Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A
1 Samuel 16:1b; 6-7; 10-13a
This is the story of the anointing of David as the king chosen by God. Note that the Spirit rushed upon (leaped up in) him. This is a statement made of prophets. It speaks of God working within him. The guidance of God’s Spirit is very different from human guidance.
In this selection, Paul reminds us that we should live as the children of the light that we are. Where he uses the concepts of darkness and light, the Gospel will use the concepts of blindness and seeing to speak of this.
If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.Jn 9:41
The story of the Man Born Blind is a story of a man coming to faith in a milieu that was determined to undermine him. It comes after several stories of the rejection of Jesus which begin at the end of Chapter 6, the “bread” stories, with their Eucharistic imagery. In Chapters 7 and 8, some people begin to believe in Jesus, but the leaders of the Jewish people become hardened against Him.
It is appropriate that Chapter 6 concentrated on the Eucharist since it is central to Christianity. In this chapter, we focus on the imagery of Baptism, the entry point to the Eucharist. The man born blind is anointed, not with Chrism, but with clay. He washes in the pool called Siloam which means the pool of the one who is sent.
The man born blind was sent to the pool by the one sent from God. Like all Christians today, he is baptized into the mission of the Church. He is, therefore sent, and his mission is made clear in verse three; “it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” For what portion of the mission of the Church might I have been baptized?
It was not easy for the man to carry out his mission but the struggles he endured became the springboard for his mission, if only for the reason that he had the courage to stick to the truth. It is important though to recognize that he did not have the fullness of faith when he washed in the pool of Siloam.
Some might think that it is necessary to have full knowledge and faith before submitting to Baptism. This man did not. He trusted Jesus and washed, but his faith developed as he lived out his new-found sight. The first time he told the authorities about Jesus, Jesus was “that man”. The next time he deduced that he must have been a prophet. Finally, when he spoke to Jesus again, he accepted him as the Son of Man and God. How has our faith grown and/or matured since our baptism?
The Pharisees, on the other hand, couldn’t grow in faith because they were not open to any other truth than the one they thought they possessed. They had been taught the Law, they had lived it and they believed observance of the Law was the way to salvation; who can blame them? But, it was in their certainty that they were found at fault. Jesus said to them, “…you are saying ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” Jn 9:41b How do we remain faithful to the truth and stay open to the fullness of the truth into which Jesus said the Holy Spirit would lead us? (Jn 14:26 & 16:13)
We know the man born blind accepted Jesus as God because Scripture says “he worshipped him.” What does this mean in terms of ancient times? Did he fall on his knees and put his face to the ground? Remember that in the story of the Woman at the Well, which we had last week, Jesus said God wants people to worship Him in Spirit and in truth. The way we worship God in Spirit and truth today, as the first Christians did, is to participate in the Mass; we make an offering of ourselves to serve the mission and then live that offering out in our day-to-day lives. That’s how the Mass is an act of worship. Do I truly believe? Do I believe enough to worship Him?
“While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see. Jn 9:5-7
What words or phrases struck you during the Liturgy of the Word on Sunday? What connection do those words or phrases have to your day-to-day life? (Why do you think they struck you?) What might God be trying to say to you through these words or phrases? What response should you make? What action should you take?
How does the way I live my life demonstrate my belief in the Son of Man? How do I worship Him? (Remember from last week’s Gospel that God wants people who will worship Him in Spirit and in truth.) What elements in our world try to silence the truth that Jesus wants us to see? How do I demonstrate the courage shown by the man born blind? Where is today’s Pool of Siloam where I can wash the clay from my eyes?
Verse by Verse
Jn 9:2 “…who sinned, this man or his parents…” | It was commonly held, in ancient Judaism, that physical maladies were the result of sin. For us, it seems obvious that it wasn’t his own sin that caused his blindness but some ancient rabbis taught that a person could sin in the womb. Scripture tells us that children will be punished for the sins of their fathers, Ex 20:5, Ex 34:7, De 5:9, De 24:16 and Nu 14:18. Be careful, though. God does not choose punishment for us. These scriptures point to what we understand today, sins carry their own punishment and sometimes that affects future generations.
Jn 9:3 “…Neither he nor his parents sinned…” | Jesus shows that physical maladies are not always the result of sin.
Jn 9:3 “…It is so that…” | Our translation might be taken to imply that God caused this man’s blindness so that his works could be shown. The Greek word does not necessarily imply intentionality. But, the ancient world felt that everything was caused by God, even things that, today, we would consider an evil. It might be better, though, to interpret this as this man’s blindness offering an opportunity to show the mighty works of God.
Jn 9:4-5 | The night/day and light/darkness theme shows Jesus being the light, while he is on earth. His light, his preaching and teaching, overcomes the darkness of the wisdom of the Pharisees and, by extension, the wisdom of the world. It must be made manifest while He is here because that is why He was here.
Jn 9:6 “…smeared the clay on his eyes…” | The Greek, translated here as “smeared”, literally means anointed and begins our baptismal imagery. St. Irenaeus, in the second century CE, points out that the clay reminds us of the creation story wherein God makes the man out of clay.
Jn 9:7 “…which means sent…” | Jesus is the one who was sent to bring light to the world and he sent the man born blind to wash in the pool. Baptism is our entry to the Mass from which we are sent to bring God’s light to the world.
Jn 9:13 “They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.” | Because of the following sentence, Jn 9:14, there seems to be some antagonism in the crowd’s action. John describes negativity from parts of the Jewish community, especially the leadership, which was growing since the discussion of the bread in chapter Six.
Jn 9:17 “…He is a prophet.” | When firsts asked, the man born blind said it was “the man called Jesus” who opened his eyes (Jn 9”11). Now, as his sight is deepening, he says Jesus is “a prophet”. At Jesus’ prompting, he believes that Jesus is “the son of man” and worships him as God (Jn 9:38).
Jn 9:18 “…the Jews did not believe…” | As the man’s faith increases, the refusal of the people to see increases. At first, they argued about whether or not this was even the man (Jn 9:9). Now they don’t believe he was born blind. Next, they accuse Jesus of being a sinner and therefor not being capable of a miracle (Jn 9:24). Finally, they simply reject belief in Jesus the light of the world (Jn 9:41).
Jn 9:24 “…Give God the praise…” | This is similar to our saying “I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
Jn 9:25 “One thing I do know…” | While others reason from outside the miracle to verify it, the man born blind reasons from the miracle itself.
Jn 9:34 “…You were born totally in sin…” | Remember that the man was born blind and the ancient people believed that physical maladies were the result of sin.
Jn 9:39 “…I came into this world for judgement…” | The word translated “judgement” here means to judge between two things rather than to condemn.
Jn 9:41 “If you were blind…” | The play on words is easy to distinguish here. Jesus is talking about spiritual sight rather than physical sight. We might liken it to insight. The people are judged for their lack of openness to the sight that God gives.