Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, April 3, 2011 - 4th Sunday of Lent, The Healing of the Blind Man, Fr. Clifford, SJ



From ancient times, the church has chosen three great narratives from John’s Gospel for the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent. Last week, we heard about the woman at the well. Today we hear about the healing of the man born blind.

Why these readings? Because during Lent, people are preparing for Baptism and the passages are appropriate, for those being initiated into the faith will be baptized at the Easter Vigil. But the readings also help us all reflect on our identity as baptized Christians in the world. The readings are long, but I have chosen not to abbreviate them lest we miss the power of the story. In these longish narratives John invites us both to observe how people come to faith and then to grow along with them into a deeper appreciation of who Jesus is for us. As he says at the end of his gospel, John has written so that, "you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that through this belief you may have faith in his name" (20:31). Today, with the example of the man born blind, we have another opportunity for a personal encounter with Jesus and to experience a deeper knowledge of him for this moment of our lives.

The miraculous healing of the blind man comes quickly in the narrative. Jesus goes over to the him, anoints his eyes with the mud made from his saliva and tells him to wash at the Pool of Siloam. The man does and gains his sight. But that’s just the beginning. To receive physical sight in the Scriptures is a symbol for gaining spiritual sight–faith. As the Letter to the Ephesians puts it today, "You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord." Through his death Jesus has destroyed the powers of darkness. Faith has opened our eyes; now we see and are called to, "Live as children of light...."

We will note throughout the story how the man’s faith grows. It will be a spur to our own deepening in faith. The blind man’s healing represents the first moments of faith for all of us. Fuller sight doesn’t come immediately. His new sight must grow and so must ours, after being enlightened in baptismal washing.

Notice the exchange between Jesus and his disciples at the beginning of the story. They asked him, "Rabbi who sinned this man or his parents?" The popular belief at the time was that sickness, or any affliction, was the result of sin. People still tend to draw the conclusion when sickness or tragedy hits them. They say things like, "I must have done something wrong because God is punishing me." It’s difficult enough to struggle through hard times; we should not be thinking that God is the source of our troubles. By his miracles and, especially in today’s story, Jesus reveals that God has joined us in our struggles and afflictions and desires our well-being.

When he receives his sight the man immediately has his faith tested by Jesus’ enemies – and so do we. John describes the testing process the man undergoes. The onlookers start the process; then he is questioned by the Pharisees (they threaten him with expulsion from the synagogue); finally he meets Jesus again and Jesus puts the final and most important question to him: "Do you believe in the Son of Man." The man answers, "I do believe Lord." That’s as big a statement of faith as we get in the New Testament.

None of us coasts through life on the faith we had when we were young, or when we first converted. Life tests us and, during those testing periods, we are repeatedly asked, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" Each time we are asked we respond as the man did when Jesus asked the same question, "Who is he Sir, that I may believe?" We meet Jesus anew at each important stage and milestone of our lives.

Jesus takes on newer and varied identities for us as we mature. Sometimes we need him for guidance for difficult life-altering decisions. Other times we turn to him for healing at our broken moments. After a period of wandering we return to him and ask his forgiveness. We face injustices and we need him as strength, so we can make things right. We are in failing health or we are aging and we need his strength to help us on our journey. The list could go on. More than once we also ask, "Who are you sir) that I may believe?" His answer at the current point of our encounter with him is, "You have seen him and the one speaking with you is he." At a new point in our faith journey we can profess, as the blind man did at his later encounter with Christ, "I do believe Lord." And that too is about as big an act of faith as we can make.

We have received sight, we have been washed at the baptismal pool and so we have to be ready to give our own accounting of what has happened to us – just as the blind man did. We must be prepared to put into plain and personal language who Jesus is for us and what difference our faith in him makes in our lives. When the blind man identified who cured him to the religious authorities his response put him at odds with them and "they threw him out." There are consequences for bold witnesses to who Jesus is and what he has done for us.

The man started in darkness and then, because of Jesus, he began to see. As he was questioned and challenged his response about Jesus grew more profound and insightful. First, he refers to "the man called Jesus." Then he tells the Pharisees, "He is a prophet." Later he says to them that Jesus must be from God and finally he confesses full faith to Jesus himself. He went stage by stage, from darkness to light, as he met challenges and opposition.

We don’t earn our faith. We don’t make it grow. But the story tells us that we are not left on our own to face the challenges that might weaken or threatened our faith. Quite the contrary, in the very struggle Christ seeks us out to strengthen and confirm our faith in him. He did it for the blind man and he does it for us.

[I am indebted to Fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.]

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