe that their crises are related to possible sins they committed. We hear people asking, “What sin did I commit to deserve this suffering?” In his answer, Jesus makes it clear that neither he nor his parents sinned. Instead, this is an occasion for God’s work to be visible through him. Our suffering is not necessarily a consequence of our sins. Rather, they are occasions for us to do God’s work. Notice, in his statement, “We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day”, Jesus uses the plural pronoun “we” to mean that the disciples and each one of us today are included in the mission of doing God’s works. This mission is urgent. We must do it while Jesus is in the world. He is the light of the world. When darkness comes, no one can work. (vv. 4-5). What is the meaning of “When darkness comes, no one can work”? Probably, Jesus is referring to his own arrest and death. But I think that this can be connected to the event preceding this account that I described above. Jesus narrowly escaped from the Jews who tried to stone him. He knows that healing this blind man will create further controversy. If Jesus passed by without healing this blind man, probably he would not have had another chance to come back to that place as he and his disciples were running away from the Jews who were trying to stone him. So, “while it is day” could mean, while he is free and alive, or before the Jews come to interfere, he needs to do his Father’s works. So, Jesus is inviting you and me to join him and do God’s work “while it is day.” This means that the work of God is urgent, we need to do it now when we have the opportunity but not postpone it for a later date.

 

In the second scene, Jesus deals with the blind man one-on-one. He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and “anoints” the eyes of the blind man with this clay. Then he commands him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. The narrator gives us the meaning of this Pool, “Sent”. Unquestioningly, the man obeys Jesus’s word by doing four verbs: he went, he washed, he came back, and he was able to see. (vv. 6-7). Jesus’ spitting on the ground makes us recall how God created Adam out of the dust of the ground. (Genesis 2: 7). Jesus here recreates this blind man. He moves him from darkness to light. This act of recreation is associated with the washing which is the Baptism. The water of baptism recreates us and brings us into the light of the relationship with Jesus.

 

The third scene describes the wonder of the neighbors of this man. Speaking of this formerly blind man, for some, it is the same person who used to sit and beg, but for others, no, he just looks like him. The answer to these neighbors is the same answer in relation to our baptism. After being baptized, do we come up as the same person or as a different person who just “looks like” the one who stands there before the baptism? The answer is Yes to both. Where we are baptized, we remain the same person in physical appearance, but we are recreated spiritually. This is what this formerly blind means when speaking of himself to his neighbors says, “I am”. In the Gospel of John, it is Jesus alone who uses this divine expression “I am” in reference to God’s name that God himself gave to Moses in the burning bush. (Exodus 3: 14). When Jesus uses this phrase, he means that he is God. Our Gospel passage is the only place where someone other than Jesus uses this phrase. This teaches us that after being baptized, we become the “other Christ”, then, the phrase “I AM” can be applied to us because the water of baptism and the anointing with Chrism oil transform us into the image of Christ. We now participate in divine nature. Life without Jesus is just darkness and non-existence. Life in a relationship with Christ is light and existence.

 

In the fourth scene, the formerly blind man is confronted by the Pharisees. The neighbors brought this man to the Pharisees. They questioned him to find out about his healing. From the man’s testimony, the Pharisees find out that Jesus made clay on the ground with his saliva on the Sabbath day. Their concern was no longer about the miracle but about Jesus’s violation of the Law. This turns out in questioning the divine identity of Jesus. Some Pharisees say that Jesus cannot be from God because he does not keep the Sabbath. While for others, Jesus’ miracle testifies that he cannot be a sinner. Division occurs among the Pharisees. They questioned the man to know what he has to say about Jesus since it is he who opens his eyes. Notice the answer of this man. Before, he referred to Jesus as “a man called Jesus” (v.11), but here he describes Jesus as “a prophet”. (v. 12). We need to keep in mind that while this man is on his journey of faith toward the light of seeing the marvels of God, the Pharisees are on their journey of unfaith toward the darkness of the blindness. When we come to Jesus we see; but when we live our lives without Jesus, we are on our journey toward darkness and condemnation.

 

The fifth scene describes the conversation between the Pharisees and the parents of the man. From their talk with the man, the Pharisees are not convinced that this man was born blind. So, they come now to his parents. So, they intimidate the parents of the man to testify that their son was not born blind. Note that they are looking for proof attesting that the miracle did not take place to prove that Jesus is not from God. The parents are between false and true testimony. If they deny that their son was born blind, the Pharisees will prove that Jesus is not from God. And if they confirm blindness of their son was from birth, which will attest that Jesus is from God, they will be banned from the Synagogue as it was the decision of the religious authorities for anyone who recognizes Jesus as a Messiah. (v. 22). So, the parents were afraid of the Pharisees and did not give true testimony which would lead to confirming the divine identity of Jesus. They somehow sacrificed their son to deal with this issue himself when they told the Pharisees to ask the man himself; he is of age; he can speak for himself. (v. 21). Sometimes we Christians find ourselves in this kind of dilemma. As followers of Christ, we are called to give true testimony to our Lord in all circumstances. Nothing and nobody can change our minds to deny our faith in Jesus. Baptism makes us the “other Christ’. And Jesus did not deny his faith in God the Father even until to supreme sacrifice, his death on the cross.

 

In the sixth scene, the Pharisees again confront the formerly blind man. His parents avoided testifying about Jesus’ divine identity. They left their son to deal with this issue himself. Let us see how far this man will go. The man stands in front of the group of Pharisees as if in a court of law. They announced their decision which states that Jesus is a sinner. Now, they want the man to endorse their decision by denouncing Jesus. (v. 24). Notice how this man turns the tables on them. In earlier scenes, they treated him as the accused, but now this man becomes the one who accuses them of failing to recognize Jesus as coming from God. Because of his faith in Jesus, the Pharisees threw him out. The world may throw us out because we keep our Christian faith. Like this man, let us keep our courage. When the world rejects us, Jesus comes to encounter us as he did with this man in the next scene.

 

The seventh scene tells us that once they threw this man out, Jesus came to encounter him. Their conversation is about faith in Jesus. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” This formerly blind man calls Jesus “Sir” as he asks him to tell him more about this “Son of Man”. (v. 36). The man does not know more about Jesus. He needs some catechesis, and Jesus here acts as a catechist. He told him, “You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he.” (v. 37). Then, the man professes his faith immediately, “I do believe, Lord”. (v. 38). The narrator comments that this man worshiped Jesus. From the last Sunday to the end of the Lenten season, the liturgies of these Sundays are a kind of catechesis teaching us about who Jesus really is. Like this formerly blind man, we are called to grow in our knowledge of Jesus. In his journey of faith, this man of our Gospel story passes from referring to Jesus as a “man called Jesus” to “Sir”, then to a “prophet” until finally, he relates to Jesus as his “Lord”.

 

The eighth and last scene concerns Jesus’ declaration to the Pharisees and each one of us today. Jesus says that he came to this world for judgment. Those who believe in him will see, but those who do not believe in him will become blind. (v. 39). Here Jesus condemns the religious authorities; they are spiritually blind because they refuse to see their sinful state. We will be also called “blind” if we do not see our sins, especially during this Lenten Season which is a time of repentance. Recognizing our sins means that we need Jesus to free us from the darkness of sins. To not admit that we are sinners means that we do not need Jesus in our lives. Therefore, those who do not need Jesus, like the Pharisees of our Gospel story, are spiritually blind.

 

As we move toward Easter, let us start working on our faith in Jesus. If there is anything that prevents us from relating to Jesus as “our Lord”, we need to work on it and get it straight as soon as possible. Confession is a good opportunity for us Christians to clean our souls and so reestablish our relationships with God and with our brothers and sisters. This is what the Church expects us to do before the catechumens receive the sacraments of initiation and before all of us Christians renew our baptismal Promises in Easter. Jesus is inviting us to believe in him, then he will bring us from the darkness of this world to the light of the kingdom of heaven. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

 

 

 

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