Fourth Sunday of Lent – A Fr. Rick Sherman Homily
March 22, 2020
John 9:1-41; Ephesians 5:8-14
(Please begin by humming Amazing Grace)
There are many theological lessons and insights to be gleaned from this familiar story of the man born blind who was then healed by Jesus. As we are all born into Original Sin, or ‘concupiscence’ which is the condition which lends us to a tendency toward sin, we could say that we are all born blind. We are born into a world of distortion and confusion which is a result of humans trying to impose their own order of life onto God’s order of Creation. We are in a sense fumbling in the dark and collectively this darkness or fog has become our new ‘normal’. Good or bad, once we have become accustomed or habituated to a certain condition or world view, it is usually scary or threatening to try to change. As such, it’s common for people in darkness to resist the light, just as a bright sunny day may be an unwelcomed intrusion to one waking from a deep, but all too short of a slumber. Ahhhh!#* The change is most threatening to those who have become most adept at functioning in the dark. Some thrive on confusion and distortion in order to gain some advantage.
The blind man is directed to go wash (a baptism?) at the pool of Siloam, which means ‘sent’. When he returns (sent back) to the village he is immediately confronted by his neighbors and pressed for an explanation for this miraculous cure. There is some confusion as to whether this man is actually the one born blind with whom they were familiar or is it someone who just looks like him. His cure was already a bit of a threat because it was a cultural belief that any ailments were a result of someone’s sin, either of the afflicted or of an ancestor. It is as if to be free of the ailment, one must also be free from sin. Who can do that?! The religious leaders, here the Pharisees, were particularly threatened by this departure from the routine and immediately accused Jesus of infidelity by curing on the Sabbath. The familiarity and limitations of human understanding were threatened by God’s understanding of the situation. Recall that Jesus told his disciples that He was sent by God to be the light of the world and that the works of God may be made visible. The true order of Creation and God’s presence and power is much different than the foggy, confused state of humanity.
It’s interesting that when the parents of the man born blind were queried, they could only say that ‘yes’ this was their son, but would not venture an opinion about how he was cured for ‘fear of the Jews’ They clearly anticipated a strong and even violent resistance from the religious authorities to the Truth. It’s also noteworthy that the blind man was a beggar because the parents rejected the son and his unclean, unworthy state of sin which was personified by the blindness. Like all the afflicted, they became a sort of scapegoat for the sins of the whole culture. There were enormous, culture shaking implications to this healing done by one who claimed to be sent from God.
The rather obvious Lenten lesson to be gotten from this gospel is that since we are all born blind, hopelessly afflicted with concupiscence, we need the grace of Baptism and the direct intervention of God in order to see or be cleansed from sin. During baptism we are all commissioned into the orders of priest, prophet and king and thereby SENT out to proclaim that we once were lost and now have been found, we once were blind and now we see. The more credible and compelling our proclamation the more threatening we might be to neighbors, friends and family. “Who is this, it looks like the old Rick, but there is a huge difference”?! What the heyyyy? The light we now shine on others might be a threat to those most comfortable with the darkness or the fog. Just when we might finally be comfortable with our cynicism and our limited human world view, then, DARN IT, somebody goes and shines the light!!#*
We all live with a bunch of cultural and self-designed assumptions that are not from God. They are our ‘normal’ and our comfort level. Any disruption, even if it’s the TRUTH will be a threat to our sense of perceived security and control. When our world views or sense of control are threatened it seems to be our distorted human nature to blame someone else for the new reality or ‘abnormality.’ “Is it his sin or that of his parents?” Or is it the fault of the government, or this party or that party, or this generation or that generation? When confronted with an inevitable and unwelcomed change, we seem to move into stages of outright denial or the blame game.
Why can’t we test more people for the virus? Why isn’t there a vaccine yet? Where did this virus start? Did someone start it on purpose? Who’s hoarding the sanitizer and the toilet paper? How come the school systems can’t compensate more quickly for the many snags and tears in our social fabric (that has been fraying for decades)? Who will bail us all out of the hopelessly unsustainable consumer driven economy that we have literally bought into for decades? Who will benefit from the massive POSSIBLE financial losses incurred by so many and who will even resurface with big bonuses? Who sinned?!!! Who will dim the lights so that we can return to our collective and cultural illusions?
All the above questions are perhaps warranted and will likely get addressed eventually. In the beginning of the gospel Jesus stated that the man was born blind so that ‘the works of God could be made visible through him.’ This is not particularly comforting when we are floundering around in the unknown; but, it’s the real presence and authority of God that will give us a foundation to recover from whatever calamity and chaos emerge out of human arrogance and confusion and perhaps just natural biological inevitabilities.
As Christians, we know that times of confusion and fear and suffering are times when people might be most open to the Light that we have been commissioned to bring into the world. A world-wide pandemic and economic calamities are indeed a very fertile time to REdiscover the Truth that we are all in the same boat; we are all in this together. No one is completely innocent and no one is the whole blame? A reread of today’s second reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians is to the point: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth….Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them … ‘awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’
(It’s now time to hum a few more bars of Amazing Grace)