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4th Sunday in Lent – Year A (March 30th) E-mail
Written by Nicholas King SJ   
Saturday, 15 February 2014 16:28

•    1 Samuel 16: 1, 6-7, 10-13
•    Psalm 23:1-6
•    Ephesians 5:8-14
•    John 9:1-41

One of the things that happen to us during Lent, if the season goes well for us, is that we are shown something of the extent of our blindness. Next Sunday is mid-Lent Sunday, when traditionally we relax our austerities; but that does not exempt us from reflecting prayerfully upon the readings.

In the first reading, it is the prophet Samuel who is blind; he has to be told to stop grieving for Saul (whom he had anointed King, it must be said, under God’s instructions), and to anoint someone else, one of the sons of King Jesse, in Bethlehem. Naturally he supposed that it was the eldest and tallest, but had to be taught that this was his blindness, and that the one to anoint was the boy who (as in African households) is looking after the sheep – and we give in to mild astonishment as we hear that “the Spirit of God rushed upon David”.

If David was looking after sheep, that is how God appears in the psalm for next Sunday, the much-loved 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd”, with its glorious vision of the unfailing presence of God, even in “the Valley of the Shadow of Death”, even “as my enemies watch”.

The second reading, with its interplay of “light” and “darkness”, continues the theme; five times the idea of “light” is mentioned (more if you include ideas like “reveal” and “illuminate” and even “resurrect”), but darkness only twice. That should give us hope for the coming week.

The gospel is one of those long and beautifully crafted stories that we find in the fourth Gospel. There is too much to say about it; but one way of looking at it is to see it as two journeys, one out of blindness into sight, and the other, out of apparent sightedness to unmistakable darkness. To take the first (and more significant) journey first, that of the man born blind: he is there, and Jesus sets the scene by proclaiming, what we already knew, that “I am the light of the world”; then he uses saliva to create mud, and puts it on the blind man’s eyes, and tells him to go and wash in the pool Siloam. Quite undramatically, the evangelist reports “he came back, seeing”. But the man has a way to go still, as he is interrogated by various people, and simply responds each time with the truth. The religious authorities ask him for his verdict on Jesus, and he gives it: “he is a prophet”. This, of course, is not enough for them, so they interrogate his parents, who are not going to get involved. So they get the once blind man back again for another going-over. Sounding like the officials of any totalitarian regime, they exhort him to “Give glory to God – we know that this man is a sinner”. However the blind man now has his eyes wide open, and challenges them stoutly, “I have no idea whether he is a sinner – all I know is that I was blind, and now I have my sight”. They question him again as to how it happened, and he asks if they are contemplating becoming disciples of Jesus! When they announce that “we don’t know where he’s from”, the blind man is very clear-eyed indeed: “Now there is a remarkable thing – you don’t know where he’s from, and yet he opened my eyes!...If he were not from God, he couldn’t do anything.” His journey into sight has still a little further to go, however, for he has to sort out who Jesus is. Jesus catches up with him, and asks the all-important question, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He is now utterly switched-on, and says, eagerly, “Who is that, Lord, that I may believe in him?”, and gets the powerful answer, which finally removes all blindness: “You have seen him, and the one speaking to you – that’s the one,” and we applaud as the once blind man responds “I believe, Lord”, and the evangelist adds “and he worshipped him”.

Contrast that, now with the assorted blindness in the rest of the story: there is the blindness of the disciples: they asked whose fault it was that the man was blind; there is the blindness of the passers-by, unable to decide if it was really him; and there is the blindness of the parents, who out of fear refuse to give any comment at all. Worst of all, however, is the blindness of the religious establishment, with their dreadful and, it has to be said, blasphemous, certainties about what could and could not be from God. Their journey comes to a terrible climax at the end of the story, when they overhear Jesus describing his mission as “so that those who do not see may see, and the sighted may become blind”, and ask “We’re not blind, are we?”, to which Jesus responds, “If you had been blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying ‘We can see’, your sin is permanent.” This week we are invited to look at that embarrassing question: how blind are we?