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THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT-LAETARE (ORD TIME A)
The Man Born Blind (Jn 9:1-41)
Chapter nine of John’s Gospel is a major exposition of what Jesus means when he says ‘I am the light of the world’. Jesus actually healed that poor unfortunate man who never even asked him to do so: blindness from birth was incurable. Jesus put a solution of mud and spittle on his eyes and told him to wash it off in the Pool of Siloam, some distance down the valley from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The pool is still there today. The man obeyed and was cured.
The Story Unfolds
We get no immediate reaction from the man himself. He simply identifies him-self to those who questioned whether he were the same man as the blind beggar they knew. He repeated what had happened to him and named Jesus as the person responsible for his cure. But he did not yet know who Jesus was. Then the Pharisees enter on the scene, and the exchange with them becomes a polemic. This healing had taken place on the Sabbath day so it could not have been according to the will of God. Only if life were endangered could cures be performed on the Sabbath. So they protest. This provides the formerly blind man with the occasion to give his opinion to these learned lawyers, divided as they are among themselves: Jesus is a prophet. He stands by his faith in public.
Now the Pharisees, or ‘the Jews’ as the text names them, thought there could have been a case of mistaken identity concerning the cured man. They summon his parents to get the matter sorted out. These serve up the truthful information about their son’s blindness from birth, but they are too scared of the Pharisees to take the matter further. They were afraid of being ousted from the synagogue. That was the equivalent of a boycott; they would lose all access to the benefits and social security the synagogue guaranteed. So they let their son take care of his own defence.
Then the situation turns nasty. The Pharisees declare that they know that Jesus is a sinner. The healed man refuses to discuss that with them; he insists on the reality of his experience. And because of their obtusely negative persistence he is able to turn the tables on them. Growing in confidence he asks: Would you like to be his disciples? This unleashes a torrent of abuse from them. They declare sureness in their knowledge of Moses and what he had taught them. Now the cured man, never having been able to read, gives them a sophisticated lesson in how to interpret the phenomena played out before their eyes. They do not like it and respond by throwing him out, presumably from the synagogue. St.John makes the lesson clear: a similar fate awaits all those converts who belong to the Johannine community. They must pay dearly for their faith.
The Return of Jesus
When Jesus is reintroduced to the scene he continues with the catechesis of the cured man. He discloses to him who he is. The man who was sure a prophet had cured him now adores this same prophet as the Light of the world and the Son of God. The progress to the fullness of faith is complete.
St.John has placed this chapter immediately after a lethal dispute in which the Jews had said that Jesus was possessed by the devil (ch.8), and before the chapter in which Jesus is presented as The Good Shepherd (ch.10). The cure of the man born blind shows the shocking falsity of the first accusation and a marvellous illustration of the loving care of the Good Shepherd. Chapter nine highlights what suffering Christians in those days underwent.
But the suffering continues. On mothering Sunday many will think that a loving mother is the light of their world. But too many mothers suffer terribly. MaterCare International is one institution that helps them, specially in the developing world. It is so obvious that the future of humanity depends on mothers bringing children into the world and loving them especially in the context of family life. Christians maintain their faith in all of this despite the ever growing opposition. Constant prayer privately and in community is foundational for them. We must constantly ask ourselves: what makes our institutions good? Surely most of us would not be happy just to answer that our schools taught us professional expertise, or that our nursing homes were rigorously efficient by the best secular standards. Surely we would want to say that our Christian institutions, and first of all our families, confirmed us also in understanding what it is to be a true human being, what it is to care for others generously and expertly and be cared for by others with all generosity and expertise. Equally importantly they helped us to understand love, to make friends, to believe in goodness, to respect the less privileged, to think that there is no conflict between being professional and being kind. They soothed our sorrow; they wiped away our tears. They did not throw the less acceptable among us out of our synagogue! They showed us compassion. They helped us to hope. Is not that what loving mothers want to do and be for their families?
The cured blind man saw Our Lord’s face, and he saw things the way Our Lord saw them. A wonderful beautiful world was disclosed to him. He received and perceived with his faith, the Way, the Truth and the Life. This is a very encouraging Gospel episode to contemplate on Laetare Sunday. The first face most of us remember, when we came into this world, is that of our loving mother, who saw us before we were able to realize that our whole life, from its very beginning, depended on her fidelity and her love. Jesus, the light of the world, knew this. His penultimate words as he was dying on the cross according to John’s gospel was: woman behold thy son, son behold thy mother, and from that time he (the disciple) took her into his own home (Jn 19:27). When all was consummated Jesus died. Many have died like that- they wanted their mother as they left this world for the next. How reassuring this should be for mothers. And mothering Sunday is designed to encourage them. A happy feast to you all. Amen.
Rev Richard J. Taylor