Thursday, March 7, 2013

Illuminating the Dark

Fourth Sunday of Lent
(Year A Gospel; With Scrutinies)

Since it is at this mass where we will be celebrating the second set of Scrutinies to prepare the Elect for the reception of the Easter Mysteries, we have used the prescribed gospel taken from the Year A set of readings, the story of the “Man Born Blind”. Perhaps, this is an excellent example of how the Church reads the bible, through the liturgical lenses and the rich symbolism of allegory. The liturgy provides us with an illuminative interpretation that would be absent to the ordinary eye of a modern exegete, who relies solely upon the material contained within the text or archaeological findings. The symbols portray a rich multi-layered spectrum of meaning that often direct explanations and words cannot adequately convey. Just like last week’s gospel reading where you heard the story of the Samaritan Woman at the well, this week’s gospel reading is rich in symbolic imagery that points to the liturgy of baptism which the Elect will receive on the night of the Easter Vigil: Light and darkness, sight and blindness, enlightenment, Baptism.

According to this allegorical interpretation, the blind man represents the human race wounded by original sin. The initial query on the cause of his blindness now makes sense. None of us can be personally faulted for the condition that has infected the whole human race. But even the fault of Adam and Eve can be an occasion of grace: the ‘happy fault’ (felix culpa) which the priest announces in the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation. “God allowed evil to happen in order to bring greater good therefrom” (St Thomas Aquinas). By virtue of the fault of Adam, by virtue of the blindness which we suffer from original sin, God sent his only begotten Son to be our redeemer. Because of Adam’s sin we are born “blind” but in the baptismal font we are illumined by the grace of Christ.

In the story, Jesus performs a ritual much like the way we baptise: He first anoints the man’s eyes and then tells him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. Anointing, washing, enlightenment–all these are “code words” for Baptism.  John even tells us that “Siloam” means “sent.”  But baptism not only effects cleansing, incorporation, enlightenment, and regeneration of an individual; it also has cosmic significance and benefit that transcends person, place and time. Thus the use of clay recalls the moment when all creation began and foreshadows the unending moment when all creation will be transformed for, at least temporarily, the newly baptised are returned to Eden, the gates are opened, and paradise restored. Baptism joins them to Christ, the New Adam. This union promises them that they will one day share his bodily resurrection, just as he shared their physical death.

Let us consider the other characters in the story. First we have the neighbours who show surprise, scepticism and denial. They refuse even to acknowledge that a miracle has taken place. Many good people today continue to remain non-committal and refuse to believe in the existence of God and anything supernatural, by choosing to ignore the signs and ‘proofs.’ Believing would seem to demand a great paradigm shift for them and many are content to hold on fervently to the position of ignorance. Second, we have the Pharisees who at least come to accept that something phenomenal had taken place but were distracted by a hermeneutics of suspicion. They like many in our society today view the world through distorted lenses that chooses to interpret everything against its grain, to see the contemptible in the honoured, to find the bad in the good, to search out flaws in the perfect. When people are busy looking for mistakes and faults, they are blinded to the wealth of goodness that comes with God’s works. Lastly, we have the parents of the man born blind. They do believe but under the threat of excommunication, give in by compromising the truth. They allowed fear to blind them and even silence their voices to announce the wonders that God had performed in their son’s life. Although the physical sight of these three categories of persons had never been in question, their spiritual blindness is apparent. Note that when the Truth is denied, sight is denied too. They could not see nor recognise the Light which is Christ.

In the early Christian communities candidates for Baptism presented their names to the local Christian community and for forty days trained for Baptism. During that time they were joined by the local community, united in prayer and fasting. From at least the third century, candidates were introduced to three great Johannine texts: The Samaritan Woman, John. 4; The Man Born Blind, John. 9; The Raising of Lazarus, John 11. These texts hold a key to discipleship. Each is a story of faith and healing, each is an answer to the question: How do you meet Jesus? How do you respond to him? Thus the question which Jesus asks the blind man in today’s gospel is the high point of the story: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (Jn 9:35). The man recognises the sign worked by Jesus and he passes from the light of his eyes to the light of faith: “Lord, I believe!” (Jn 9:38). Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote that “being a Christian is the encounter with an event, a person, who gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” Thus, the deeper significance begins and ends with Jesus himself. Jesus never performed miracles just to perform miracles as if to show off his divine power. Rather, he always performed them in the midst of some great human need with the intent of leading the one who was the recipient of the miracle as well as those who were privileged to witness it to a deep and abiding faith in him.

The Gospel confronts each one of us with the question: "Do you believe in the Son of man?" "Lord, I believe!" (Jn 9:35. 38), exclaims the man born blind, giving voice to all believers. Thus, we are invited to see with new sight and insight, allowing faith to illumine the eyes of our hearts to gaze upon him who is our redemption, our salvation, our hope and our reconciliation. As St Augustine of Hippo beautifully wrote, “that which for the eyes of the body is the sun that we see, he (Christ) is for the eyes of the heart.”  

Being witnesses of the light can be hard work. Just as the gospel story unfolds, the ‘enlightened’ followers of Christ must be prepared to face incredulity, persecution, and hardship for the sake of that faith. It is one thing to have Jesus light up our lives but it is quite another thing to live that life in the same light day to day, especially in the midst of a world consumed by the darkness of sin and unbelief.  May we ever cling to the Light that banishes the darkness which is all around us. When the world, which constantly seeks to undermine, manipulate and distort the Truth, twists the meaning of the words of the man whose sight was restored and asks us, “Do you want to become his disciple, too?”… let us shout, unafraid and in loving faithfulness, “We do and we are!” At last, when in doubt as to whether we can remain faithful to task before, we find great comfort in the following words of hope delivered by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI at his last birthday celebration, words that proved prophetic:  “I find myself on the last stretch of my journey in life, and I don’t know what is awaiting me. I know, however, that the light of God exists, that he is risen, that his light is stronger than any darkness and that God’s goodness is stronger than any evil in this world, and this helps me go forward with certainty.”

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