Sunday, April 3, 2011

Experience is to moralism what spirit is to letter

This week I offer something of an old-fashioned exposition on our Sunday Gospel. Hopefully this gives both my readers a solid basis to think about and explore what relevance this has to our individual lives, our family lives, and our life together as God's family, the ekklesia, or Church, which, consisting as it does of all the baptized, is not merely co-extensive with the Catholic Church. Perhaps sometime I'll take up this very complex passage from Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (a.k.a. Lumen Gentium):

This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity. (par. 8- underlining emphasis mine)
Reading: John chapter 9

The innocence and simplicity of the blind man Jesus healed, who we read about today from John's Gospel, is very moving. When he was asked by those who recognized him as the formerly blind beggar, "How were your eyes opened?" he told of his experience with no embellishment: "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' So I went there and washed and was able to see." Upon hearing this they took him to what appear to be the leaders of the local synagogue, to which his parents belonged, to discuss his healing and to deal with the fact that Jesus did it on the Sabbath.

When asked by the "Pharisees" to tell them what happened, the man simply said, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see". This caused a division among the Pharisees with some saying that Jesus could not possibly be someone sent by God "because he does not keep the sabbath", whereas others wondered, "How can a sinful man do such signs?" So, they asked the formerly blind beggar what he had to say about Jesus. Like the Samaritan woman at the well in last week's Gospel, his initial response was that Jesus, "is a prophet". Despite all of this we are told that "the Jews did not believe" that the man had truly been blind and regained his sight.

Their disbelief caused them to summon the formerly blind man's parents to testify that he had been blind from birth and now could see. They testified that he was born blind and could now see, but that they did not know how or by whom he gained his sight. This at least brought these men to acknowledge what had occurred. There is an indication here that the man's parents knew that their son claimed to have been healed by Jesus, but were afraid to say so because anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah would be thrown out of the synagogue. So, in today's terms, they threw their son under the bus, saying, "Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself" and, a short time later, "He is of age; question him".

So, the Pharisees, having overcome their division and having been forced to acknowledge the miracle, tell the man, "Give God the praise. We know this man is a sinner". "This man," of course, is Jesus. The beauty of the simplicity of the former blind beggar is once again shown when he responds, "If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see". The Pharisees ask him to again relate what happened to him. One can only surmise, but one reason they would ask him to tell what happened again was to see if they could discredit the event, his encounter. His reply, while still innocent and without guile, is bolder: "I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?" At this suggestion they begin to ridicule him: "You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from."

Gaining in boldness, the formerly blind beggar retorts, "This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything". This aroused their indignation, which they thought was righteous. So, referring to his being born blind, which they attributed to sin, they responded, "You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?" We know from Jesus' answer to the question by his disciples at the beginning of the chapter about whether the man was blind because of his own sins or those of his parents that "Neither he nor his parents sinned". He was blind, according to Jesus, "so that the works of God might be made visible through him" (showing us explicitly that God uses everything that happens to us to draw us closer to Himself, thus allowing us- not forcing us- to give witness to "the light of the world"). "Then," the Gospel tells us, "they threw him out."

Upon learning that he had been expelled from the synagogue, Jesus went to him and, finding him, asked the man, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" Understanding that Jesus was referring to the Messiah, again, like the woman at the well last week, the man, showing that he had not yet fully gained his sight, with great simplicity, asks Jesus, "Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" One can almost hear the tenderness when Jesus says to him, "You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he." The man responds, saying, "I do believe, Lord," and then proceeds to worship Jesus. After this, Jesus says, "I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind."

Hearing this the Pharisees ask Jesus, in a very self-serving manner, "Surely we are not also blind, are we?" Meaning, "You are not really saying here in front of everyone that we, the leaders of the synagogue, are blind in the way you just described?" Jesus, catching their drift and engaging in a little rhetorical equivocation, tells them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, 'We see,' so your sin remains." In other words, Jesus is telling them, "You are in an even worse state than those who see and become blind because you see and refuse to acknowledge what unfolds before your very eyes."

Let those who have eyes see; let those who have ears hear.

Meum cum sim pulvis et cinis

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