This Sunday and last Sunday, we can easily conclude from our Scripture lessons, especially the Gospels, that we're preparing for the great celebration of Easter — the feast of light, the feast of cleansing and washing, where we bless water and renew that great gift of life we receive when we were washed in the waters of baptism. When we light candles in a darkened church and light the Easter candle and keep it lit throughout the darkness, driving away the darkness, we celebrate Jesus as light of the world, risen from the dead.
As we're preparing for this great feast of light and water and life, our Gospel lesson last week and today helps us to get a deeper sense of how God brings light into our life through Jesus. You may remember, in the very beginning of John's Gospel in what we call the prologue, John wrote, "All things were made through him [speaking about the Word of God]; without him nothing came to be made. Whatever has come to be found life in him, life which for human beings was also light, light that shines in darkness, light that darkness could not overcome."
Fourth Sunday of Lent
Now that light is in our midst in Jesus. Today's Gospel lesson helps us to focus more specifically on the power of Jesus to bring light where there is darkness. That power is shown to us in a miracle that is described in today's Gospel: the darkness of blindness, someone born blind from birth. Never, ever in that person's life was there light, always darkness. But Jesus, through a careful nurturing of the man by making that paste of mud, saliva, rubbing it on his eyes, asking him to wash in the pool of Siloam, takes away the darkness and brings light, the light of sight.
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I'm sure it's very difficult for any of us to really have a profound sense of the extraordinary change that would be for a person whose whole life had been darkness, not able to see anything and suddenly, a light is present in his life. It was a procedure that happened step-by-step, but the conclusion was the man could see. Light burst forth upon him, for him. But the Pharisees — the religious leaders who had been dismissive of Jesus, even negative, hateful to Jesus because he was not abiding by their rules, their human laws — they were angered by what Jesus did.
So they challenged the man. They even threatened his parents. You notice how the parents don't even want to talk about it because they know the Pharisees, the religious leaders, are putting people out of the synagogue, expelling them. But the man who has been so blessed has become courageous because he knows the truth and is willing to stand up for that truth. He knows what happened to him.
Even though he's challenged by the Pharisees (they threaten, in a way, to expel him from the synagogue), it doesn't matter because not only has he been given physical sight — a light that overcomes the darkness of his blindness — but also in his interaction with Jesus, he has received an interior light. You notice in the Gospel, there's a growth in his understanding of Jesus. The first time he's challenged about who cured him, he said, "That man named Jesus" cured him. He recognized Jesus as one who is human, a man. But then later on as he's challenged again, "What do you think about him, someone who can give sight to a person born blind?"
"He's a prophet," the man declares — a further understanding of who Jesus is. Then as he continues to be interrogated by the religious leaders, he says he knows that Jesus must have come from God. "If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." Because he said that, they did expel him from the synagogue. Then Jesus searches him out and here's where his interior darkness comes into full light. Jesus found him and asked him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
He answered, "Who is he that I may believe in him?" Jesus said, "Now you have seen him. He is speaking to you." The man said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him. He now knew Jesus, not just as a man, not just as a prophet, but as God. He has that inner vision that comes from the light of faith. He sees the same Jesus that he saw before, fully human like any one of us, but also fully divine, God.
That's what the light of faith can do. It can enable us to see in Jesus the Son of Mary, but also Son of God, the Word made flesh dwelling among us. It's important for us now, as we continue to prepare to celebrate the living water at Easter, the waters of baptism that bring life and this light that overcomes the darkness, who is Jesus, it's important as we prepare to celebrate at Easter that we continue to try to listen to this Jesus who brings us that living water, who brings us the light that overcomes the darkness, that we continue to try to know him more deeply, that we listen to him more deeply.
I'm sure that it's easy for us as we listen to this event described in the Gospel to have a negative reaction to the religious leaders. It all seems so clear, doesn't it? The man born blind; they all know who he is. Now he sees, and as he says, "I know I am the man; I was born blind, and now I see, and I know who did it." It's all so clear. But those religious leaders block out the truth. They refuse to accept the living waters, the light who has come into the world to overcome the darkness.
It's easy for us to, in a way, sit in judgment on them. Why can't they see? It's so obvious. What's the problem? But instead of making judgments about the Pharisees, the religious leaders, look into our own hearts, into our own lives. Why can't we see? Why can't we see who this Jesus really is, Son of God, living in our midst, Son of Mary, one of us, showing us how to come to the fullness of life in God, coming into our lives to bring us the life of that life-giving water, to bring us that light that overcomes the darkness if only we are open to it.
So we might ask ourselves, instead of saying, "Oh those Pharisees, they're so blind. They have eyesight but they really can't see spiritually," there are a lot of ways that Jesus shows us how to live in this world to overcome the darkness of evil and sin that we perhaps are not following carefully, faithfully. Just what's going on in the world around us, in our public life especially: We have leaders who are telling us, "Well, perhaps we will have to do a preemptive strike against North Korea," begin a war that would inevitably bring about the death of millions of people.
Instead of saying we must work harder at diplomacy, we must work harder at trying to come together and find common ground to work for peace, we accept a leader who says, "We're going to stop those North Koreans no matter what it takes" — not the way of Jesus. We continue to threaten the lives of immigrants within our midst, breaking up families, taking children away from parents. When all of God's Word, going back into the Hebrew Scriptures, through the life of Jesus, he himself a refugee — all of the Scriptures teach us God wants us to welcome those who flee violence, flee economic distress, the tens of millions of people that are seeking help, asylum, safety.
Do we have it in our heart to welcome them, or are we going to allow it to happen that we continue to push them back? Those are just a couple of ways in which we perhaps are not listening as deeply to Jesus as we should be. We need to continue to prepare for the celebration of Easter by opening ourselves to the light of Jesus and allowing that light to change us and guide us into the way of Jesus.
In our second lesson today, in writing to the church of Ephesus, St. Paul says to those people, but could be saying this to us, "You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord Jesus. Live as people of light. The fruits of light are kindness, justice and truth in every form." Can we live up to that? Well, if we pray and listen deeply to Jesus, Easter can be for us a genuine celebration where we will be enabled more completely than before to behave as people of light, bringing forth the fruits of light, which are kindness, justice and truth. That's an extraordinary, marvelous goal, a challenge for us. We still have half of Lent to prepare to deepen that light of Jesus within us, and to strengthen our determination to live by that light.
[Homily given at St. Charles Lwanga parish, Detroit, Michigan, March 26, 2017. The transcripts of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]
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