|1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
|March 25-26, 2017 Fourth Sunday in Lent, Cycle A|
Last week's Gospel story of the Samaritan Woman and this week's of the man born blind really hit at the heart of what it means to become a disciple in mission. The story of the woman at the well clearly outlines the sequence of actions in this process: we encounter Jesus in the most unexpected place but because of our own expectation of Christ's presence, and our own brokeness that makes us thirst for it, we are able to feel Christ's love and acceptance. Then in reponse to that feeling, we can lead others to Christ through our witnessing of what happened to us.
Today's story of the man born blind focuses in a little more clearly on how we get from the initial encounter to being confident enough, or converted enough to speak the truth about our experience of Christ. In other words, three things have to be true for us to become an evangelizer: first, Jesus always initiates the encounter - our role is to be aware of it and to respond; second, faith only comes from a personal encounter with Christ - it never comes from a doctrine or even just a series of practices, and third, our faith only grows to be ours if it is tested or challenged.
So to me, one of the more fascinating things about today's Gospel is this process by which the man born blind moves from beggar to disciple. I think that process is one that applies to all of us, even today. At the start he is the lowliest of the low. The notion that sickness or tragedy was God's punishment for the sin of the person or his or her ancestors was a very real notion in Jesus' culture. Therefore, no righteous person would have anything to do with such a person for fear the sin would wear off on him or her.
In the beginning, the man born blind does not know who Jesus is. Unlike in other healing stories, he does not cry out for Jesus to help him, nor does Jesus ask him what he wants from Jesus. Jesus takes the initiative and cures him. When the man born blind is first challenged, he simply acknowledges the facts: "I was blind and now I see!" And when asked how he came to see he says, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me to wash them in the pool of Siloam." Then as he continues to be tested, he reflects on what has happened to him, and is able to testify that Jesus is a prophet. After even more badgering, he stands up to the authorities, which is more amazing than our culture of disrespect can ever understand, and states his faith in Jesus at the expense getting thrown out of the the synagogue. Finally, he recognizes Jesus as Lord, and worships him. When we reflect on this progression, we see how we must act to become disciples in mission
The first is to know that we are blind. Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to say that it used to be that only Catholics believed in the Immaculate Conception; now everyone believes they are immaculately conceived, completely sinless. I know Fr. Paul and Fr. Walter have spent some alone time in the confessionals these past Wednesdays. How can we explain the fact that most Catholics do not celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation except by recognizing that most Catholics, like most people in our culture, do not think they have sinned. That is what made Pope Francis' self characterization as "a sinner" so news worthy. Since we all see how sinful everyone else is, we can only assume that we are blind to our own sins. But we must also know that Christ sees what we don't, and through faith grow to see as Christ sees. Pope Francis said," Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus but sees things as Jesus himself sees them, with his own eyes, it is a participation in his way of seeing"
The second point is that our faith must be built on a personal experience with Jesus Christ, rather than on a book, or a Church, or a set of beliefs. All of those are important but only as ways of understanding and knowing Jesus Christ more intimately. Very often the reality of that personal encounter with Christ is down and dirty - how would you like someone smearing dirt mixed with spit on your eyes? And we should never confuse personal with private. We are called to this personal encounter with Christ in community.
The last point is that our faith only grows by exposing it to the test. That is almost impossible to do in our culture of disbelief where religious talk is banned from the public forum. Where can you say what you believe, out loud, so you can find out what you really believe? And until you speak it, you might have belief but you will not have faith. Opportunities like our Sunday coffee and donuts, or Alpha or GIFT are great places to start.
I pray we all learn in the deepest part of our being that we are blind and need the light that Jesus brings. I urge you to talk about your faith, with your family, with your friends, with acquaintances, with those Jehovah's Witnesses. Yes, you may be thrown out of some places that do not like that kind of talk. But we can all take heart that Jesus will always find us, as he found the man born blind, and he will give us the strength and the vision to acknowledge him as Lord and savior. In fact that is exactly what the New Evangelization is all about; seeking out those who have been thrown out of the synagogue and letting them encounter the Body of Christ.