Monday, November 25, 2013

Homily - 4th Sunday of Lent (Year A)

4th Sunday of Lent (Year A)
                                              (LAETARE SUNDAY)

First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7,10-13a         Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14          Gospel Reading: John 9:1-41


There is a story told about a little boy at church with his mother. He was a good little boy, quite and well behaved. He didn't cause any problems. But every once in a while he would stand up in the pew, turn around, look at the people behind him and smile at them. His smile was infectious, and soon everybody behind him was starting to smile back at him, too. It was all going fine until the mother realized what the little boy was doing. When she did, she grabbed him by his ear and twisted it a bit, told him to sit down and remember that he was in the church. Then he started sniffing and crying, and she turned to him and said, “That's better.”
It's kind of sad, isn't it, that some have the impression that when we come to church that it is all gloom and doom, and that there is nothing here to really bring joy into our lives?

Today is the 4th Sunday of Lent, and as the Liturgical tradition holds - it is rather unique, as evidenced by the rose-colored vestment and the flowers adorning the Altar. Like the 3rd Sunday of Advent ('Gaudete Sunday'), the 4th Sunday of Lent is a break in an otherwise penitential season and it marks the halfway in our Lenten preparation for Easter. The 4th Sunday of Lent customarily is called "Laetare Sunday," and it takes its name from the opening words of today's Mass, the Introit's 'Laetare, Jerusalem.' The Latin word 'Laetare' means 'rejoice.' So, today the Church rejoices in joyful anticipation of the Easter mystery. We look ahead with joyful hope to what awaits - the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is almost as if we have reached the crest of the hill and now can see our destination in view.
Although Lent is a season of penance, we have much about which to rejoice at this momentary mid-juncture. Very appropriately, each of the three Scripture Readings characterizes one of the many facets of Easter joy. They all anticipate the joy of Easter and the happiness that reconciliation brings.

Just as last week there was a dominant image of 'water' that tied the Scripture Readings together, this week we have the image of 'light and sight' that does the same, 'giving us joy in our heart.' But, of course, the readings and their selection are much richer than just an image or symbol. The central theme of today’s readings is that God makes everything new in and through Jesus Christ. We are children of the light baptized into the glory that is Christ. We are initiated into the life of Christ who is the light of the world. In the First Reading from the 1st Book of Samuel, we have Prophet Samuel going in search of the new king in place of Saul who was not faithful to the Lord. When he finds David son of Jesse, God tells the prophet to anoint him because God himself has chosen him to rule over his people. The Gospel Reading from St. John presents us 'Jesus as the light of the world.' We have today the marvelous story about the cure of a man born blind. Once the blind man is cured, he is able to see Jesus as his Lord, something the religious leaders were unable to do. In the Second Reading from his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul reminds the Ephesians that faith and Baptism rescued them from the darkness of sin and introduced them into the light of Christ. They are no longer blinded by the darkness of ignorance. So, he urges them to live lives that reflect the light of Christ they have received.

In the First Reading we hear that the Prophet Samuel is sent by God to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse to anoint a new future king of Israel in place of Saul. The Reading emphasizes the Lord's surprising choice: a shepherd boy, the youngest among the sons of Jesse. David will become Israel's most famous king. The description of God’s choice of David over his brothers is a tale of human blindness, our inability to see spiritual truth as God sees it. Divine wisdom searches the soul, knowing every thoughts of the mind and knows those who will live as children of the Light. The prophet Samuel is reminded that the Lord's vision goes deeper than outward appearances. David is portrayed as the least likely of his brothers to be chosen for greatness - it never even occurs to his father to present David to Samuel as a candidate for divine election. But God sees into the heart and directs the prophet to anoint David, causing the spirit of the Lord to rush upon him - “There – anoint him, for this is the one!” Then there is a great joy. The gesture of anointing signifies both God’s choice of David and his consecration for the mission entrusted to him, shepherding God’s people as king. The blindness of those around David to his potential for being an instrument of God’s power is a symbol on many levels of how sin can blind us to God’s will for us and for the world.

In the Gospel Reading of today from St. John we hear the marvelous story about Jesus healing a man born blind. It speaks about darkness to light – as a result of Jesus’ intervention. St. John presents a sad account of a healing miracle. Instead of rejoicing over the miraculous cure of a man born blind, the religious leaders are filled with hostility and the stubborn refusal to accept that good has been done. Their attitude is all the more sad because the evidence is so clear. The poor beggar is thrown out of the religious community. Jesus looks for him and reveals his identity. The man sees and believes. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for presuming to know and to see. It is this presumption that blinds them.
The story emphasizes all the way through that the man was blind from birth. The man owes his new being not to his parental origins, or to his pedigree in the Law of Moses, but to the sudden unearned gift of the encounter with Jesus. Falling down to worship Jesus, he recognizes him not just as the source of his sight, but more importantly as the origin of a whole new way of being. Note that Christ was not ‘restoring’ sight to him but giving him 'new' sight. Sight for someone who had never seen!
The miracle also tells us much about Jesus. It was initiated by Jesus, “He saw a man blind from birth.” To 'see' for Jesus means seeing the possibilities for faith. The blind man did not ask for a cure. Jesus volunteered it. He was touched to the quick by the man’s condition and offered the miracle.
St. John's aim in presenting us with this marvellous story about the cure of a man born blind is to show Jesus as our light. Little attention is given to the actual healing miracle itself. When he is cured, he sees all material things around him and also is able to see Jesus as his Lord, something the religious leaders were not able to do.
St. John narrates that as Jesus and his disciples were walking along, they encountered the blind man and the disciples asked Jesus the reason for his blindness - whether it was his own sins or the sins of his parents. During the time of Jesus the popular belief was that there was a close link between sins and a chronic sickness or disability and that the sins of the parents could have their effects on their children. Here Jesus clarifies the meaning of suffering in the life of a person. The man is not blind because of sin, but to show forth the glory of God.
Now, Jesus cured the man born blind by rubbing spittle and dirt into his eyes and after his cure there were different reactions from different corners: First, the neighbors. They discuss his identity. Some of them asked if the man was the same beggar they knew. Others said he was just a look alike. Despite his assertion that he was the man, they remained indifferent to God's wonderful work wrought in their midst. Second, the Pharisees. Having been brought by the neighbors to the Pharisees, they interrogated the man. They asked how he was cured. He told them. But knowing that he was cured by Jesus on a sabbath which must be kept holy by abstaining from everything except what the Pharisees prescribed, they concluded that he was not blind and therefore no cure had occurred. The tragedy of the Pharisees was that they just could not see beyond the law. Thus they concluded that because Jesus did not keep the sabbath, He was not of God. More, He was a sinner. Truly, the Pharisees were unable to see beyond their prejudices and prejudgments. They had eyes yet they could not see. Third, the blind man's parents. The Pharisees sent for them to verify his identity and to tell them how he was cured. The parents confirmed that he was born blind. But how he was cured, they did not know. They then added, "Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for him self." They made this stand because they were afraid to be expelled from the synagogue for acknowledging "the man" as the Messiah.
The final scene is the blind man being sought out by Jesus because Jesus has heard how the Pharisees treated him and threw him out. Because he has been faithful to Jesus and wants to learn from Jesus, Jesus tells him his identity and the blind man treats Jesus accordingly and worships him. Physically blind, he comes to profess his belief in Jesus as the Christ. 'Lord I believe.' He came to the true sight of faith in the Lord of life. A second miracle happened! His bodily eyes were not only opened but also his eyes of faith. Thus he could now say in the full sense of the word, “I was born blind and now I see!” The images of light and darkness run all through this story and help us to see that the lesson is that we must, like the blind man, move from spiritual darkness to spiritual intuition and light. And again, it is through Jesus that this can happen.
Let us now see the gradual progress in faith of the blind man symbolized by the movement from total darkness to light—a movement that marks a journey from unbelief to belief. In the beginning he was blind, he was in darkness. In the end he is in the light, not just of his physical sight but because a deeper insight opens him up to Jesus who is the Light of the world. Before his neighbours, he affirmed that he was cured by a 'man who is called Jesus' - everything he knew about Jesus then. When asked by the Pharisees what he thought of 'the man,' he answered, 'He is a prophet.' And finally he addresses Jesus as 'Lord' - a title reserved for God. This acknowledgement has an implication—that we come to live as the children of the Light.
The figure of a man blind from birth is a fitting image of the human condition known as 'original sin.' Without personal fault or responsibility, the man is nonetheless truly 'in the dark' of a sinful world. St. John tells the story of the man’s cure by Jesus in a way that reveals who it is that is truly blind—those who stubbornly refuse to accept Jesus as the light of the world. Social sin is not the same as original sin, but flows from it, and is the cumulative result of human choices to turn away from the light. Not only each individual, but the world itself—as a result of original sin, the personal sins we commit, and structures of social sin—is in need of Christ, our physician, for healing.

In the Second Reading from his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul contrasts the time of darkness before baptism and the time of light that results from baptism. He tells the Ephesians and us too that once we were in darkness but through baptism we have been brought into the light of the Lord. So, we are to live as children of the light. In this time of light, we are called to make the 'seeds of light' grow and produce – to bear the 'fruit of light' that is found in all that is good, right and true. Our sharing in the light-life of Christ must be reflected in the way they live. There should be no dark corners in our lives. He says, not only must the children of the Light not participate in the unfruitful works of darkness, but also, they have an obligation to expose them. Christ does not shine on those who remain in slumber and not heeding to light.
The quotation at the end of the reading, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will will give you light!” is probably an early Christian prayer associated somehow with the Baptism ceremony. It shows how the Christian moves from a negative to a positive state – from sleep to wake, from death to life from dark to light – and how Christ is the cause of this transition.

Light and darkness, sight and blindness are the contrasting images in the Scripture Readings of this Sunday. The central message is that Christ heals our spiritual blindness in our Baptism and makes us witnesses of the truth. The verse before the Gospel introduces the central point of our celebration, “I am the light of the world, anyone who follows me will have the light of life.” The entire liturgy today therefore, celebrates the mystery of Christ - the light of the world; the light that dispels the darkness of our minds and our hearts; the light that draws us to walk out of the shadow of our sins. In Jesus we are elevated into a new life. As the man born blind received a new capacity, a new way of experiencing the world, so, too, we receive a new capacity for a deeper way of life, to come to experience the familiar world around us in the unfamiliar light of Jesus, who is forever the Light of the World.
So, as we consider the Scripture Readings of today, let us look at what in our lives is darkness, the places where we are blind and try to shed light on them. Are we blind to the sufferings and needs of our neighbour? Do we show prejudice in our daily dealings with people? Do we ignore or put into a dark place the things that we might have influence on to help others? Even though we have become light, we still must choose to put forth that light, to help others, to be a light for others. We must make sure that our community of believers is supported and that we show our love to each other. And this is the Good News makes of today.


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