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Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent
Sister Thomas Welder, OSB
Reflection for Fourth Sunday of Lent March 22, 2020
The Pastor was visiting with the 2nd graders preparing for their First Holy Communion and began with a question:
Does anyone know why you were baptized as infants?
One child: “If I were baptized today, I’d be too big to fit into that font!”
Another child: “I was baptized as a baby because God wanted me close from the very beginning.”
This is Laetare Sunday, putting us midway into the season of Lent, a time historically, that the Church reminds us and the catechumens of our Baptism. How close are we to God? How close are we to letting ourselves be healed as the blind man was healed?
Today’s Gospel is an amazing story of contrasts: light and dark; sight and blindness; faith and fear. Jesus opens the drama by saying, “I am the light of the world,” and then frees the blind man from a life lived in darkness. The story could have stopped right there. To give sight to the blind is life-changing, a miracle that got the attention of a whole cast of characters, from the man’s parents, his neighbors to the keepers of the Jewish law.
But greater than the blind man’s physical sight, seeing people, things, and place for the first time, is the inner change that he undergoes from blindness to conversion.
The first act of the drama could be called the discovery. The beggar who sat alone over in that same spot day after day is no longer there. When we catch up with him, he explains that a man called Jesus anointed his eyes with clay, told him to wash and now he can see. To all kinds of inquiries, he answered simply, He is “the man called Jesus.”
It should be pointed out that there was no celebration, no one or no time to rejoice with the man who was beginning to see new hope and purpose in his life. Almost immediately he is confronted with the “pompous legalism” of the Pharisees, the antagonists in the drama. Blinded by their controlling instincts, they see the healing as “sinful” because it was the Sabbath. How could this be of God? “What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?” The healed man said with new understanding, “He is a prophet.”
Seeing more and more clearly at every stage of the confrontation, the blind man knows that this Jesus is more than he ever imagined. This is One who can be trusted; this is One who is an emissary of God’s light and life.
On the other hand, the Pharisees were sinking more and more into darkness. The proverb says: “There is none so blind as those who will not see.”
Because the blind man sticks to the truth as he knows it and refuses to deny Jesus’ healing, the Pharisees throw him out of the synagogue, bodily; he is expelled from the Jewish community. Once again accused of being a sinner, he is left as if dead.
It’s a poignant moment, surely the peak of the blind man’s experience when he encounters Jesus face to face for the first time and hears these words, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
For the blind man, seeing Jesus and hearing the invitation was believing. With no hesitation he responded, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshipped him.
Of course, the story of the blind man is our story, too. As we recognize our own spiritual blindness, healing begins. Jesus brings healing from sin into our lives through His Church and the sacraments. As we move from our “encapsulated selves” to awareness of our neediness, we are drawn to an even closer union with God in Christ. As St. Augustine once said, God is always closer to us than we are to ourselves.
In his 2013 Lenten address, Pope Benedict XVI describes our entire life as a response to God’s love and that response is the “yes” of faith which marks the “beginning of a radiant story of our friendship with the Lord.” And isn’t there a radiance about the story of the blind man?
As in every place and time, he discovered the deeper meaning of faith in the midst of darkness and suffering. Almost without exception says Richard Rohr, love and suffering are the paths of human life. In his suffering, the blind man was gifted with the eyes of faith. His “yes” to Jesus changed his life from blindness to gratitude.
There’s a story about Miles, who as a kindergartner, gave up candy for Lent. But right in the middle of Lent, there was a birthday party and each child received a few pieces of candy. Miles promptly reported his Lenten resolution to his teacher and asked if he could just lick his piece of candy. The teacher asked, “What would your parents say?” Miles: “They’d say I was just learning!”
As we face the reality of today’s darkness, the coronavirus pandemic, I think there is a point of universal agreement--we are all “just learning.” Whether we are living in self-isolation, out there working in an essential field, or totally disengaged, we are experiencing global solidarity through all the unknowns of this virus.
As schooled as we are to believe that we are in charge, this uncontrollable event is happening against our will. Coronavirus is a suffering shared around the world. We know the situation is what it is, but that doesn’t keep us from moments of denial, impatience, boredom, even as we accept and comply with all we have learned about safety, health, and care for each other.
How do we begin to find God in what is, the God who is already there with us? Today’s Gospel is clear—the blind man would tell us that what matters is God’s work, not ours. We may come with our solutions, but faith tells us that God does the healing. God calls us from darkness into light, from self-absorption to self-gift.
One spiritual writer says, “Faith never knows where it’s being led; it knows and loves the One who is leading. It is a life of faith, a life of knowing Who is making us go.” When Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me,” He never says to what or to where, but over and over he says to us, “Fear not.” And continues to reassure us, “You are no longer servants; I call you friends.” (John 15:15)
This can be a holy time in our lives if we make it a holy time. Sr. Nicole’s Ash Wednesday reflection, “Be still and wait for the Lord,” is an invitation to go to that quiet place of trust and sit in the silence, totally in God’s love and not look for results or answers. God who created us, never abandons us.
The blind man was drawn to Jesus by His healing power. Jesus accepted him and gave him re-entry into the community of believers. Love and suffering were his entry into life and light.
As Christians, we are called to embrace what is; to be at peace in what is. Above all else, to let go and let God’s light warm our hearts and heal our world.
Sister Thomas Welder