Sunday, March 19, 2023

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

Looking at Samuel's response to the LORD's prompting to head to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse to find and anoint Israel's new king in our first reading, we see that it was only after Samuel considered six of Jesse's seven sons that he found God's anointed in the seventh. Through the prophet, God, in characteristic fashion, chose the least among them even though, biblically speaking, seven is the number of completeness.

This was necessitated by the dramatic flameout of Israel’s first king, Saul, who, predictably, disobeyed God. Keep in mind that God acceded to Israel’s demand for a king because of the hardness of their hearts. In agreeing to anoint a king, God said to his prophet, Samuel, “You are not the one they are rejecting. They are rejecting me as their king.”1

This episode dramatically highlights the fact that God often (as in almost always) chooses the least likely person to accomplish his purposes. Of course, Jesus himself is the ultimate proof of this divine tendency. Why does God work this way? I think it's so that there is no doubt that it is God who accomplishes his work of creation and redemption. These are not two works, but one. Together these constitute the opus Dei, the work of God. While God wants us to join his work, it is God’s work and it will be accomplished with or without us- as Saul discovered.

You don't have to take my word to verify that God chooses the least likely people to accomplish his purposes, or even that of Sacred Scripture, just look around, not only at the Elect but at the rest of us. Don’t limit your view to those in the pews, but up here in front too. It’s easy to see what Paul wrote about and to the Church in ancient Corinth:
consider your own calling... Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption 2
Going all the way back to father Abraham, the people of God have always been a motley crew. According to the upside-down nature of God's Kingdom, being the least and lowly is the surest sign of election.

[11:30 AM MASS- My dear Tatiana, Don. and George you have been called by the Lord from darkness to live in the glory of his magnificent light, which illumines you from within and is the very power of the Holy Spirit. It is by means of the Holy Spirit that our risen Lord remains present, not just to us, but in and through us until he comes again. And so, heed the apostle's exhortation: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”3 ]

It has been observed that “original sin is the one verifiable Christian dogma.”4 Accordingly, in the most real sense, we are all born blind. Like the man Jesus heals by restoring his sight in today’s Gospel, there is a scriptural sense in which our blindness is not necessarily the result of either our sin or that of our parents. In his Letter to the Romans Saint Paul observed:
creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God5
This is wonderfully and gloriously sung about at the beginning of the upcoming Easter Vigil in that great and ancient hymn, the Exsultet:
O happy fault,
   that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!
My dear friends, through baptism and confirmation, Christ elects you. Like the blind man in today's Gospel, you are chosen so “that the works of God might be made visible through [you].”7 Your chosen-ness, like David's, is a mystery. You are chosen to bear witness to others about what Jesus has done for you and to invite them to meet the Savior that they, too, might see.

What can be frustrating about this, as Saint Paul discovered, is that Christ’s “power is made perfect in weakness.”8 Therefore, as his followers, you need to learn to gladly boast of your weaknesses. This is how the power of Christ can dwell in you. As Jesus said to those who boasted of their own strength, their own perceived righteousness, which we call self-righteousness: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.”9 Of course, the hallmark of self-righteousness is judging others.

Upon gaining spiritual sight, like the man in our Gospel, you see Jesus, who is the mercy of God. God’s mercy is the healing balm for what ails us. Experience of God’s mercy is what enables you both to see and then boast of your own weakness.

Christ’s healing mercy, often called grace, is given to us powerfully through the sacraments. Saint Ignatius of Antioch called the Eucharist “the medicine of immortality.”10 Fear of death is at the core of so much human dysfunction, the source of our existential angst. The Christian is the one who has experienced in and through Christ that love is stronger than death. Christ is resurrected because God is love. As a Christian, resurrection is more than just a belief in an event that happened a long time ago. Resurrection is what you live.

For Jesus, it is never what physically ails a person that is most in need of his healing touch. Rather, it is what ails one spiritually, in the very depths of your being, that he longs to heal. The most observable effect of this disease is the inability to love as Jesus loves. Overcoming this inability, this lack of grace, is a process, the process of conversion. To love as Jesus loves takes incredible strength, one might say a supernatural strength. As the late, great Rich Mullins sang: "It's hard to be like Jesus."11

The blind man in our Gospel exemplifies the person who is enlightened by her/his initial encounter with Jesus. And who, only after experiencing trials, develops “a much more profound faith.”12 It is by sticking with Jesus through life’s ups and downs that you come not only to see him evermore clearly but to become more Christlike. Eugene Peterson, it seems to me, was correct when he insisted that following Jesus is “a long obedience in the same direction.”13

1 1 Samuel 8:7.
2 1 Corinthians 1:26-27.
3 Ephesians 5:14.
4 James Martin, S.J. Jesus: A Pilgrimage, 100.
5 Romans 8:20-21.
6 Roman Missal, “The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night,” sec. 19.
7 John 9:3.
8 2 Corinthians 12:9.
9 Matthew 9:12.
10 Saint Ignatius of Antioch. Letter to the Ephesians 20:2.
11 Rich Mullins. "Hard."
12 Raymond E. Brown. An Introduction to the New Testament, 348.
13 Eugene Peterson. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.

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