THE JOY THAT COMES WITH LIGHT
HOMILY FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT (LAETARE SUNDAY), YEAR A. Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1.6-7.10-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14 and John 9:1-41.
Traditionally, the fourth Sunday of Lent calls us to rejoice as the Latin verb ‘Laetare’ indicates, similar to the third Sunday of Advent’s Gaudete. The entrance antiphon goes thus: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breasts.” This Sunday gives a relaxation from the penitential character of the Lenten season, which could mean ‘half time’ in a game/match and the liturgy invites us to be joyful or rejoice because Christ brings light to dispel darkness.
In the first reading, Samuel brought light to the house of Jesse by anointing David through his obedience to the instructions of the Lord. The Lord said to Samuel, “Fill your oil and go, I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons” (1 Sam 16:1). This is the first mention of Jesse, indicating that the Lord has not chosen the son of a famous man but rather the son of an unknown man. Samuel was tempted to anoint Eliab the eldest son of Jesse and most likely the famous but the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature…” (v.7), and when Jesses made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen these” (v. 10). He requested Jesse to send for the youngest son (David) who was shepherding the sheep, “For we will not sit down till he comes here” (v. 11). Samuel did not rush to anoint others but waited patiently for David to come. The fact that David has been serving as a shepherd point to his future role as king. When David came, the Lord said to Samuel, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he” (v.12).
The Lord chooses the unlikely candidate, the unfamous rather than the famous, the youngest rather than the eldest who is most likely to succeed the father. God likes working with seemingly inferior candidates who most likely will attribute their success to God rather than their individual power. Also, as men, we tend to see superficially. We put too much stock in physical appearances. We are easily deceived by people who appear to have good character but who do not. Christ will say, “Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like white tombs, which outwardly appears beautiful but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of uncleanness” (Mt 23:27). However, there is nothing superficial in the way the Lord sees us. He sees our hearts, knows our intimate secrets, assesses accurately our character and faith.
In the gospel, as Jesus passed by, “He saw a man blind from his birth” (Jn 9:1) and he broke the religious and cultural barriers in order to save this man. The fact that Jesus sees this blind man is in itself remarkable. People prefer to pass by beggars without seeing them, because it is painful to see misery, and this man has become part of the background, but yet Jesus sees him. Many of us have been blind to the needs of those around us. This is the first step to his healing. The fact that he was born blind makes the miracle that follows more remarkable. If was recent blindness, healing might seem possible, but as the blind man points out, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone open the eyes of a man born blind” (v.32).
As regards the question of his disciples, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (v.2). This brings to mind the theology of retribution (the relation between sin and suffering). The disciples assume that the blind man’s suffering is caused by sin. It could be the parents’ sin as we have in Ex 20:5 “I Yahweh, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers on the children, on the third and fourth generation who hate me.” This is similar to Numbers 37:18. Or it might be the man’s sin. They probably assumed that the man’s blindness is somehow the fault of the man or his parents. The theology of retribution establishes so much connection between sin and suffering. In response, Christ said, “It was not that the man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him” (v.3). At this point, we realize that God’s work can be revealed through adversity. Our faithfulness in adversity can be a compelling witness. Our faithfulness in helping those in need can also be a compelling witness. However, this does not totally debunk the idea that there is a connection between sin and suffering, but to bring to our consciousness that not all suffering is caused by sin. Sin and suffering are not always related.
Blindness practically indicates darkness and Christ said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay saying, ‘Go wash in the pool of Siloam’” (vv.5-7). Light and darkness are symbols of good and evil in the gospel. As light of the world, Jesus has come to enlighten people about God and the blind man presents an opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate his light-bearing mission. With his use of mud or clay, we recall the creation story, where God brought forth life from the dust of the earth (Gen 2:7), and his healing of the blind man is creative rather than just restorative. The man, blind from birth, never enjoyed sight that could be restored. Instead, Jesus creates sight ex-nihilo, that is, from nothing, just as God created the world ex-nihilo and he said to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” and the author note that Siloam means ‘Sent.’ John often refers to Jesus as having been sent from the Father. So now blindness is removed with reference to and with the aid of the ‘sent.
Jesus’ instruction to go wash in the pool of Siloam recall the story of Naaman and Elisha (2Kings 5:9-14). In both instances, a washing is required, the prophet does not accompany the infirmed person to the water, and the healing takes place only after the person obeys. “So, he went and washed and came back seeing” (Jn 9:7). The man is healed. Not only are his eyes healed but a second miracle takes place as well. The brain of a person born blind lacks the ability to process visual information properly. The initial response to such a healing tends to be confusion. It can take a long time for such a person to function normally. However, when Jesus heals this man’s eyes, he also gives him the mental ability to understand what he is seeing. It is on this note St. Paul says, in the second reading, reminds us of our former state in darkness and now we are in light. He urges us to live as children of light, by living in Christ. To live outside Christ is to be in darkness.
In a nutshell, the liturgy presents to us the joy that emanates from the man born blind, and it comes with the lesson of obedience to the instructions of the Lord as in the case of Samuel who obeyed the Lord and Jesse who obeyed Samuel, and sent for David. The obedience of the blind man in the gospel brought light and joy to him. More so, we must be consistent with our words, faith and conviction as regards our belief in Jesus Christ. Despite the intimidation that would come from others such as the Pharisees who said, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” (Jn 9:34). We must remain firm in Christ. Even when we are cast from the temple, the Lord of the temple will find us as he did find the man that was born blind.
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ