[4th Sunday of Lent (A) 1 Sam 16:1b.6-7.10-13a; Ps 23:1-3a.3b-4.5.6 (R. 1); Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41] (Jn 9:9).
In today's Gospel, Jesus heals a blind man. But his healing occasions a dispute among his neighbours. Why? They are not agreed that he is the same man who was blind from birth. So the man who has received sight protests against the denial of his identity: “I am the man” (Jn 9:9), he insists.
Of course, in spite of his protest, the man knows that something extraordinary has happened to him because he has encountered an extraordinary personality, Jesus. For “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind” (Jn 9:32), he affirms. But he does not yet really know Jesus. So when his neighbours question him on the identity of the person that healed him, he answers, “The man called Jesus” (Jn 9:11). Later, however, when the Pharisees question him in regard to the identity of Jesus, he responds, “He is a prophet” (Jn 9:17). And contrary to the stand of the Pharisees, he maintains that Jesus comes from God. And for his stance, they expel him from the synagogue. Later, Jesus meets him and reveals himself to him as the “Son of Man”. The man believes in Jesus and worships him.
You see, the man born blind has undergone two kinds of enlightenment. In his first encounter with Jesus, he receives sight. This is physical enlightenment. But in his second encounter with Jesus the man believes in Jesus; he receives spiritual light. This is spiritual enlightenment.
Now you remember that the man was born blind! So, giving him sight is giving him something he has never had. His physical enlightenment is therefore a symbol of new creation. It is also a sign, though not a guarantee, of spiritual enlightenment as new creation. But spiritual enlightenment is a deeper reality, and more properly the fulfilment of the mission of Jesus, who declares, “I am the light of the world whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).
In today's first reading, prophet Samuel relies on mere human eyes in selecting a king from the sons of Jesse. And imagining Eliab to be the one, God objects and cautions Samuel not to look on Eliab's appearance or height since God looks on the heart and not on outward appearance (1 Sam 16:7). God reminds Samuel that spiritual light sees beyond what is available to mere human eyes.
And in today's second reading, St. Paul reminds the Ephesians that they are no longer darkness but light in the Lord, and therefore should live as children of light (Eph 5:8-10). So “baptised into Christ” (Gal 3:27), Christians are spiritually enlightened. They are “a new creation” (Gal 6:15) and are expected to embrace a new way of life.
Now let us return to the protest of the man born blind: “I am the man” (Jn 9:9). You see, both the attempt to deny his identity and the man's protest against the denial are in some sense significant and symbolic. The man has received sight and has become something of a puzzle to some of his neighbours. And the man himself knows that there is a new reality in his life. So both the denial of his identity and his protest against the denial are meaningful in virtue of this new reality: he has sight.
You remember the man is expelled from the synagogue? You remember that his parents, for fear of being expelled from the synagogue evaded the questions of the Pharisees? And so deserted by his neighbours and parents because he believes in Jesus, the man can now pray and sing, because he now really lives, today's responsorial psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want” (Ps 23). Yes, the Lord has really become his shepherd. And he can now dare and defy the most life-threatening situations, assured of God's provident care.
You see, there is something about the life of the spiritually enlightened that remains a positive puzzle which attracts and excites admiration. And even when their life causes the unfortunate reaction of hatred on the part of non-Christians, it would not be because Christians are committing or aiding evil. Were not the members of the Sanhedrin confounded with wonder at Peter's boldness, even as they realized that they “were uneducated and ordinary men”? (Acts 4:13). Were not the early Christians held “in high esteem” (Acts 5:13) by other Jews? And did not the Roman Emperor, Julian the Apostate (r. 361-363 AD) who hated Christianity and tried to revive paganism, complain “that it was hard for him to restore paganism when the Christians 'care not only for their own poor but for ours as well'”? (Michael Collins and Matthew A. Price, The Story of Christianity [New York: DK Publishing, 1999], 11).
The unfortunate reality in our times, however, is that while the number of Christians and Churches increase daily, yet daily we witness a diminishing possibility of the life of Christians becoming a positive puzzle that attracts and excites the admiration of non-Christians. Our neighbours are never in doubt about the identity of many of us, before and after being baptised, before and after being “born-again”. O yes, because our way of life remains much the same, we are losing the godly privilege of experiencing and protesting the denial of our identity.
Let us remember, brothers and sisters, that Easter is the experience and celebration of new life. Let us not celebrate new life with old self and old way of life. So as we continue with the Lenten discipline, let us call on the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts, and to enkindle in us the fire of his love. Let the Holy Spirit pour forth into our hearts and so re-create us and renew the face of the earth. Amen.
Fr Gregory Okechukwu Nwachukwu
(Formator, Blessed Iwene Tansi Major Seminary, Onitsha.