4th SUNDAY OF LENT – March
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
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
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