Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for Fourth Sunday of Lent (30 March 2014)

Gospel for Fourth Sunday of Lent (30 March 2014)

The sections marked in brackets – [ ] – may be omitted when this Gospel is proclaimed.

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.[His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”]

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” [But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”]

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided.So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

[The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “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. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”]

[So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”] They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. [Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.] (John 9:1-41 – NRSV)

Introductory notes

1. A tension between Jesus and the religious authorities runs through the Gospels It is particularly strong in John’s Gospel. For example, the chapter immediately prior to this one, begins with the story of the woman caught in adultery, has Jesus predict his death at the hands of the religious authorities in the middle and ends with those same people threatening to stone him on the spot. The opponents of Jesus are referred to generally as “the Jews”. To our post-Holocaust ears, it sounds very harsh, even anti-Semitic – especially as it is repeated often throughout John’s Gospel. We must remember that Jesus is a Jew and the Johannine community is (at least substantially) Jewish and there are those Jews who believe in him (see 8:31). The target is not the Jews as such but those Jews who resisted him and, in the end, sought his execution.

2. The nature of the conflict between Jesus and “the Jews” is revealed in the following verses: “Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. …. Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” There is no interest in the remarkable “sign” and there is no interest in the fact that a suffering man has been relieved of the terrible burden of blindness. A law has been broken and this cannot be tolerated!

3. John uses the word “sign” to describe the miracles of Jesus. The focus is God. The miracles are epiphanies, affirmations of the promise given to Moses on Sinai: “I will be with you!” (Exodus 3:12). As such they also bear witness to the claim that Jesus is the Anointed One. In this story the man born blind (ironically) interprets the “sign” for the Pharisees. Remember, the Pharisees who claim to be disciples of Moses have been accused by Jesus a few verses ahead of this as being the children of the devil, “the father of lies” (see 8:44).

4. One of the notable features of this story is the naïve directness of the man born blind. His answers to the Pharisees’ inquisition and his responses to Jesus have an almost childlike, quality about them. They are very convincing. Like all such innocence, the man’s responses throw a light on the not so innocent and the fraudulent. In this instance, they actually expose the lack of honesty in the religious authorities. On the other hand, they help to reveal the truth of Jesus. I wonder if this “man” is actually the Beloved Disciple?

Our text

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him …..”

Seeing with the eyes of the body is a marvellous metaphor for seeing with the eyes of the soul. Just as we can be physically blind, so we can be spiritually blind.

A complementary metaphor is that of waking up. It is possible to sleepwalk through life. A central task for us all is to wake up and begin to see and experience the world as it is rather than as a fiction created by us. Fictions are made out of our ideologies, fears, anxieties, prejudices, assumptions, expectations, selfishness, vanity, and so on.

Religion can become a fiction – as it is for the Pharisees in this story. Their “fidelity” to the Scriptures and the Covenant traditions masks their fears. Those very beliefs and rituals that should be a means to an end become ends in themselves, what should be relative becomes absolute, what should be transparent becomes opaque, what should allow the Light of God to shine in the world becomes the shadow of someone’s ego.

This man sees Jesus as he is. He does not try to fit Jesus into a fiction, he naively and innocently accepts the logic of what he has seen. More important than the physical healing is the discovery – the seeing – of God right there, for him, in Jesus.

Michael Whelan SM

“Human weakness is always trying to go to sleep; if it is not the doubt of the old humanistic stoic, it is the eternal truths it will take for its pillow. If he is not kept awake by a sorrowing communion with all the sufferings and outcasts of mortal life, the Christian is apt to take for his pillow the very love which he has received.” (Jacques Maritain, Integral Humanism: Temporal and Spiritual Problems of a New Christendom, translated by Joseph Evans, University of Notre Dame Press, 1936/1973, 55.)