The man born blind

We are afflicted so that the works of God might be displayed [1]

This ‘displaying’ of the God’s goodness happens in many different ways.   Prayer, calm endurance, steady coping with the crisis of the moment, the seeking and generous giving of help: these and other responses to trouble can enable a glimpsing of the divine love and purposes.  The man born blind sought no miracle. He asked for nothing.  It was the disciples who detected a puzzle in the difficult life he was living.  Why had he been dealt so challenging a hand?   Yet perhaps appearances were deceptive.  This man was at peace. Interiorly there was openness to what the creator might decide.  Now here is an astonishing thing. He has opened my eyes and you (the experts) do not know where he comes from [2].  In coping with life the man born blind had learned to accept what God could do for him.  The Son approaches; there is a cleansing in water; and then the light.  Christ has led the human race that walked in darkness into the radiance of the faith and has brought those born in slavery to ancient sin through the water of regeneration to make them your (the Father’s) adopted children [3].  Lent allows us, despite everything, a quietly joyful preparation for Easter, which we will celebrate the more profoundly because of the suffering we are traversing. The paschal candle will be lowered into the water and then be lifted up triumphantly.  Christ our light is displayed descending into death and then rising again. Those who are let down into the water of baptism go with Jesus into the grave and rise with him in glory.  Wake up from your sleep, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you [4].

We turn to the Lord in our troubles and difficulties.  In him is our reliable hope of healing and resurrection.  In our afflictions, God is made manifest.  We are lowered in order to be raised up so that the works of God might be displayed.  This consoling truth is sometimes hard to share with others.  Our weakness makes us vulnerable to attack.  ‘Are you trying to teach us?’, they replied, ‘and you a sinner through and through, since you were born!’ And they drove him away [5].  The man born blind was convinced of the goodness of Jesus. He was sure that God listens to those who are devout and do his will [6].   Those who drove him away were not impressed by what he had to say about Lord.  They thought him a sinner and his testimony unreliable.  They hurled abuse at him [7].  Jesus, who had conferred sight on him, sought him out after he had been rebuffed.  He asked of this new friend who had spoken well of him to others.  ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ [8] To his saviour the man said, ‘Lord, I believe’ and worshipped him [9].

The worship of God is joyful and grateful even in the most difficult times.  Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful all who were in mourning [10].  In the middle of Lent, in a time of affliction, amid all the prayer, penance and helping of others, there is the encouragement of a glimpse of the paschal light already bright ahead of us.  This light will be given to the catechumens at Easter wherever they are. Those who have been baptised are delighted by what the Lord has already achieved in us. So the blind man went off and washed himself and came away with his sight restored [11].  His gratitude for his enlightenment by Jesus increases as he understands more and more about what has happened to him.  He has met the Lord, has been touched by him and has undergone ritual purification. Lent similarly intensifies our joy and thankfulness as we enter more deeply into its truth.  What have you to say about him yourself now that he has opened your eyes [12].  Baptism enlightens us, purifies us and impels us to share joyfully the good news.

We could be held back from sharing our gratitude to Christ by the thought that people might object that we are sinners through and through [13].  Another inhibiting factor is our fear that we do not yet know enough to speak with much authority.  ‘Where is [14] Jesus’ people might ask us in what is happening to the world?  We might feel obliged, like the man born blind, to reply ‘I don’t know[15].  With the Lord’s help we have begun to see some things more clearly.  However we can feel far from competent to instruct anyone else.  We share some of the doubts of those who might assail us with: Are you trying to teach us?   At the thought of sharing with others our knowledge of Jesus, do we brace ourselves for the abuse which is surely about to be hurled?  Do we expect to be driven away like the healed sinner whose account of his enlightenment by the Lord was not accepted?  God does not see as man sees: man looks at appearances, but God looks at the heart [16].   Our confidence comes from our trust in the one who has made us and holds us in being.   We may not be impressing others very much, but our creator reads our heart and recognises the goodness he has placed there.

I am the light of the world [17], says our saviour.  He illuminates our life.  You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord [18].  When we encounter Christ, he enables us to understand the essential. For the effects of the light are seen in complete goodness and right living and truth [19].  Receiving his baptism, we accept him as our light. Anything illuminated turns into light [20].  Living as his baptised disciples we look at the suffering world with new eyes.  Christ will shine on you [21].  We now understand the need for salvation. There is a mission to share with others what we have received. We want to proclaim Christ as effectively as possible.  Our doing so cannot await our being as wise and eloquent as we would like to be. If we are asked where he is, we would like to be able to give good directions.  The question ‘Do you want to become his disciples too?’ [22] provokes diverse responses.  No doubt it is good to be able to cope with a rebuff.   The crisis of the moment and the suffering of the world need not entail a rejection of the good news.   In our trials, we are moved to trust the One who has promised to save us.  The troubles are there so that the works of God might be displayed [23].    In our affliction and anxiety we try to discover what the Lord wants of [24] us.  We make our immediate and strategic decisions in his light.  If I should walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear.  You are there with your crook and your staff with these you give me comfort [25].

Homily by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ

[1]        John 9.3

[2]        John 9.30

[3]        The Roman Missal Preface for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

[4]        Ephesians 5.14

[5]        John 9.34

[6]        John 9.31

[7]        John 9.28

[8]        John 9.35

[9]        John 9.38

[10]       Isaiah 66.10, introit for the Fourth Sunday Lent, Laetare Sunday

[11]       John 9.7

[12]        John 9.17

[13]        John 9.34

[14]        John 9.12

[15]        John 9.12

[16]        1 Samuel 16.7

[17]        John 9.5

[18]        Ephesians 5.8

[19]        Ephesians 5.9

[20]        Ephesians 5.13

[21]        Ephesians 5.14

[22]        John 9.27

[23]        John 9.3

[24]        Ephesians 5.10

[25]        Psalm (23) 22.4