Fourth Sunday in Lent – Year A
March 22 2020 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev David Justin Lynch
I Samuel 16:1b;6-7;10-13a | Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14 | John 9:1-41
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
I recently acquired a new window shade for the bedroom in which Deacon Sharon and I sleep every night. When that shade is down, the room is pitch black. There is no light whatsoever when we go to bed at night. When morning comes, a faint white line of light appears around the bedroom door, calling me out of the dark bedroom into the beautiful world that God created. But if I were blind, there would be no such light. A person born blind sees a pitch-black world all the time and does not know what God’s creation looks like to the rest of us.
Occasionally, we hear about miracle surgeries that give sight to blind people opening up to them a world they had never known. The smile on their faces when they first experience the gift of sight we all take for granted manifests a very unique sense of wonder. Jesus, who lived in First Century Palestine, was not an eye surgeon as we understand the term in today’s world. Yet the man to whom he gave sight in today’s Gospel no doubt smiled in exactly the same way as those who receive sight from today’s surgeons. However, today’s Gospel is not really about the physical sense of sight and probably did not describe an actual historical event. Like so much in scripture, the author of the Gospel According to John intended this story to be allegorical, that is, the people, places and actions represent something other than those in the story itself.
Sight is more than biological. We can see things, but not know what they mean. Or we experience ideas that we cannot visualize. Sight has a spiritual component to it. How many times have you responded, “I see” to acknowledge someone describing something? Often when I hear another person’s words on a telephone, I visualize feelings rather than how that person looks. But sight is not just a vision in a physical sense. Emotions influence sight. Our past experiences, that, is, what happened to us as children, influence how we see the world. Children who grow up in a home with authoritarian, punitive parents will likely grow up full of fear and lacking love and acceptance of other people, particularly those who are different than they are, like people whose skin is of another color, and/or of the opposite gender, and/or of a different sexual orientation.
Today’s Gospel comes from John. One of the characteristics of that Gospel are the “I am” statements of Jesus which are not found in the other three canonical Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. There are altogether eight of them. Jesus tells us, “I am he” from above who does what God the Father wishes. You will probably recall the other “I am” statements, “I am the bread of life”, “I am the vine”, “I am the gate”, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” and “I am the good shepherd” and “I am the resurrection and the life.”
Today’s Gospel invites us to consider what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the light of the world.” The Gospel tells a story of a man born blind. The gift of sight he received from Jesus not only enabled him to see the world around him, but more important, to embrace Jesus as his healer.
But more troubling than this man’s physical blindness was the spiritual blindness of those around him, that is, the Pharisees and their fellow travelers. They had eyes with physical sight, but spiritually, they were blind as illustrated by their behavior. They did not believe the man had actually been blind despite the testimony of his parents. They did not believe that Jesus actually gave him sight. They thought his blindness was punishment for his sins or those of his parents. Then they criticized Jesus for healing the blind man on the Sabbath. And they even asked the man to deny that Jesus was the one who healed him and called on him to renounce Jesus. But the man with a new gift of sight would have none of it. He never lost his focus on Jesus using his newly-found sight. Jesus was the first person he saw when his eyes began to work. The sight of Jesus elicited his profession of faith and trust in Jesus as his Lord and Savior. “I was blind, and now I see,” he said, to quote the line from the well-known hymn, “Amazing Grace.”
When Jesus calls us out of darkness, he bestows on us the gift of spiritual vision, to look at the world in a new way, not just with our physical eyes, but with our hearts and souls. The beauty of God’s creation is a spiritual vision. When you go outside and look at the mountains, the forest, the desert and the ocean, those whose eyes are spiritually opened will not only see them as physical objects but will experience the majesty of their utter beauty.
Spiritual vision also extends to how we look at both ourselves and others. Spiritual vision invites us to look at our lives and those of others not only fully and objectively, but lovingly as well. Lovingly is how God sees us. God looks at the entire universe but at the same time looks lovingly at each one of us. God invites us to see the big picture of our lives and our world, and to do so with love. Jesus tells us, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.”
Too often, however, we look at life with a very narrow vision through the lens of a spirituality that cuts off the rest of the world around us from our perspective on life. We focus on what’s important to us, which is not necessarily what’s important to other people in the world at large. We focus on our own bank accounts, our own ambitions, our own likes and dislikes, and our own families. That narrow spiritual vision blinds us to what is happening beyond ourselves.
When you live in a culture like the United States that glorifies individualism, it is not hard to understand why so many people are narrowly focused. A society that imposes personal responsibility for one’s own survival on each individual blinds to the survival needs of persons other than ourselves. American individualism on steroids of the kind emanating from explains why some among us want to shred the social safety net, believing that allowing someone to starve, not have a roof over their head, or be unable to afford healthcare ought to be a fact of life for those who lack survival skills and/or money.
Spiritual blindness comes from fear. By that, I mean fear for one’s own safety which often leads to the fear of other people. Many, but not all, wealthy people, fear the loss of their wealth through paying taxes to support poor people. Sexist men feel threatened by high-achieving women in the work world. And others fear people who are different than they are, manifested in the sins of racism and homophobia. All of those viewpoints are spiritually blind because their proponents fail to recognize that each and every human person was created by God in God’s own image whom God loves as a parent ought to love a daughter or son.
Today’s Gospel illustrates what irrational fear looks like. The Pharisees and the crowd surrounding them feared Jesus. Here was a man who proclaimed himself as the Son of God, who gave sight to blind people, yet did not, in their opinion, properly honor the Sabbath. Their fear arose from their spiritual blindness. Irrational fear and spiritual blindness go together and are often one in the same.
Irrational fear arises when we allow emotion to overwhelm our intellect. God created us as intelligent beings with the capacity for wisdom, that is, the ability to pragmatically apply the fruits of our relationship with God in dealing with the curveballs that life throws at us.
The irrational behavior we see in today’s gospel, driven by fear, illustrates spiritual blindness. We hear about a crowd more focused on religious laws rather than rejoice at the central fact of the story: a man blind from birth suddenly able to see. Doesn’t that sound like the glorification of legalistic religion, be it from the Roman Catholic Magisterium or arising out of Protestant biblidolatry, instead of explicitly recognizing Jesus alone as the Word of God? When we worship human authority instead of God, we blind ourselves to be what God intended for us: that is, to love God with all our hearts, minds and souls and to love one another as God love us. Love is how we effectuate the coming of the Kingdom of God, where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
Today’s Gospel invites us to the special spiritual awareness that arises from opening our eyes to see the face of Jesus just as the blind man did when Jesus gave him sight. We should see the face of Jesus in every person, including those we dislike, even estranged family and church members. Seeing the face of Jesus in all other people, not just those we like, cause us to remember that God put each and every person into the world for a unique purpose, and that just maybe, just maybe, we ought to adopt God’s view of things, that is, to see the big picture of a forward-looking future vision, rather than continue to be blinded by past events as manifested by the crowd’s behavior in today’s Gospel which calls us to look Jesus in the face and trust Jesus.
Living our lives based on godless human instincts and standards blinds us to the message of Jesus. Here’s an example. Someone does something bad to us. Our first thought is to retaliate against and punish that person, whereas Jesus told us to turn the other cheek and forgive.
You’ve all heard about people who don’t want to talk to a particular other person. They think they are improving their own existence by shutting a troublesome person out of their lives. Many of those in the so-called “helping professions”, that is, mental health therapists, advocate banishing from your life people who cause you stress. They think rejection of others leads to personal peace. With exceptions for those who have engaged in physically violent conduct, I profoundly disagree with that theory of personal peace and human relations. I regard it as entering a purposeful blindness to who Jesus is, what Jesus did, and what Jesus taught. Notice that in today’s Gospel Jesus did not walk away from the people who rejected him and not return. Instead, he remained to engage and challenge them. When it comes to choosing between the advice of psychotherapists and the message of Jesus, I choose Jesus. He alone is my Lord, the one who will lead me to God.
When people become intentionally alienated from one another, they are blind to Jesus as they flail about in spiritual darkness. What Jesus wants is for us to open our eyes and see in the faces of all those estranged from us the face of Jesus himself, who repeatedly throughout his ministry taught acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation.
Jesus did not judge and reject people. The only one he kicked out of his life was the Devil, as we heard in my homily for the First Sunday in Lent. Jesus had to do that, because the Devil was pure evil. But with Jesus, there were no human outcasts. The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke all tell us Jesus sat at table and ate with tax collectors and sinners. As you go through the Gospels, you will see that Jesus made a career out of ministering to those whom others rejected. Last week, we heard the Gospel reading about the Samaritan woman. Rather than go along with the socially-expected antipathy that Jews showed Samaritans, Jesus reached out and ministered to her without judging her multiple marriages and Samaritan ancestry.
When Jesus encountered people possessed by demons, or interacted with lepers, he did not go along with the crowd and distance himself from them. He accepted and healed them, even if it got the crowd upset. And Jesus taught forgiveness, not rejection, of those who sin against us. When Peter asked Jesus, “How many times should I forgive someone who wrongs me,” Jesus answered, “Seventy Times Seven.” From the cross on which he was dying, Jesus forgave the people who put him to death. And who can forget the story of the Prodigal Son, who rejected his family but comes home and is reconciled with his father?
The entire mission and purpose of Jesus, as the Messiah, the anointed one, was to reconcile humanity with God because humanity had sinned against God. The biblical narrative of redemption by reconciliation should not just be something we hear about in Church, but should be an example of how we should live our lives in relation to other people. God’s relationship with us is the template for human relationships. God is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger, long suffering and of great goodness as described in multiple places in scripture. Since humanity was created in God’s image, that’s how all of us should be, too. God forgives us our sins and expects us to forgive those who sin against us. Jesus came to reconcile sinful humanity with the divine and unending love of God. So should we strive to do that with other people.
Let Jesus call you out of the darkness of spiritual blindness into the light of his face, and you will experience the true sense of peace that you that will far exceed the false peace that comes from living by human ideas that did not come from God, in particular, rejecting other people. I’ve suffered plenty of rejection in my life. Those experiences have not only taught me to go out of my way not to do that to others, but to forgive and to reconcile. If you want true peace, let the reconciliation of God and humanity through Jesus message you in an overwhelmingly powerful way that overshadows the messages of contemporary culture. That happens when you open your eyes to see the face of Jesus in other people.
Therefore, let Jesus alone be the light of your world. Be children of light, not children of darkness. Live in the light of spiritual awareness, not spiritual darkness. When you are in spiritual darkness, the Devil goes to work, encouraging people to do things in secret they would rather not do openly. Don’t ever be afraid to shine light into places where those who do evil would rather you not do so. When you turn a blind eye to something that is not right, you put yourself in spiritual darkness by abdicating your moral responsibility to love your neighbor as yourself. Always let the light of God shine upon you, and keep your eyes open and focused on Jesus, who is the light of the world. AMEN.