Sunday, March 30, 2014

Year A Fourth Sunday of Lent

Readings: 1 Sam 16:1b.6-7.10-13a; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

“I was blind and I now I see,” words from the Gospel and words from what is probably the most well-known English hymn. (John 9:25). Like those who questioned the formerly blind man, many who have not encountered Jesus ask those who now “see,” perhaps with a bit of suspicion, Who is this Jesus? Well, our readings from Scripture today tell us that He is the Anointed One, the Messiah, which is what the title "Christ" means. He is the Good Shepherd, who not only laid down His life for His sheep, but, by the power of His love for us, took it up again, and then sent His Holy Spirit in order to remain present in and among us until He returns again.

Who is Jesus? He is the Anointed One, the Messiah, which is what the title "Christ" means. He is the Good Shepherd, who not only laid down His life for His sheep, but, by the power of His love for us, took it up again, and then sent His Holy Spirit in order to remain present in and among us until He returns again.

The main themes found in our readings for this Fourth Sunday of Lent are light and anointing. Given that today we celebrate the Second Scrutiny for our Elect, that is, for those women and men in our parish who will be baptized, confirmed, and receive Holy Communion for the first time at the Paschal Vigil, these themes are most appropriate.

If I were to give you a bottom-line-up-front for today’s readings, it would be Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. He is God’s Anointed One. He is the Good Shepherd, who takes magnificent care of those who belong to Him. Like the blind man in today’s Gospel, it is our encounter with Jesus that allows us to see ourselves for who we are: God’s beloved, which makes it an event that changes everything! Encountering Jesus Christ is what allows us to engage reality according to all the factors that make it up. The most fundamental fact of my life and yours is that God loves us, or, another way of putting it: God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it.

In an article on Lent, written a number of years ago, our own Owen Cummings cited an Ash Wednesday sermon delivered by Fr. Harry Williams:
It is a pity that we think of Lent as a time when we try to make ourselves uncomfortable in some fiddling but irritating way. And it’s more than a pity, it’s a tragic disaster, that we also think of it as a time to indulge in the secret and destructive pleasure of doing a good orthodox grovel to a pseudo-Lord, the Pharisee in each of us we call God and who despises the rest of what we are
My dear friends in Christ, Lent is not about making ourselves good enough for God through strenuous effort. As St Paul stated it, the Father “made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). As a result, Lent is about our desire to be drawn deeper into the love of God, into the very life shared by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the life we received in baptism and which God strengthened when we were confirmed. I don’t mind invoking again an insight by James Kushiner:
Practicing a "discipline won’t bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out-of-the-way so you are open to His grace"
So, by all means, let’s persist in our prayer, fasting, acts of selfless service, and even our penances, through which we let Jesus know that we value His friendship above all else. As we do this, let’s help each other remember that these are acts of hope and of gratitude and not ways making ourselves more pleasing to God or more righteous than others.



Jesus doesn’t just come to bring the light, He is the light. As we read in the breathtaking prologue to St. John Gospel, The Word, the Logos, Jesus Christ, is “The true light [who] enlightens everyone” (John 1:9). Elsewhere in the so-called “Johannine corpus,” which is an academic way of referring to the New Testament books that include the Gospel According to St John, and the First, Second, and Third Letters of John, we read this:
Now this is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you: God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7)
One question that arises from today’s Gospel reading is why did Jesus choose to heal the man’s blindness in such a bizarre way? I think recent Catholic convert and former Presbyterian minister, Jason Stellman, brilliantly described what Jesus did for the blind man in today’s Gospel by spitting in the dirt and then rubbing it on his eyes before having him wash in the pool, which washing is clearly a reference, even if an oblique one, to the fundamental sacrament of baptism. Stellman wrote:
We live in a sacramental economy where spiritual blessings are communicated through physical things, where grace is not destroying nature but elevating it (kind of like how Christ’s divine nature did not destroy his human nature, but elevated it), where man is being divinized, and where the entire cosmos has been infused with a supernatural homesickness and longing to be liberated... from its bondage to decay
Today Jesus urges us, as members of His Mystical Body, the Church- “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and [I] will give you light” (Eph 5:14).

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