Homily for 4th Sunday of Lent (Laetare)
The 3rd, 4th and 5th Sundays of Lent are ‘Scrutiny Sundays’. In the early Church these Gospel texts were used expound the teachings of Christ and the Church to catechumens, those who were preparing to be Baptised in the ancient Church. Last week we heard the exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the Well in which Jesus declares Himself as the Water of Life. This week we hear the exchange and experience of Jesus and the man born blind. Jesus does not heal him instantaneously but uses signs and engages him in his healing process. Jesus leads him. Leads him to a profound physical and more importantly, spiritual healing. The blind man at first simply recognises Him as, “the man called Jesus…” (9:11); then he recognises Jesus is a prophet (9:17), finally he recognises Jesus is from God (9:33). The blind man comes to full faith in Jesus. Jesus is not a conjurer or magician but a Physician who enables deep, lasting and profound healing.
The actions of Jesus in the Gospel have deep and profound meaning not only for those early catechumens, but for us too. The text is from St. John’s Gospel. St. John uses language very deliberately, every word and action is weighed and measured to express the truths of the Lord’s message. The fact that Jesus saw the man reminds us that the Good Lord always sees us. He sees us as we are and as we truly are. He sees us as we are and as we can become.
Jesus makes a paste with the earth. This may seem strange to use. In fact this was a fairly common practice. But again, this is St John’s Gospel so everything is there for a reason and purpose. The Latin ‘Homo sapiens’, means ‘wise man’. For the Jews man /mankind always means Adam, the son of earth. The Genesis story of Creation tells us that Adam was brought forth from the earth. In Hebrew mankind (humanity) comes from the adamah, which means ‘the earth’. That word Adamah carries with it a sense of fruitful earth or rich soil. But of course that lump of soil, earth, clay is inert. There is no ‘anima’, no life. In Genesis the God who seeks always to create, enliven and sustain uses the ruah. Ruah is the Hebrew word which means “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit.” The corresponding Greek word is pneuma. Both words are commonly used in passages referring to the Holy Spirit with the implication of ‘creative breath of God’. God has breathed His own Divine life into inert humanity and given life, a share in His own life. That same word is used when Genesis says that the Spirit hovered, in fact, brooded over the waters.
Water is also a sign of life and used in many cultures and religions as a symbol of life and purity. In the Christian faith it is a primary symbol of new life in and through Holy Baptism. This is especially true of the Catholic faith where we use water in so much of our liturgical and individual worship. The primary and essential moment of Baptism, the moment of our rebirth in Christ is central to all we do as Catholic Christians. Water was also important and symbolic to the Jews of the Old and New Testament – The liberating waters of the Sea of Reeds, the new life as received from the waters of Meribah, the new life offered to the Samaritan Woman, by Jesus in last week’s Gospel.
Once again because we are dealing with St. John’s Gospel the fact that the blind man is sent by Jesus to the water known as the Pool of Siloam is important. In St. John’s Gospel, the Sacramental experience of being born again, being made new, is deeply significant not just for the catechumens but for us all. Jesus sends the blind man to Siloam, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” (John 9:4).
Again St. John makes his own comment to underline what is really happening; he wrote, Siloam means “Sent.” For St John and the early Church this word “sent” is significant because several times in St. John’s Gospel we are told that Jesus has been sent by the Father: Jesus’ food is to do the will of him who sent him (4:34); whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him (5:23); these works that I perform testify…that the Father has sent me. (5:36) When St. John says that the blind man washed in the Pool of Siloam which means Sent and came back seeing, he draws our attention to the fact that the blind man washed in Jesus and came back seeing. Jesus taught three times earlier in this Gospel about the gift of the Spirit during baptism, and now this blind man washes in Siloam – he really washes in Jesus – and is cured of his blindness. “I went, I washed, I saw” says the blind man when he was asked how his eyes were opened (John 9:11).
When Jesus meets the man a second time we reach the climax of the drama. Jesus asks the man if he believes in the Son of Man (9:35) and the man asks who is the Son of Man (9:36). Jesus reveals that He is the Son of Man and the man responds in faith, “Lord, I believe” and because he believed he worshipped Jesus (9:38), The Greek of St. John’s Gospel indicates that the man went down on his knees before Jesus. For those early catechumens and for us all who have met Jesus in faith, those who have been washed in the waters of Baptism and so belong to Him, this worship is always the appropriate response. It is only once we have learned to kneel before God that we can learn to stand steadfast before the world.
Washing in the Pool of Siloam was only the start of a lifelong journey for this man. He would never be the same again. We too have been washed in the Siloam of Holy Baptism. Like the blind man, we have grown in our faith to understand and accept Jesus as our Lord and our God. Jesus stands before us, those who have been washed and reborn in the waters of new life, asking “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The weeks ahead of us will be challenging on so many levels. There is a sense that this time will be a Lenten experience when we are challenged to change our way of thinking and acting. Just as Lent calls us to focus and prioritise so the weeks ahead will require courage, honesty and commitment to the task at hand. The blind man came to a new and deeper experience of sight and insight, a new and deeper experience of the presence of the Lord at work in his life. We too are called to that deeper experience. For the Christian we are called to make manifest that new life, new experience and deeper insight in the ordinary things of life. The weeks ahead provide us with opportunities to put those things into very real and practical action. Long periods of time spent close together can be both blessing and curse! Similarly, much longer periods alone can be blessing and curse. The frustrations, concerns and worries about our family, loved ones, jobs and health (not to mention what we are going to do with 120 toilet rolls!) may bring real anxiety.
In the midst of a rapidly changing world, full of uncertainty and distress stands the Lord wanting to calm, heal, restore and bring peace into trouble lives and hearts. In the week ahead let us, like the blind man, not be afraid to present in prayer ourselves, our needs, our concerns, our loved ones and those in need to the Lord. Let us, conscious of the Lord’s goodness to us, go out of our way to be kind, generous and understanding, reach out to others (without touching except spiritually!) and so make real in our own lives the words of the blind man, ‘Lord, I do believe!’