March 27, 2017
Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent (Year A) on March 26, 2017 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; and John 9:1-41.
Our gospel passage today is one of the great literary works of John: the story of the man born blind. There are two literary devices I’d like you to notice as we hear this story, two elements Miss Willig taught me in 11th grade when we studied The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
The first element is the symbolism of light and dark. In The Scarlet Letter, those who stand in the light know the truth, and they have the ability grow in faith. In the Gospel of John, sight is a metaphor for the ability to believe in Jesus Christ.
The second element is dramatic irony. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne must wear the letter ‘A’ to indicate her sin of adultery, but she refuses to name her lover. He, however, languishes in fear that he will be discovered. One irony is that in the opening scene, Hester stands in the sunlight, while the other Puritans – including their minister – literally stand in the dark. It is similarly ironic in John that the scholars of the Jewish Law are obstinately blind to Jesus’ power.
For the times that we have refused to acknowledge God’s presence in our own lives, we ask for God’s mercy.
Jesus heals a man born blind – a miracle of the highest degree. In his successive encounters with Jesus, the man comes to deeper faith. First, he calls him “Jesus,” then “a prophet,” then a “man… from God,” and finally, “Lord.” Yet the Pharisees close their eyes to the obvious power Jesus accesses through his relationship with the Father. How could the Pharisees be so blind?
We all have blind spots to things that seem obvious to everyone else. Samuel tells Jesse that God has chosen one of his sons to be king of Israel. Yet, after Samuel announces that Jesse’s first seven sons are not chosen by God, Jesse doesn’t think to tell Samuel about his eighth son. How could Jesse be so blind?
Back when I was an engineer, many of my music friends and church friends commented how off the deep-end I was about being prepared and organized. I really didn’t understand what they meant until the Paulist seminary team opened my eyes. For example, I never realized how much time I wasted chopping my vegetables one piece at a time, aiming to make everything the same size. I can still get lost in the details, but I assure you, I’ve come a long way!
Cardinal John Henry Newman once said: “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” One of the life skills we need to learn is adaptability, the ability to look at things from various perspectives, to be willing to change. A theology professor of mine often said, “Being an adult means being able to live in ambiguity.” People who are rigid have a hard time growing. Like withered plants, these people become brittle, easy to break.
This Lent, has the Holy Spirit invited you to learn to bend in new ways, to open your eyes to new possibilities in your relationship with God? It can be scary, looking at things from a new perspective, from a view that puts us in a less flattering light. (I assure you that I have made more embarrassing personal discoveries over the years than how I chop vegetables!)
The man born blind, by being cured, is forced to face the Pharisees in their attempts to trip up Jesus. Yet, he rises to the situation, boldly proclaiming his faith, as are the adults preparing to be baptized at St. Austin in less than 21 days. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester Prynne’s pregnancy forces her into the harsh light of scandal, but it begins a transformation in her life, as she offers her nursing skills to the people of Boston most in need. In time, people say that the letter ‘A’ emblazoned on her clothes stands for ‘Able,’ not ‘Adultery.’ Meanwhile, her former lover – constantly facing the possibility of being exposed – is unable to move forward in his spiritual journey. He literally worries himself to death.
Too bad the Puritans of New England didn’t have access to the sacrament of confession like we do. It’s a much safer, lower-pressure way to acknowledge our sins before God and to receive the graces necessary for the journey ahead.
I have two questions for us to consider in this next week of our Lenten journey:
- What are the shadows inside of you that scare you?
- Could the energy you spend on hiding your shadows, be better used to shine the light of Christ on them?
The Pharisees claim to see God’s work in the world, and yet they remain sinfully blind. But there is hope for all of us. Not all the Pharisees remained blind. The Bible tells us that one Pharisee came to be Christ’s most powerful advocate, giving his entire life – both his strengths and his weaknesses – to the gospel. His name was Paul. But before he was able to see, he was literally struck blind for three days.
When we’re brave enough to examine our shadows, we rob the darkness of its power. “What you hear in the dark, you must speak in the light. You are salt for the earth. You are light for the world.”