Reflection: the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Chinese Mass:Every Sunday 2:15 p.m.

Our Lady of the Assumption RC Church, Assumption Priory, Victoria Park Square, Bethnal Green E2 9PB (map)

After Mass you are welcome to join the community for a tea gathering

Bible study/sharing every Saturday (2:00-4:00 p.m.) at Notre Dame De France Church, 5 Leicester Place WC2H 7BX (near See Woo Chinese Supermarket, Leicester Square tube station)

Talk and discussion meeting First Monday of every month (4:00-6:00 p.m.) at Notre Dame De France Church

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[John 9:1-41]

Today’s gospel is quite different from that of last Sunday. Here it is full of action compared to the one last week which was a dialogue. Yet, it still holds the same intensity and a quick comparison between the two shows that one can also find common themes between them.

Today’s story is about a blind man who born blind and without even asking for Jesus’ help, the blind was given sight. He has never seen anything in his life because he was born blind. Usually Jesus waits for the person himself or someone on behalf of that person to ask for Jesus’ help: to intervene and ‘have mercy’, but not in today’s gospel. Jesus’ action stems from him ‘having mercy’ by the question posed to him by his own disciples. For the disciples, for this person to be born blind, someone must have sinned, either him [though one could question how could this man’s sin caused him his blindness since he was ‘born’ blind] or else it must have been his parents. For the Jews, anything that is negative or wrong is a consequence of sin. For Jesus however, everything, even what seems negative and wrong, might be a display of God’s might. Jesus does not say that his disciple’s statement (that what is ‘wrong’ is because of sin) is wrong. He tells his disciples that they have to learn to look at everything (and therefore also to what is wrong and negative in one’s eyes) with the eyes of faith. In other words Jesus is saying that God intervenes… always… if one is ready to see God’s intervention.

God certainly intervenes this time through Jesus who takes on the responsibility to continue to do the Father’s will in being the light that shines in the darkness. After proclaiming to be the light of the world, Jesus gives sight to the blind man and the blind man can see the ‘light’ which everyone can see with one’s own eyes. But the (ex)blind man can also see the ‘light’, which is Jesus, with his own spiritual eyes, which for the time being he still cannot because he does not yet know Jesus!

At this point the whole attitude changes because we find ourselves hearing about ‘knowing’ and ‘not knowing’. We have the neighbours and the people, who had seen the blind man begging, asking each other if he really is the same blind man … until he confirms that he really is the (ex)blind man that they knew. We have the (ex)blind man himself who does not really know Jesus … for he has never seen him! Neither does he know where Jesus is. Yet somehow he knows – because he had the experience – that Jesus is a prophet … because Jesus opened his eyes. [In last week’s gospel the Samaritan woman too has called Jesus “a Prophet”] There are also the Pharisees who certainly ‘know of’ Jesus but at the same time they struggle to really ‘know him’ which is demonstrated by their own disagreement about him: some of them acknowledged that Jesus is an extraordinary man whilst others called him a sinner. The (ex)blind man’s parents also came into the scene. Although they clearly knew that the (ex)blind man is their son and that he was born blind, they also did not know what happened and how it was that he came to see. They say that their son is old enough to answer for himself … The gospel writer says “His parents spoke like this out of fear of the Jews, who had already agreed to expel from the synagogue anyone who should acknowledge Jesus as the Christ”. This clearly shows that the Pharisees really knew that there was something extraordinary about Jesus and yet they did not want to accept him for who he really was. Once again the Pharisees tell the man that could now see: “we know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from”. They did not even attempt to understand what was going on. They definitely decided not to accept Jesus and in fact they also seem to be asking: “Who does he think he is?” For this reason the same (ex)blind man tells them: “Now here is an astonishing thing! He has opened my eyes, and you don’t know where he comes from! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but God does listen to men who are devout and do his will. Ever since the world began it is unheard of for anyone to open the eyes of a man who was born blind; if this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing.” Interesting food for thought! We are told that as soon as they heard these words from the (ex)blind man, they called him “a sinner” and they drove him away. Unlike the (ex)blind man who started to accept Jesus not yet because he knows him, but because of Jesus’ actions, the Pharisees were prejudiced against Jesus and despite everything they were seeing, they continued to put Jesus, (who they themselves admitted was doing extraordinary things), and this man (who clearly gained his sight), on the same level calling both of them “a sinner”.

We are told at the end of the story that when Jesus heard about what had happened to this (ex)blind man – i.e. that they drove him away – something that Jesus would later have to pass through himself – Jesus found him and asked if he believed in the Son of Man. The (ex)blind man, who recognised Jesus’ voice but not necessarily the man in front of him, asks Jesus to tell him who the Son of Man is so that he could believe in him. Jesus answer is quite direct and intense: ‘You are looking at him; he is speaking to you.’ Jesus has given him sight and therefore this (ex)blind man can now look at Jesus. Furthermore Jesus is also speaking to him and therefore there is already an interactive relationship between them. Jesus is speaking to the (ex)blind man and he is listening to Jesus and looking at Jesus … for the first time in his life. Before he did not know Jesus, now that he has put a face to a voice, he can! In fact the (ex)blind man addresses Jesus not ‘Sir’ anymore, but ‘Lord’. He also announces that He believes and we are told that he ‘worshipped’ Jesus. Yes, through what Jesus had done to this man, through this man’s relationship with Jesus, the (ex)blind man could see that Jesus is more than a prophet because he worshipped him. He recognises God in Jesus.

The whole story concludes with Jesus speaking about the physically blind who may receive sight (physically or spiritually) and the spiritually blind who (because they refuse to see) can never have true (spiritual) sight. At this statement the Pharisees, who themselves refused to have spiritual sight – by refusing Jesus – tells Jesus that they are not blind! In reply Jesus tells them that the fact that they say they see but cannot see him as the Son of God, their blindness is worse than those who cannot see. Those who cannot see, just cannot see. The Pharisees can see but refuse to see and accept Jesus and therefore their guilt remains! In fact, when the Pharisees called Jesus and the (ex)blind man “sinners”, they have clearly forgotten that they themselves are also sinners!!!

“Lord, you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Give us the light that we need to be able to see the God in you and as we look at you, give us ears to listen to what you have to tell us. Thank you Lord!”

Fr. Jesmond Pawley, OFM Conv.

(Permission to reproduce on this site by Fr. Jesmond, St. Patrick’s RC Church, Waterloo http://www.stpatrickwaterloo.org.uk/ )

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