4th Sunday of Lent (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
Jesus passes by and sees him.
Everyone in town has seen him. But Jesus sees him for who he is and not
as his sin makes him appear. Jesus sees a shining soul bound by sin, a
man born blind and in desperate need of sight. Spitting on a handful of
dirt, Jesus makes a paste and smears it on the beggar’s darkened eyes.
He sends the man to wash in the Pool of Siloam. The beggar comes back
wet and smiling. He can see! His eyes are open, and he is blind no more.
How is he healed? Magical dirt? Holy spit? Blessed water in the pool?
None of these. Jesus says, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam. . .So he went
and washed. . .” He is healed by the grace of obedience; he listens to
Jesus and does as he is commanded to do, making his work righteous and
fruitful. The Pharisees—always out to catch Jesus doing something
illegal—question the man about his healing miracle. The man describes
what Jesus did, and some of them say, “This man is not from God, because
he does not keep the sabbath.” Other among them anxiously disagree,
“How can a sinful man do such signs?” Confused, worried, looking for an
explanation, the conflicted Pharisees ask the man, “What do you have to
say about him, since he opened your eyes?” We can imagine the man
grinning, knowing that the men will not like his answer. He says with
solemn assurance, speaking the truth despite the consequences, “He is a
prophet.” When we live as children of the light, we produce “every kind
of goodness and righteousness and truth.”
The miracle of the man born
blind is a story about a man regaining his sight. It is also a story of
ignorant man finding enlightenment through faith. He is both
physically blind and spiritually blind. His eyes do not function as
they should and his soul is cast in the darkness of sin. Jesus heals
his eyes so that the man can see, and Jesus heals his soul so that the
man can proclaim the truth free of sin. He freely admits to the
Pharisees that he believes Jesus to be a prophet sent from God. The
Pharisees reject this claim b/c the miracle is performed on the sabbath.
How can he be of God if he violates God's law? But what they are
really worried about is the possibility that Jesus may really be who he
says he is. But why would God allow a blasphemer to perform miracles?
Rather than seek the truth, rather than see the truth right in front of
them, the Pharisees ridicule the poor man and throw him out.
Darkness—whether it is physical or spiritual—cannot tolerate the light.
When we flip on a light switch, darkness flees. When we expose those
who live in darkness to the light of truth, they often become angry,
intolerant, and violent. The truth hurts. It also heals.
As children of the light, even
as we struggle and often fail, our ministry to the world is to bear the
truth. Paul urges the Ephesians, “You were once darkness, but now you
are light in the Lord. . .Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them. .
.” Like the man healed of his physical and spiritual blindness, we are
sent to the Pharisees of our generation to speak a simple yet powerful
truth, “Jesus is Lord.” And like the man Jesus heals, we are ridiculed
and thrown out by our own Pharisees. We are thrown out of the public
square and told that our faith has no place in a secular society. God's
truth, we are told, is narrow-minded; it's sexist, racist, homophobic,
cold-hearted, thick-headed, and probably violent. Faith is an intensely
private and highly subjective matter that should be practiced only at
home, if at all. Keep your religion out of our schools, our
universities, our courts, our legislatures, and keep it out of the White
House. Keep your morality out of our bedrooms, our hospitals, and our
boardrooms. In fact, your “truth” is so dangerous to the liberty of our
civil society that we think it's best for you to just shut up
altogether and pretend that you actually live in the 21st century with
the rest of us! How odd that such a simple-minded faith steeped as it
is in so much medieval superstition can evoke such a heated
overreaction, so much hatred and venom. Truly, the truth hurts. But it
Paul challenges the Ephesians
(and us) to expose the works of darkness to the light of Christ b/c
“everything exposed by the light becomes visible.” And everything made
visible becomes light. In other words, when we expose the works of
darkness to the light of truth, these dark works are transformed into
tools useful to the work of telling the truth. So long as they remain
in darkness, they do their work in secret. Once exposed to the light,
we see them for what they really are: corruption. And not only do we
see them for they are, we see the extent of their corrupting influence,
all the ways in which they have secretly labored to destroy the
goodness, truth, and beauty of God's creatures. With God's help and
their faithful cooperation, workers in darkness can and will come to the
light of Christ. This is our fervent hope. And not b/c we want higher
numbers for the church rolls, or more voters “on our side” at election
time, or more money in the collection plate. But b/c we are vowed to
spread the light of the gospel, and we rejoice to welcome anyone healed
of their blindness.
Lest we start to take sinful
pride in the work of shining Christ's light into the darkness, we must
remember that we are ministering to a sinful world out of a deep
conviction of our own capacity for sin. It is not our job to pass
judgment the world. It is not our job to hand down a verdict on the
sins of others. Leave that to God to do in His own time. Our job is to
tell the truth, the whole truth; to spread the news of God's merciful
goodness; and constantly to point to the sacred beauty of all life His
creation. Our job is live lives that clearly, without compromise or
hesitation, proclaim to anyone who will listen, “Awake, O sleeper, and
arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” Our credibility
as witnesses to God's merciful love is directly tied to our ability, our
willingness to be merciful. . .even when all we want is cold justice,
especially when all we want is cold justice. Notice what Jesus does not
do when he hears that the man he healed has been ridiculed and rejected
by the Pharisees. He doesn't rail against the Pharisees. He doesn't
sue them, or start a petition drive to get them fired. He doesn't take a
special interest lobbying group to get laws passed against bullying
those healed of blindness. Instead, he goes to the man and asks, “Do
you believe in the Son of Man?” The man answers, “I do believe, Lord.”
Jesus asks the man the one question that matters most, giving him the
chance to offer the worship due to the King of Kings.
When we live as children of the
light, exposing the works of darkness to the light of Christ, we produce
“every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” Are we producing
goodness, righteousness, and truth? More specifically, are you
producing goodness, righteousness, and truth? Is the life you are
living proclaim for all to see and hear, “Awake! Arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light”?
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