A HOMILY OF FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR A

December 15, 2017frjohnma

 

Readings: 1 Sam. 16:1b.6-7.10-13a; Ps. 23:1-3a.3b-4.5-6. Eph. 5:8-14. John 9:1-41.

Fourth Sunday of Lent is called usually called Laetare Sunday that is Rejoice Sunday. We are full of joy because we are half way to the celebration of the climax of our Christian faith – the Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Also, we celebrate Christ as the light of the world. He comes to brighten our way to the special celebration of Easter. So, let us dispose ourselves for the Lord to cleanse us of any form of blindness that may hinder us from experiencing Him at Easter.

The First Reading from the First Book of Samuel, illustrates how blind we are in our judgments, prejudices/biases and how much we need God’s help. St. Paul in the second reading reminds the Ephesians of their new responsibility as children of light to live as children of the light, producing every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” Then, the miracle of sight granted to the  man born blind, from today’s Gospel teaches us the necessity of opening the eyes of the mind by Faith, and warns us that   those who assume they see the truth are often blind, while those who acknowledge their blindness are given clear vision. In this episode, the most unlikely person, namely the beggar born blind, receives the light of Faith in Jesus, while the religion-oriented, law-educated Pharisees remain spiritually blind.   To live as a Christian is to see, to have clear vision about God, about ourselves and about others.  Our Lenten prayers and sacrifices should serve to heal our spiritual blindness so that we can look at others, see them as children of God and love them as our own brothers and sisters saved by the death and Resurrection of Jesus. Spiritual blindness is the obstructions we develop and becloud the lens of the soul. They are like the cataracts of the physical eyes. Such “cataracts” include pride, misguided concepts of money, crave for power, preoccupation with work, distorted views of sex and family, and a critical spirit that rationalizes and relativize truth.

We all have such “blind-spots — in our marriages, our vocations, our parenting styles, our work habits, and our personalities.” So, today we are invited to desire the ability of seeing in other ways. Precisely seeing the way God sees. Seeing with our eyes of faith. So, we are to pray thus, Lord, open the eyes of my mind, the eyes of my soul, the sixth eye or Lord that I may see.

The responsorial Psalm, the 23rd Psalm says that God is our Good Shepherd. You may be wondering why this psalm should be here instead of it been featured on the Fourth Sunday of Easter that is popularly called the “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Anyway, at first hearing, it might not seem that this psalm connects with the other three Scripture passages proclaimed today.

True, in today’s First Reading, the young man, David, is described as “keeping the sheep”, and is plucked from this role to be anointed the king—that is, the shepherd—of God’s People. But for the most part, today’s Scripture passages focus on another theme: blindness.

However, without underestimating the depth of Sacred Scripture, it is glaringly obvious that there is a connection between these two Lenten themes: our divine Lord as Shepherd, and our blindness as sinners. This connection might help us to confess our blindness more willingly, and profess our willingness to follow the Good Shepherd.

Samuel seeks the Lord’s anointed from among the sons of Jesse, and he does find him, but it takes eight tries to do so. What is it that hinders Samuel’s search? Is it his faulty sight or lack of inward sight?

Samuel judges wrongly because he is blind to the truth of what God’s shepherd looks like. The Lord explains this to Samuel as plainly as possible, saying: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” The Lord sees every person and things in their totality and not in piecemeal. This blindness that the Lord exposes lies at the root of all our sins. Do we see with the eyes of God? Are we blinded by prejudices and stereotypes? When we see a homeless person on the street — do we see Jesus? When we see a person who is a different color than us or from a different country – do we see the face of Christ? When we see people who can’t get good health care or lose everything because they can’t pay their medical bills, do we see a need for justice? Are we willing to sacrifice so that the poor, the immigrant, the victims of violence may have dignity and hope? When we see people with mental or physical disabilities do we see the dignity they have and the wisdom they can offer?

But the Lord here is not just condemning the shallow outlook so common today, which believes that beauty is only skin deep, and that only what our senses perceive truly exists. This is the kind of blindness that is in vogue today. We display it in our search or choice of marriage partners. I need only a man who is financially rich, handsome, caring, etc. Whether the man is God fearing or not is not my business. I need money and nothing more. The men also have their own manifestation of this blindness. They are usually attracted to the external features of the women and forget the essentials. Hence, today we have a lot of failed marriages! It is so with our choice of vocation, dioceses and congregation. We rarely check were our gifts, talents, charisms could fit in. Thus, we have so many cases of vocation crises and failed vocations today! The cause of all these is blindness.

The Lord in our first reading is condemning something more specific: the blindness that keeps us from seeing our shepherd and getting things properly understood and done. That is Spiritual blindness; Lack of insights, lack of vision, lack of wisdom, lack of discernment of the will of God. Simply put, it means poverty of Faith! Samuel judges wrongly because he sees only the appearance, and looks for a man’s lofty stature, instead of looking into his heart. May God give us the ability to be cleansed of blindness of any form, Amen. But this blindness takes on a more tragic form in today’s Gospel passage.

In fact, we see two types of blindness in the Gospel passage. But the second is far worse than the first. The first is more apparent because it is a physical blindness, which naturally is hard to hide and spiritual blindness. So the man blind from birth leads the narrative.

This man, born blind, is the object of the disciples’ accusations. They don’t ask if the man’s blindness was caused by sin. They presume this, asking instead whose sins caused his blindness. Jesus has to clarify the matter by explaining that “neither he nor his parents sinned.” Rather, “it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” that the man was born blind.

These “works of God” are the works of the Good Shepherd. However, the Gospel passage presents us three possible characters and attitudes:

(a) Indifference towards Jesus – the position of the parents of the blind man; “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age.’” The parents of the man born blind are a replica of many parents of our age. Many parents today are not in control of their children and wards. Like the parents of the man born blind they suffer from spiritual blindness. They pretend not to know that their children are misbehaving and have become addicts of many kinds – smoking, drugging, sex, gambling, and so on. Whatever the children do they say is as a result of their maturity? Worse still, some don’t want to give birth again. Because they complain and argue that children are difficult to rear. So, in blindness, they promote the culture of death according to St. Pope John Paul II in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae. You know what, Islam will soon take over the world! Muslims marry up to four wives and I hope you know how populous they are? It seems to be more challenging for us Catholics – Priests and Religious don’t marry and the laity that supposed to populate our Church is promoting the culture of death through the use of contraceptives and abortion as advocated by population control advocates like Paul Ehrlich and his cohorts.

(b) Blatant denial of the true nature of Jesus – the position of the Pharisees because they are caught up in the web of their Sabbath laws. The Pharisees suffered from spiritual blindness.  They were blind to the Holy Spirit.  They had religion but lacked the spirit of Jesus’ love.  They were also blind to the suffering and pain right before their eyes. They refused to see pain and injustice.  There was no compassion in their hearts.  In short, they were truly blind both to the Holy Spirit and to the human misery around them.

This is where many of us religious leaders called priests and religious belong. I may exonerate the Pharisees for their limited knowledge of Jesus. What about us who are schooled in the person of Jesus Christ. We have been privileged to receive the best forms of learning and formation. Are we different from the Pharisees? The problem of the Church I can boldly say is largely from the Priests and Religious. Browse the history of the church and you would see that all foundational heresies were put forward by Priests, Bishops and Religious – Arius (Priest) challenged the divinity of Christ; Eutyches (a Monk) opposed the dual nature of Christ and Nestorius (a Bishop) rejected the title Theotokos for the Virgin Mary. That is how many of us are still blind today especially with our knowledge of philosophy we blatantly deny many truths by rationalizing the truths of our faith. Liberalism has become our second nature. This is dangerous and it has been eroding and weakening the rich content of our faith.

(c) The gradual discovery of who Jesus is – the position of the blind man.  The Word of God this Sunday invites us to acknowledge our own blindness and come into the presence of the Light of the World.

After He works the miracle of giving sight and insight to the man born blind, Jesus faces accusations from those who cannot see Him as the Good Shepherd. The Pharisees say of Jesus: “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.” Others command the man given sight: “Give God the praise! We know that this man {Jesus} is a sinner.”

But as Jesus’ enemies scorn Him, the man given sight speaks more boldly. He speaks as someone given two forms of sights: physical sight and the second spiritual insight. This enabled him to progressively see Jesus first as a man. The contenders of Jesus asked him “How were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash…”

At first he only reports the facts of what Jesus had done for him. A little later he says of Jesus that “He is a prophet.” Soon after, he speaks out against the religious authorities, insisting that “…this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. … It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” The man given sight sees Jesus truly.

Yet moments later, he acts truly. When Jesus seeks out this man to whom He had given sight, the healed man confesses that he sees Jesus as Lord, and worships Him.

This scene of the man with sight worshipping Jesus would make a beautiful end to today’s Gospel passage. It would be instructive for us who fail in seeing Jesus as our Good Shepherd, and who fail in paying Jesus due homage. But especially during Lent, we need to set our sights on yet another aspect of this narrative. The denial of our blindness. This is the worse problem in our spiritual life.

People most bedeviled by this problem are religious leaders. For instance the Pharisees. The Pharisees bear a double blindness. Not only are they spiritually blind, but they are also blind to the fact of their blindness. At least the man born blind knew he was blind! Yet the Pharisees, blind to their blindness, attempt to lead others spiritually in their zeal for the Jewish Law. In Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus directly calls the Pharisees “blind guides”, and notes that “if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

The Pharisees’ double blindness is spiritually a “dark valley”. They walk through it without a capable guide. Their zeal for the Law stems from the blindness that the Lord pointed out to Samuel: they look at the appearances of legal observance. Their blindness prevents them from seeing Jesus as Lord and Shepherd: as one who “looks into the heart.” We are the religious leaders of today and that does not mean we our leadership position provides us with immunity from this ailment.

But as you and I reflect on these blind guides, we each need to ask two questions. First, am I blind like the Pharisees? Second, what hope is there for someone suffering from such a double blindness? The answer to the second can help us honestly answer the first.

The spiritually blind person has no reason for hope in himself. Hope for the spiritually blind rests in God alone. Their hope—our hope—rests in the truth that our Lord is a Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd “looks into the heart”, and sees only darkness there. But He wills to lead the blind from darkness into light.

In actual fact as infants we were born with a partial form of blindness and gradually be begin to see our mothers, fathers, others around us and things generally. The same is true that we were born blind spiritually until at baptism were our eyes opened. The eyes opened at Baptism are called eyes of faith. It was the second gift of sight by Jesus to the man born blind. That was the gift that enabled him to see Jesus in a graduating manner – Jesus as Man, Jesus as a prophet and Jesus as Lord whom he worshipped. That gift of eyes of faith is also called insight. Do you have it?

From the second reading, St Paul tells us we are called to live as children of the light for light produces every kind of goodness. At baptism we receive the light of Christ symbolized by the paschal candle….we bring the light of Christ to where ever there is darkness. The more clearly we see reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world. The less clearly we see the reality of the world the more our minds are befuddled by falsehood, misconceptions and illusions and the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise decisions. And the blinders of our eyes of faith or the causes of poverty of faith or spiritual blindness are: ignorance, pride, denial of truth and rationalization.

I dare to ask, why can some of us get things right? How comes we have been Christians for such a long time yet we are still groping in the dark? It is because of this prevalent condition of spiritual blindness that is lack of insight, lack of wisdom, lack of discernment of the will of God that the Church presents to us with these readings about light and darkness, about vision and blindness in order to brighten our eyes of faith.  You may ask what our eyes of faith are. Carl Jung the psychologist would talk of the four fundamental functions of the human person: thinking, feeling, sensing and intuiting. However, for Jesus the eyes of faith are: insights, discernment, wisdom, instinctive foresight and the sixth eye. And the blinders of our eyes of faith or the causes of poverty of faith or spiritual blindness are: ignorance, pride, denial of truth and rationalization. s

Let me give you a simple example of how this works. Have you ever been reading the Bible and, as you read a verse, it just pops out and you think, ‘Wow, I never saw that before!’ Even though you’ve read that verse fifteen times, you had never seen the truth that just popped out for you. What happened? God just opened your spiritual eyes.

Some years ago I went to give a talk to teachers of a girls’ special school and all of a sudden all the lights went out in the conference hall and all the girls in the conference hall started screaming. A blind girl asked the girl standing next to her “what happened?” The friend told her that all the lights went out and they couldn’t see. Guess what? The blind girl calmly turned to her friend and said don’t worry, take my hand, I’ll lead you out. The blind girl’s classmates learned a valuable lesson that day – she may be blind but she isn’t “disabled,” she just sees in other ways.

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