As the Church celebrates the second scrutiny in the RCIA process this week, the Catechumens, the elect, are invited to declare their personal belief in Jesus, the one who has been sent. The scrutinies are not just for the catechumens, the elect, but also for us, the faith community who are reminded to look at our own living of our faith and again affirm our belief and acceptance of Jesus. The Scriptures for this Fourth Sunday of Lent are filled with imagery and irony as only John can give us.
The message is very challenging. With the man born blind, we are called to look at our own journey of conversion. The imagery central in today’s readings revolves around enlightenment, seeing, light, darkness, and coming to believe. The key in understanding John’s use of this imagery is that “seeing” in this Gospel is all about “believing.” In the Christian Scriptures, the word “believe” in its various forms appears 238 times. Ninety-eight of these occur in John’s Gospel. For John, seeing is believing, and believing takes place in the light, in the day.
In the first reading from Samuel, the stage is already being set. Verse 7 states, “Do not look on the appearance, for the Lord does not see as mortals see. The Lord looks on the Heart.” God has Samuel looking over Jesse’s sons to select which one will be anointed the next King, as Saul was unfaithful to his calling. Samuel is ready to anoint the first one presented, but God says no—God doesn’t judge by outward appearances, but looks beneath to the internal attitudes of the heart. In other words, God sees “FROM THE INSIDE OUT.”
We will find in the Gospel that this is a lesson that the Pharisees, Jesus’ critics, have not yet learned. Moreover, they present an attitude that says they don’t want to learn—they can’t let go of their external, religious practices and guidelines by which they measure everyone from their own self-righteous mind-set.
In the last part of the second reading from Ephesians, which is a portion from an ancient Baptismal hymn, we hear the call to “awake from sleep and Christ will shine in you.” We are also told in Ephesians 5:10 to “Be correct in your judgment of what pleases God.” We also must come to see as God sees, “from the inside out,” and not cling to our assumptions and judgments—judging by appearances.
This lesson is detailed for us in the 9th chapter of John’s Gospel, today’s story of the “Man Born Blind.” This is the sixth sign/miracle of Jesus in John’s Gospel where in the first twelve chapters John builds his Gospel around seven signs. The first is the miracle at the wedding at Cana. The last one will be heard next week—Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Today’s story focuses on this man, sightless from his birth, who is given sight by Jesus while the Pharisees, the religious authorities and Jesus’ staunchest critics—(who claim that they are able to see), question this miracle, doubt Jesus, and at the end of the story are really the ones who are blind. Moreover, it is clear that what blinds them is their own self-righteousness–they are so sure they are right because they are “disciples of Moses”–that they can’t see the Messiah who is right in front of them.
In John’s Chapter 9 we see that physical sight is never just physical. It goes deeper–it is a metaphor for spiritual insight and understanding. We are to understand that what is spoken of here is not physical sight but the journey by which this man comes to faith, to believe in Jesus. All along the journey as it is set forth in this chapter, we are challenged to look at our own journey–with its doubts, its assumptions, its judgmentalism–how we “play it safe” as the man’s parents did–how we do not take a stand, do not commit and stand for what we say we believe. Our hearts, inside, do not match the outside of our lives.
We see this growth, the conversion process in the Blind Man’s own words–he gradually comes to acknowledge the true identity of Jesus, the light of the world. In verse 11 he first calls Jesus “that man.” Then in verse 17 he calls Jesus “prophet.” In verse 33 he refers to Jesus as “the man from God,” and finally in verse 38, for him, Jesus is the “Son of Man” and Lord (in the Greek, the Kyrios), and he bows down before Jesus in worship.
In his encounter with Jesus, the man grows in faith, while Jesus’ critics remain concerned about the externals (Jesus make a mud paste and putting it on the man’s eyes on the SABBATH!) Their own false pietism prevents them from seeing what and who is with them. They refuse to believe that the miracle has occurred and thus they remain in the dark–refusing to “see” the light that has been sent into their midst.
The parents, on the other hand, try to stay on neutral ground–don’t get involved, don’t speak up, don’t stand for anything–they stay on the margin, the edge and make no commitment whatsoever out of fear and not wanting any repercussions. If we are at all serious about the conversion process in our own lives, we have to consider what is the message that this Gospel story wants us to hear–to really see and come to a deeper belief–to live it out in our own lives–so we too become a living flesh and blood Gospel.
It is too simplistic to say–well this account is about the forces of darkness, evil raging against the life of faith. Remember, we are trying to see as God sees–“from the inside out.” We also cannot simply reduce the story’s message to a confrontation with “social sin” in our world–how we are born into a broken world and how we confirm and extend that “social sin” with our own selfish choices.
Rather, we are here being called and challenged by this Gospel story to see through Jesus’ eyes, and doing that will change our usual ways of seeing and evaluating the reality within which we live. (DeWitt Jones would tell us that we have to change the lens through which we are viewing the world and its reality.)
The reading from Ephesians says, “Live as children of light” (children is plural)–our personal conversion to Jesus’ way of seeing implies being part of a community of disciples whose corporate witness challenges the powers of darkness. In the first reading from Samuel we hear how “people do not see as God sees, because people see (and too often judge) the appearance, while God looks into the heart.” God sees in our hearts where we are halfhearted in our response, where our hearts are divided. This Gospel’s message is a serious warning to us lest we betray Jesus’ message with pious, shallow, superficial language and behavior that avoids Jesus’ call to life-giving service–to be, as he was, one who is “sent”–as the blind man was also sent. (That’s what the word for the pool means: “sent.”)
John loves to use irony and a play on words. Let me sum up this Gospel story’s message by sharing with you some of the questions that are shared with the catechumens, the elect at this scrutiny, because these questions are as much for the community of believers as they are for those seeking membership in this community. This week, ask yourself these questions:
- Where and in what ways does our world and society experience darkness?
- Where is our vision “blurred” in our culture? (not seeing honestly, authentically, or living with an attitude of indifference, content with the social sin around us)
- In our own life what keeps us blind, in the darkness?
- What is my/your own blindness? Do I know the blind spots in my life? Do I/we know what we need in order to really see?
- How (in what concret, honest ways) have I/we been moving into the light?
- What would be the words that show the growth in my own journey of conversion?
Only as we wrestle with the tough questions will we come, as the blind man did, to be able to acknowledge Jesus as “Son of Man,” the Lord and Christ, and be able to “bow down in worship.”