Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Anticipating the Lenten Sunday of Joy (Laetare) - Wednesday of Lenten Week III

Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year "A") – April 3, 2011 -  JESUS ENLIGHTENS AND INVITES BELIEF [Texts: 1 Samuel 16.1, 6-7,10-13 [Psalm 23]; Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-41]

During a retreat some years ago, I delighted in Raymond Brown's last published work, A Retreat with John the Evangelist: That You May Have Life (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 1998).  A slight volume, it distils the insights of Father Brown's lifetime spent studying the Fourth Gospel.

In arranging his presentations to the retreatant, Brown has the evangelist explain why, for him and his community, figures like the Samaritan woman, the man born blind and Lazarus—the very individuals the liturgy focuses on in the central Sundays of Lent—contain the key to discipleship.

As we saw last Sunday, the Samaritan woman illustrates the obstacles that must be overcome in coming to faith in Jesus. Today, the man born blind illustrates how faith grows by overcoming trials.

As we learn, enlightenment does not issue immediately in an adequate faith. Initially the man born blind came to physical sight. But the more important “sight” he gained was spiritual, leading him to confess that Jesus is God's emissary, the Son of Man.

In Jesus' encounters with the man born blind we learn the truth of Jesus' assertion that “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8.12).

The account of the man born blind's healing is rather straight-forward. Jesus drew near to him and anointed his eyes with a paste made of mud mixed with saliva. The healing power of clay mixed with spittle was a common element in stories of healing in the Greco-Roman world. Mark narrates similar “anointings” in his accounts of the cure of a deaf-mute and the blind man of Bethsaida (Mark 7.33; 8.23).

Samuel anoints David as king

Since the blind man came to healing and enlightenment through anointing, the Church adopted anointing as part of the baptismal rites. In the first reading, God's election of David—manifested in his anointing by Samuel—underlines the favour the candidate for Baptism has found with the Lord who “looks on the heart” rather than on outward appearances.

The symbolism of the water which restores sight (i.e. Baptism) would not have been missed by those reading the evangelist's account. For he had told them that the name of the pool where the blind man washed his eyes was “Siloam”, a name which he interpreted as “the one sent”, a Christian designation of Jesus.

The details in the story of blind man's healing hint at the process of baptismal conversion and enlightenment. The man born blind's healing was told with great simplicity. But his coming to the fullness of faith involved much suffering during several heated encounters.

At no time on the faith journey following his gift of sight did the man born blind flinch at the demands faith made on him. Asked by onlookers about his healer, the man born blind could only say 'the man called Jesus' (John 9.11).

Later, before Pharisees who challenged him with theological questions, he offered the opinion that Jesus was “a prophet” (9.17). Threatened with expulsion from the synagogue, he nevertheless declared of Jesus “if this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (9.33).

Finally, Jesus sought him out (“when Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he had found him”) and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Speaking for every catechumen and disciple, the man born blind—now healed and enlightened—declared, “Lord, I believe” (9.38). And, in a gesture that expresses the depth of Christian belief, the man born blind “worshipped him”.

Studying the attitudes and behaviour of the other characters in the Johannine drama would also be instructive. In Brown's commentary he has the evangelist contrast Christians who, like the blind man, decided for Jesus despite great cost with others who, for various reasons, held back from a belief that dares great things.

Chief among those criticized by the evangelist are “perhaps an even larger group of those who have been baptized and nominally accept Jesus but are not willing to confess him if it costs anything. To be honest, in my time I judged that failure as grave as to deny him” (Retreat, p. 48).

In closing, Paul issues the Lenten call to Christian and catechumen alike: “Now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light!”

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Prayer for Wednesday of the Third Week in Lent

Grant, we pray, O Lord, that schooled through Lenten observance and nourished by your word, through holy restraint we may be devoted to you with all our heart and be ever united in prayer. Through our Lord.

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