For those preparing to enter the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil, the readings for today form the context for the second Sunday of “the Scrutinies.” The candidates for entrance are asked to, or more properly, invited to declare their personal belief in Jesus as the One Who has been sent. The community will be reminded as well to affirm their own acceptance of Jesus as Lord.
We prepare for our celebrating the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in the Eucharist, by celebrating how through Jesus we have come to see ourselves, others, all creation as wonderful gifts. Jesus has offered us a new view of life, death and resurrection as well. We have been called and chosen, not because of distinctions, achievements, family lineage, or personal attractiveness. God’s love is blind to such plastic categories.
We pray to receive more of the Light, vision, the sight, the sensitivities which Jesus came and comes to share. The problem we have is that we are so familiar with how we have negatively looked at ourselves, others, creation, God, and life itself. We pray to be unblinded and patient in our recovery process.
What we hear is how Samuel hears from God about a Man, Jesse of Bethlehem who has a fine group of well-bred sons. They are all assembled at a victory/thanksgiving sacrifice. Eliab is presented and Samuel eyes him up and down and finds his appearance manly and worthy of being king.
God speaks silently to Samuel about Eliab’s not being the right man for the job. God sees into the heart and Samuel is judging through the eyes only.
Jesse presents seven more sons who are similarly dismissed. Jesse is asked if there are any other sons and he replies that there is one other, the youngest and he is out in the fields tending the sheep.
When the lad arrives, who is of fine appearance as were his brothers, God prompts Samuel to anoint him. His name is David of Bethlehem who will be entrusted to tend the sheep, the people of Israel. The God who has called him will guide him and be faithful to Israel through him.
Jesus has declared Himself to be the “Light of the World”. For John’s readers, day/night light/dark and seeing/not-seeing are favorite themes. For those who are visually impaired, today’s Gospel is definitely not the text to read for comfort or healing. Mark, in 10, 46, presents a more prayerful picture of Jesus’ healing a person who is visually impaired. Instead, today’s long Gospel reading is about believing.
In the Christian Scriptures, the word “believe” in its various forms appears 238 times, 98 of these occur in John’s Gospel. A good question, but not for this Reflection, might be about why the other three Gospels do not push belief as strongly as John. For John, believing is seeing, believing takes place in the light, in the day. So this whole chapter is somewhat of a summation of the entire Gospel.
The action begins with a miniature prologue. A man who is blind provokes the question from the apostles about the cause of the man’s condition. Did he sin himself, or did the curse of blindness fall upon him because of the sin of his parents? The question reflects the thinking that any physical deformity is a curse because of sin; God punishes when offended.
John concludes the prologue by having Jesus state boldly that it is not sin on somebody’s part, but this is a situation which will manifest the “works of God” through this man.
It is because of sin though and the darkness of our human unfaithfulness, that Jesus has come into the world as the Light. The stage now is set, there will be rising action and a graceful resolution. The blind will see, (believe) and those who see will find themselves blind (unbelievers).
There are several delightful symbols in this little play. “Work” and “light” go together. Jesus as light has come into the darkness of the world to do His thing, which is to present the Father Who sent Him and to do some deeds which will attract attention and a personal response.
Jesus spits on the ground and makes a clay eye-patch for the fellow. Clay is the human reality from which we were biblically made. Jesus sends the clay-bound sight-seeker to a pool of water by the name which means, “sent”. We have a wonderful meeting then between Jesus Who is the “One Sent” and the “clay” to whom He has been sent. Through this act of trust, the man came back, “able to see”.
A long section of squabbling ensues among neighbors, Jewish leaders and even the man’s parents. Eventually he gets thrown out of the temple which is not an insignificant event. The temple, by the time of John’s writing this Gospel, has been torn down by the Romans as a punishment for the revolt of the Jews. John is presenting Jesus as the new place of God’s revelation. Jesus is the New Covenant who continues God’s covenantal fidelity and history. Upon being expelled, Jesus appears and begins the final act of enlightenment.
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?” This is the real unblinding and central meaning of the whole reading. Here is where we join the play’s action. The man sees Jesus, because Jesus has done some “work”. Have we been un-somethinged, re-visioned, by Jesus? Like the ever-present Pharisees we might be a bit or totally blinded by what we do physically see. There is so much that we do see which causes us to doubt and be blinded to the goodness of God in this world. The Pharisees were blinded by their holding their religious traditions too tightly to their eyes; they didn’t want to see anything different, any new revelationally challenging signs. Sin for John is not doubting, but not believing in Jesus as the One Who has been sent to reveal God’s goodness.
I suspect it would be more interesting to write about some personal experiences of seeing or not. Miracles are exciting about which to hear. Those are what we call, “Feel-Good” stories. Believing is not always a “feel-good” experience. When walking in the dark of life, bumping into the doorposts of disappointment, tripping over the unexplainable, walking down the paths of bad choices, all can cause us to curse the darkness of our human understanding. People who are visually impaired often have limited choices so they learn to receive what they are offered. This is belief then, to receive what God is offering and see the presence of Jesus when we cannot see causes or reasons. Believing is
“Brothers and sisters, you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” Eph. 5, 8
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