Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent – The Man Born Blind
Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41
We are very conscious of our ability to see. Many of us have vision challenges that have threatened partial or total blindness. We are also very grateful for advances in vision care that preserve our sight and thank God for the skill of such professionals. I, for one, was diagnosed a few years ago with a condition that was progressive and likely to severely impact my eyesight, and I am grateful for the generous donation of two corneas that were transplanted to replace the damaged ones. I also recognize that it is a place of privilege to be in a society that has such treatment available, and infants are treated shortly after birth with antibiotics to avoid eye infections. Early blindness in our first world society is rare; less so in earlier centuries or in countries without adequate healthcare.
The man born blind was born into a society where physical abnormalities were visible signs of sinfulness. I have always found it difficult to understand this concept of disability, but such was the belief of the day—either his sin or his parents sin were to blame. Sight in the story of the blind man is initially physical but also spiritual. Spiritual blindness is often assumed to be a negative attribute, but here John’s Gospel suggests that we must fully appreciate our own spiritual blindness in order to see the light of Christ.
This gospel story is fittingly placed at the middle of the three gospels marking the scrutinies of the catechumens, in which the community prays for them as they grow in their understanding of sin, renouncing sin and seeking to live a new life in preparation for the next journey as a baptized Christian.
In keeping with today’s second reading from Ephesians 5:8-14 we are named children of light—that which the blind man cannot see. This theme of darkness and light is what the scrutinies are all about; It is the time in the period of the catechumenate known as Purification and Enlightenment. It is a privilege to be part of the assembly praying for the catechumens and an opportunity for the assembly to also experience reflection on our own sinfulness as we accompany them on that journey.
One of the final minor rites before baptism proclaims the biblical call of Jesus (Mark 7:34) healing the deaf man with a speech impediment. Ephphatha! -- Be opened! In the rite, the cross is traced on the eyes, mouth and ears, enlivening the senses of sight, speech and hearing. The catechumens learn that being fully open to God’s initiative in whatever way it is manifested depends on paying attention. To seeing, listening, responding.
This gospel, as well as those of the woman at the well and the raising of Lazarus, portray the journey to new life, a transformed life. In the early church baptism was often referred to as illumination. Following that illumination, the new Christian was expected to grow in faith and insight. At the Easter Vigil, we sing in canon: “The light of Christ, has come into the world ...” until the chapel is ablaze with the light of our candles lit from the Easter candle. It is also clear that sharing in Christ’s light demands a response, a commitment to entering the Paschal mystery.
As any who have begun a new transition in life, there is a period of growing into that new reality. For the newly-baptized the period of mystagogia is that time in the life of the new Christian. In many that fervor of finding new ways to live the gospel more deeply truly reshapes us and our choices. As we become immersed in the light of Christ and deepen our faith, our commitment leads us to make choices that may lead to exclusion, ridicule, challenge. As Saint Benedict urges us to listen with the ear of our hearts, following Jesus is not for the half-hearted.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship wrote: “To endure the cross is …the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity…If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands….then we have forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering…”
As we continue our journey through Lent, we can ask ourselves several questions: are we willing to examine our own spiritual blindness and seek Christ’s healing light and are we willing to allow Christ to reveal the cost of our discipleship. May our listening lead us into a deepening of our faith and new eyes to reveal God’s plan for us…and may he bring us all together to everlasting life. RB 72
S. Rosemary DeGracia 3/18/23