Mar 29, 2014

4th Sunday of Lent: "What do you see?"

(El Greco)
"The one speaking with you is he."

1 Sam 16: 1b, 6-7, 10 – 13a
Eph 5: 8-14
Jn 9: 1-41

Why do good things happen to bad people?  Why do bad things happen to good people? Therein lays a very common Christian conundrum. We are puzzled by what we often experience and see happen to others.  Why should the good suffer and the bad seem to enjoy rewards they seemingly don’t deserve?  
I was recently asked this question by a parishioner and maybe you’ve asked it yourself as well.  I know I have.  Is there a satisfying answer?  Not really.  The Old Testament Book of Job is the classic story which tries to come to some answer but in the end innocent Job’s misfortune is simply something he must embrace and remain faithful to God who may not clearly answer our confusion but we know remains faithful to us. We are us and God is God.  He has his ways but it isn’t just blind fate.

In the time of Jesus the answer to misfortune, particularly physical illness or great suffering was that we deserved it.  Both the good and the bad find themselves suffering from leprosy, blindness, deafness, great poverty because of some great sin they or their parents must have committed.  Suffering is God’s punishment for sin committed.   
As a result, the clean and healthy remained a safe distance from the “sinners” lest they too fall into misfortune.  Ritual purity and dietary laws were rampant in the time of Jesus so it is no surprise that his disciples in the Gospel this Sunday would ask the question upon finding a man blind from birth:”‘Rabbi, who sinned?  This man or his parents that he was born blind?’”

Jesus’ answer to their confusion sets the tone of the Gospel at this point in Lent: “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him . . .” With that simple statement Jesus presented a view of God that was indeed revolutionary in ancient times.  God’s concern is not with the sin committed but with the suffering he sees.  Therefore, suffering and misfortune must have some other purpose or meaning rather than punishment for sin. God is moved when he sees suffering whether upon the innocent or the guilty. Scholars describe that Jesus was moved from his “bowels” in the face of suffering - deep in his person with compassion.
The sinfulness of the man is not a question but his blindness becomes, as Jesus states, an opportunity so that the, “works of God might be made visible through him.”  In other words, God will be glorified through this event.  

The Gospel then continues a balance between the search for truth and those who act out of prejudice or false assumptions. What was meant to be a compassionate healing has now turned into a trial and debate on the meaning of both suffering and sin. 
The neighbors of the man and the Pharisees step in to ask: “How were your eyes open?” Then his parents are brought in, then Jesus himself is falsely accused of being “not from God” because he healed on the Sabbath

But all are acting out of ignorance and misunderstanding. All are blind to the truth and live in the darkness of prejudice and ignorance.  For John, the theme of darkness and light is popular as we move from ignorance to knowledge; from no faith to the light of faith itself; Faith in the truth of who Jesus is.  But who sees that?  Not the self-righteous Pharisees but the blind man alone who can now see.
For the early Christians and for us today who are possibly more blinded by the disruptions of modern culture with countless distractions of media, technology, the emphasis on science and endless information over the internet, radio and television, this Gospel story is an important one as we move towards the Easter renewal of our baptism confession of faith along with our Elect.

How did we first come to know the faith?  Through the waters of baptism and the families in which we were raised.  The blind man washes in the pool of Siloam and then can see.  So too, the grace of Baptism takes away the blindness of sin and plants the seed of faith in us but where are we still blind?
We experience persecution and misunderstanding today as did the early Christians who at one point were expelled from the Jewish community and from Synagogue worship.  So too, the man in the story is thrown out from the synagogue and essentially expelled from his faith community.  What does he do?  Jesus searches him out and reveals the truth of who he is.

A beautiful conversation between Jesus and the man then begins as Our Lord states: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The no longer blind man responds: “Who is he, sir that I may believe in him?”  His desire is to see with the eyes of faith.

Jesus then reveals himself: “. . . the one speaking with you is he.”
And the man responds as we must all do: “I do believe, Lord, and he worshiped him.”

God has revealed or uncovered himself in Jesus.  He has come to visit us or as a source sates: “God’s irruption” in history.  He searches for every person not with condemnation and punishment but with mercy and forgiveness.  
We can be distracted, blinded, and simply prejudiced by our own sin and the lure of temptation around us.  But, God desires that we be whole and to see him as Lord of our life and to turn away from what causes us to not see – whatever causes our blindness.  But his "amazing grace" and mercy heals that darkness.

As St. Paul so beautifully puts in the second reading from Ephesians: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”

By the mystery of the Incarnation
he 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 waters of regeneration
to make them your adopted children.

(Preface for Fourth Sunday of Lent)