March 26, 2017 – Fourth Sunday of Lent
Homily delivered at St. ius X Parish in Indianapolis, IN:
At first glance, today’s gospel reading offers a familiar two-part theme: The healing power of Jesus and the misguided tunnel vision of the Pharisees. Jesus gave sight to a man who had been blind from birth and the Pharisees called Jesus sinful for performing this miracle on the Sabbath. While it is a familiar story and message, it is one that bears repeating.
However, in preparing the homily for this weekend, I felt like I should dig deeper; there must be something more. First, this gospel was chosen specifically for the Lenten season. There has to be a reason for such placement. Second, the story comes from the Gospel of John, and John’s message is not always obvious. His gospel has layers that need to be peeled back.
So I read the gospel over and over. I compared this miracle of healing to those found in other gospels. Two differences emerged, both occurring at the very beginning of today’s gospel passage.
Listen again: As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth. He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam.” So he went and washed, and came back able to see.
This is interesting: The blind man did not ask to be healed, and no one else sought healing on his behalf. Think of the other stories of healing we’ve heard in the past: the blind or the lame calling out to Jesus, a paralyzed man on a mat being lowered down to Jesus through the roof, a centurion seeking healing for his son – “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, just say the word and my boy will be healed”, and a woman hemorrhaging for years reaching out to touch Jesus’ cloak. People used whatever means necessary to be healed by Jesus.
That was not the case in today’s gospel. As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth. The blind man didn’t call out. He did not seek healing. Why?
You may say, “Well, he was blind. He didn’t know Jesus was there.”
Jesus was well into his public ministry at that point. Everyone knew when Jesus was around. He traveled with an entourage – not only his disciples, but many others – the curious, those who had heard stories about him, some hoping to see a miracle, and some hoping to “catch him” doing something against Mosaic law. Word spread quickly when Jesus was coming to town. It was very unlikely that the blind man would not know Jesus was there.
So why didn’t he call out or send someone to ask Jesus for help?
Perhaps he did not consider himself worthy of being healed. He was blind from birth, and the prevailing thought of the time was that he deserved to be blind. He accepted his brokenness and his unworthiness. He was ashamed to reach out to Jesus for fear of rejection. He was afraid his unworthiness would be confirmed. In his own mind, he was too far gone.
Or maybe he lacked faith. He did not believe Jesus was capable of giving him his sight. Why call out when he didn’t believe?
I noticed another difference between this healing story and others we find in scripture. It was a very elaborate healing. We know Jesus healed others simply with words, or by touch, or in some cases by being touched. Why the seemingly overcomplicated procedures of this healing?
I would like to offer two possible explanations. First, we learn that Jesus approaches each of us in a different way. Some he heals with a word, others with a touch. Some are healed remotely, and others face-to-face. Some seek Jesus, others are sought out by him. We are given evidence of the very unique and personal encounter each person, each of us, has with Jesus Christ.
A second aspect of the elaborate healing is its public nature. Jesus performed many miracles in private. He even made it a point at times to say, “Tell no one what you have seen.” The healing in today’s gospel was public by design.
Again, remember the entourage I mentioned – there were many people around when Jesus approached the blind man. The spitting on the ground, the mixing of dirt and saliva, the smearing of the paste on the man’s eyes – a very unusual process that drew even more attention. But wait, we’re not done…
The blind man was then sent to another location to wash off. He would have needed an escort, and I am sure many people went with him out of curiosity. So picture this swarm of people, walking from that location, to the pool, and back again.
Then, so many were amazed by what they saw that they took the man to the Pharisees. The swarm moved again, and likely grew in size. The Pharisees, very publicly rejected the explanation of the formerly blind man and threw him out, and the swarm right along with him.
When Jesus and the man met again, John tells us the man said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped Jesus as the growing swarm looked on.
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, and ultimately to his passion and death. He was revealing himself more often. He used opportunities such as this to reveal the saving power of God. On that day, healing the blind man publicly offered an opportunity for God to be glorified. It was an opportunity to show what was possible, and that nothing was impossible with God.
So what is our Lenten message?
What is keeping us from seeking Jesus? We know he is around. We celebrate Mass with his entourage each week. We can see and feel the swarm.
Do you consider yourself unworthy? Do you feel like you do not deserve to experience his love and forgiveness? Are you ashamed of the baggage you carry with you? Are you afraid you will be rejected or have your unworthiness confirmed?
Or maybe you just lack faith. You have doubts about what Jesus is capable of, so why bother calling out to him?
The Lenten season is about working toward right relationship with God. If you are unwilling or unable to go to Him, at least leave the door open so he can come to you.
God’s healing power is real. Nothing is impossible. Allow God to be glorified through you.