Fourth Sunday of Lent
1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Psalm 23:1-2a, 3b-4, 5-6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
The first reading is the story of how the Lord God chose David to become king. But there is back-ground to this patriotic literature, patriotic in the sense that it justifies the rise to power of a sometimes manipulative, ruthless, conniving character who somehow became the Teflon founder of a dynasty lasting about 500 years. The winners usually write the history, and so King David became much greater after his death than he was during his reign, 1,000-961 B.C. Saul was the first king of the Israelites. The prophet Samuel, a powerful and cranky figure in the story, orders Saul to wage a Holy War against a neighboring tribe — Amalek. They were put under the ban, meaning the Israelites were commanded to kill everything that breathes — even the animals of the Amalekites. Saul carried out most of the ban, but he allowed the Amalekite king to live and the best of the livestock. Cranky old Samuel comes to visit Saul. He discovers that Saul disobeyed the ban. Samuel accuses Saul of treachery and rejects him as king.
A new king was needed. The Lord sent Samuel to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse to anoint one of Jesse’s sons. The elders of the city fearfully came out to meet the old prophet. Everyone knew, “Don’t mess with Samuel,” but he assures them he came to them in peace. The Lord had warned Samuel not to be swayed by stature, looks, charm, or personality as Jesse paraded his sons one by one in front of Samuel. No one was acceptable. After discovering that Jesse’s youngest son David was still out in the fields tending the family’s flock of sheep, Samuel sent for him. This is the one Samuel anointed under the principle that “not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but God looks into the heart.” St. Paul enunciates the same principle in different words, “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.” Young David is described as “ruddy,” that is red haired. This word influenced some artists to paint the boy Jesus, “son, descendant of David” with red hair. Selection of this reading to accompany today’s gospel: the anointing of David created him king. The anointing by Jesus created sight in the man born blind.
The Responsorial Psalm 23 picks up from the first reading the note that David was tending sheep when he was chosen as king. “Shepherd” is a universal symbol of kingship in the ancient world. Therefore a favorite Psalm of multitudes, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . . .”
The second reading is an excerpt from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. The selection was determined by the theme of light which runs throughout the reading, occurring six times as the source of “goodness, righteousness, truth.” The light is the antidote to darkness, occurring twice, “where shameful things are done in secret.” A connection with the gospel reading for today is intended. Just before the creation of the man’s sight, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”
The gospel reading is the second of the three great RCIA instructions — the story of the man born blind. The disciples of Jesus notice the blind man begging as they pass by. They ask Jesus whose sin caused this blindness? The man himself or his parents? The disciples understood the blindness as a punishment from God. Jesus disagrees. The purpose of the blindness: “that the works of God might be made manifest in the blind man.” After calling himself “the light of the world,” Jesus spat on the ground, formed a ball of clay, and anointed the unseeing eyes. The word clay is important for understanding this as an act of creation, since Genesis 2:7 (in the Hebrew text), speaks of God creating the first human being out of clay. As God required cooperation from the first man, tilling the garden, so Jesus requires cooperation, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam.” The author of the gospel explains that Siloam means “sent.” (How profound yet simple is the teaching involved here — creation, baptism, mission [sent], as an obligation for every Christian, moving from blindness of unbelief to faith to action.) The blind man obeys his Lord and sees. Later this seeing will be interpreted by the author of the gospel as belief in Jesus, 9:37-38. An interesting insight: just as clay that became the first human did not ask to be created but was an overflowing of the goodness of the Creator, so the man whose sight was created by clay applied by Jesus did not ask to see, but was given sight by the goodness of the Creator of light.
Now the man born blind could see, but what came with it? Trouble for him and his parents! Those who saw him as a beggar disputed whether he was even the same person. The author writes, “They brought him to the Pharisees.” These are not Pharisees as Pharisees, but the learned scribes who professed the beliefs held by Pharisees. It was their job to be a kind of religious police investigating strange happenings. The poor man now had to explain to the scholars what had happened. They discover that the giving of sight had happened on the Sabbath, the day of rest when work was forbidden. Jesus had worked. He could get by with spitting, but forming clay and applying it? No way could that be excused on the Sabbath. They decide, “This man (Jesus) is a sinner.” God, they say, does not listen to sinners, so Jesus can’t be from God. They grill the formerly blind man, “What do you say?” He proclaims Jesus a prophet.” Next even his parents are grilled by these “detectives.” They had to confirm that the man really was their son and that he was born blind. Eventually they become abusive when the former blind man attempts to teach them some common sense theology. He is expelled from the synagogue. Thus the author reaches out to Jewish Christians who met the same fate when they became Christians. Jesus finds his patient, consoles him, and gives him the opportunity for a closing act of faith, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “I do believe, Lord.” The author adds, “He worshipped him.” Every catechumen approaching the final act of faith and baptism will identify with the man born blind.