Fourth Sunday of Lent – Year A
[1Samuel 16: 1b, 6-7, 10-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5: 8-14; John 9: 1-41]
For many years now I have needed to wear eyeglasses. At first, I required reading glasses (which I continually lost and replaced), but eventually came to need what I now wear. The lens in them is called “progressive”, worn, so I am rather diplomatically told, by many people over the age of forty. Even though their use really means my eyesight is gradually regressing in quality, these lenses are called progressive because they seamlessly combine three prescriptions in the one glass, which makes them multifocal – good for viewing things at a variety of distances. When I first donned these glasses, they became for me a new way of seeing.
From the Gospel passage we have just heard, the message is this: Jesus has come to give humanity a new way of seeing. He himself is the lens through which we see all dimensions of reality in perfect clarity. Furthermore, he is a progressive lens in the sense that the more we are touched by his love and mercy, the more we progress in our understanding, our seeing, of the truth about God, ourselves, and how we are to view and love one another.
Saint John gives us the account of the healing by Jesus of a man blind from birth. As we reflect upon it, let’s keep in mind that this is not simply the narrative of a miracle that happened to one individual a long time ago. It is also about ourselves and the miracle that Jesus wants to bring about in each one of us.
The encounter of Jesus with a man physically blind signals his desire to meet each of us and confront our own inability to see. Although we may have physical sight, nevertheless a different kind of blindness can afflict us. When the sun is eclipsed, darkness befalls the land; when God is eclipsed, the human mind and heart lose accurate vision. That God has been shrouded from view in our culture is a surprise to no one, I am sure. This has caused a pervasive moral blindness, in which many have lost from sight the truth about reality and the right way to live.
What is the cure? For the blind man in the Gospel, he began to see again when he followed the instructions of Jesus and washed away the mud the Lord had made and placed on his eyes. This action by the Lord symbolically foreshadowed the healing he would bring to his people through the sacraments, in which earthly matter would be used to signify and confer divine grace. There is also indicated here a particular anticipation of the sacrament of Baptism, in which the use of water signifies the cleansing of sin that separates us from God and so restores union with him. In other words, the cure for our blindness is the mercy of God, who in Baptism and the other sacraments replaces the darkness sin imposes with the light that is Jesus Christ.
When I don my eyeglasses, the progressive lens corrects my physical vision. That is the limit of what it can do. In the case of the blind man, the healing of his sight by Jesus was not limited to the physical. His inner vision also became progressively clear. He came to see with the eyes of faith the truth of who Jesus Christ is, and fell down and worshipped him. Likewise, our moral blindness disappears when the truth of Jesus Christ enlightens us and his grace leads us to acknowledge him as Son of God and Saviour. Our first response, too, is worship, especially here in the Eucharist. From this act of worship, we continue to fall prostrate before the Lord each day by living in accord with the new vision he bestows upon us and with what that enables us to see. This lifting of our moral blindness enables us to see as Christ sees, to view one another with Christ’s own vision, and thus to perceive with clarity how we are to live as his followers, how we are to be the “children of light”, to use the phrase by which Saint Paul describes the life of the disciple.
Adopting this new way of seeing, however, requires some significant adjustment on our part as we grow accustomed to it. In the first few days after I began to wear a progressive lens, I was tripping all over the place. My vision was not clearly focused. I called the optometrist’s office to say that something is just not working. The woman with whom I spoke very kindly encouraged me to stick with them, since, as she said, the brain needs to adjust to this new way of seeing. Well, seeing through the lens that is Jesus Christ and adopting his vision as our own likewise requires adjustment, not only of our brains but also our hearts.
Consider the first reading. In the Lord’s unexpected choice of David as king, we are taught that God does not judge by outward appearance but sees directly into the human heart. Adjustment to this divine way of seeing is a transition away from judging others on the basis of mere externals. It means seeing fellow human beings as precious in the eyes of God, each person with their own story, hidden to our view yet known fully by God. In short, the adjustment is a re-direction of our vision away from ourselves and towards Jesus, so that, in his light and through the prism of the Gospel, we see how we are to love one another as he has loved us.
As in this Eucharist we bow down in worship before Jesus Christ, the living God, may the grace of this sacrament heal our blindness and enable us to see with his vision, so that we can live as the children of light he calls us to be.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph Basilica
March 19th, 2023