Breaking Open the Word
4th Sunday of Lent
March 19, 2023
In the first reading from 1 Samuel, the prophet Samuel sets off for Bethlehem in search of a new ruler for Israel. Saul is king of Israel. God is not pleased with Saul as king. Saul had disobeyed God and Samuel was sent to tell Saul that the Lord rejected him as a ruler. Samuel was worried that Saul would kill him for choosing a new king, which is technically an act of treason. God tells Samuel to say that he is going off to make a sacrifice to God. Samuel goes to Bethlehem and invites Jesse and his sons to join him in a sacrificial banquet. One by one, Jesse presents his sons to Samuel, but none of them is the chosen one. Jesse introduces his sons starting with the oldest one. Typically, the oldest son was given the highest honor, and Eliab looked the part, he was strong and handsome. Almost in desperation, Samuel asks Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have? “Only then does Jesse send for the youngest son David, who had been left out in the fields to tend the sheep. God’s choice is David to be the new king. David is filled with the Spirit of the Lord. It is the Spirit’s power that enables David to defeat Israel’s enemies and eventually assume the throne.
In the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, this passage is chosen to link the gospel story of the man born blind and to the first reading’s challenge to see things as God sees them. In the late Jewish writings, including the Dead Sea scrolls found in Qumran, the use of light and darkness to symbolize life in union with God and life opposed to God was common. Early Christian writers frequently adopted the same imagery to contrast the Christian way of life and the pagan way of life. Those taking on the Christian way of life through the catechumenate were called the illuminati or “the enlightened ones” for they had been enlightened by Christ. The period of the catechumenate just before baptism is called the period of purification and enlightenment. We usually think of ourselves as being in the darkness or in the light. But Paul says that we were darkness and now are light in the Lord. Like a light bulb, we can either be dark or brightly lit. The difference is determined by whether the power of God is at work in us. Once we have been united with Christ, we are given the power to be light of the world.
John 1:19-12 is called The Book of Signs because in it, Jesus works signs that help people believe that he is God’s son and the world’s savior. The blind man and the Samaritan woman symbolize every person who comes to believe the truth about Jesus. Some people deny Jesus’ identity. In John 8, Jesus and some Pharisees argue about whether he is truly the light whom the Father has sent. The tension builds as Jesus now works his next sign. The story begins as a simple story of healing, but John has used the episode to make a number of points about Jesus, about the conflict with the Jews, about baptism and about the bold witness Christians should give. The reading begins with disciples’ question, reflecting a common Jewish belief that every misfortune was the result of sin, a belief that Jesus rejects. Jesus insists that this situation is not a punishment but an opportunity to reveal God’s glory and then names himself as light of the world. The cure itself is accomplished with saliva and clay. Saliva was believed to have medicinal qualities, and the clay may suggest the Genesis account of the creation of humans from the earth Jesus is beginning a new creation. The clay is smeared on the man’s eyes, the word in Greek literally means “anointed.” Anointing and washing in the pool of Siloam reminds us of baptism The name of the pool, which means “sent”, suggests Jesus as the one sent by God and perhaps the Christians also as sent by Jesus.
Blinded by the Light
To understand this story, remember that John regularly uses a nameless character to represent every Christian. The blind man represents each of us. He is blind from birth, which means he has never seen the light. So each person dwells in darkness until Christ gives him or her the light.
After he is cured, the blind man is taken to the Pharisees. The cure took place on the Sabbath, and this prompts the Pharisees to attack Jesus. The Pharisees themselves are divided over whether Jesus is a sinner or a holy man. The Pharisees suggest that the man had not been blind and thus had not been cured. They call in his parents, who affirm the man’s identity and his blindness from birth, but they refuse to get drawn any further into the debate as the could be expelled from the synagogue. This point reflects the experience of Christians in John’s time, who had been expelled from the synagogue as heretics.
The story reaches its climax when the man states that he now sees with perfect clarity. The Pharisees, however, angrily refuse to see what he does. They are so sure of themselves that they have blinded themselves to the light that God has sent into the world.
Theme in our Life Today
In today’s Gospel, the healing of the man born blind invites us to focus on the physical and spiritual aspects of sight and light.
The man born blind gradually comes to a greater understanding about who Jesus is and what it means to be his disciple, while the Pharisees (those who should see) are the ones who remain blind.
As people of faith, we are called to believe even when we cannot see None of us experienced the many miracles of Jesus personally or heard his sermons live but we are people of faith that are called to follow the light. Jesus is the true source of power and light that sustains life and overcomes the darkness of sin, confusion and spiritual blindness.
When infants are baptized, parents, with the help of the godparents, assume responsibility for raising the child as a follower of Jesus. The process of maturation in the faith is much like the example found in the story of the man born blind. The man is cured of his blindness, a symbol of his sin. Each time he meets someone after the healing, the man comes to a deeper awareness of who Jesus is. In a similar way, we who are baptized continue to mature in faith as our relationship with and knowledge about Jesus grows.
Prepare for Sunday
1. Think of a time when simple or broken people saw things more clearly than the people who seem to have it all together.
2. Reflect on an experience when healing or insight came in an unexpected way.
3. Relate an experience when you were blind to God’s love.
4. When has someone helped you change a negative attitude?
Lord Jesus, light of the world, we walk by your light. Manifest yourself to all who seek your face, and be merciful when we persist in blindness. Reveal the darkness that is within and around us. Show us how to turn away from darkness in order to walk more boldly by your light. Expose injustice. Illuminate the way to peace. Dispel the gloom of all who suffer, and brighten the lives of all who feel lost and alone. Bring us all into your everlasting radiance. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.