Readings: First Book of Samuel 16:1-13; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
The color of the vestments worn today is rose, a reminder for us to rejoice, for we are half way through the Lenten journey and our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The traditional title for this Sunday is “Laetare Sunday,” taken from the first word of the Entrance Antiphon, “Rejoice.”
Last Sunday the focus of the liturgy was clearly on the idea of living water. Jesus is the source of that water and if we draw from his well we will never thirst. This Sunday in addition to rejoicing the focus is on the contrast between darkness and light. Like water, it is imagery used to describe the invisible, but nonetheless real, life of God working powerfully in human lives.
Today Saint Paul in his letter from prison to the Ephesians puts us on the track regarding light and darkness when he speaks of one of the fundamental motives of Christian morality, namely the radical change that takes places in the lives of Christians at the time of their conversion. Formerly we were in darkness, says Saint Paul, that is, before we turned wholeheartedly to God, whereby we have become “light in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8).
Saint Paul does not explain in detail or precisely the metaphors of darkness and light, but the context in which they occur make their meaning clear. Darkness is that realm where evil deeds and sin can flourish, that is, the tendency within all of us to choose other things over God and listen to the devil rather than to God. Light, in contrast, is the realm where good works are promoted and can flourish, where God’s ways take precedence over everything else. It is a power which ultimately casts out darkness, overcomes the grip of evil and sin, and allows the risen and glorified Christ to work in docile hearts.
Followers of Christ are meant to be “children of light.” It is an appealing image, as we all know the importance of light in our life. During the day, the sun provides the light; at night we depend on another means, but nonetheless cherish the sunlight for normally showing us the way. Likewise, the Christian counts on God’s light streaming into the soul, day and night, when awake or asleep.
Children of the light must express in their lives that same light by which they live. They must always live and deepen the profound change that has taken place by turning from sin and turning to God. Such a life is the “fruit of light,” as Saint Paul calls it (Ephesians 8:9a).
Walking in goodness, justice and truth is how Saint Paul describes one who is attuned to God’s light within. Christians are of the light, belong to the light, namely, to the risen Christ himself. Because Christ’s life on earth was always characterized by goodness, justice and truth, the lives of the Lord’s followers must also be marked by works of goodness, justice and truth. A life which stands in the light of Christ is meant to reflect Christ himself.
Another beautiful expression from Saint Paul, applicable to today’s liturgy, is this: “Become what you are already.” This means we must never give up becoming children of the light, people who belong to Christ. It is life-long work and God’s light constantly intensifying within us makes us in turn a source of light for the world around us (see Ephesians 8:13).
In the Gospel passage assigned for this fourth Sunday in Lent, the theme of light continues. The cure of the man born blind is clearly intended to illustrate Jesus’ claim to be the Light of the world (see Gospel of Saint John, chapter 8). Those who refuse to embrace the light Christ has to offer are walking in darkness, expressed as being blind.
This may not be the most politically correct way of speaking today, but in Jesus’ time blindness was considered a very grave misfortune for any individual. Today, by contrast, we hear of people who are blind and prefer to stay that way and we do not dismiss them as wrong in any sense.
In the Gospel story today, Jesus says that the blindness of the man has even been ordained by God’s Providence, as an occasion to manifest God’s power on earth. Paradoxically, then, a blind man, living in what was considered darkness and error, in fact manifests God’s glory and light to the world, and even to us today.
A miracle takes place; a man is able to see who previously could not. Those around Jesus see what has occurred and while unable to deny the fact of the miracle, refuse to accept the significance of the event. This is especially so in the case of the Pharisees. Their stand is clear: Jesus cured a man on the Sabbath, therefore the action cannot be from God nor has a prophet performed the cure. Yet the popular verdict is that indeed Jesus is sent from God and is a prophet.
How easy for us to be more like the opponents than advocates of Christ, fearing to put God in our lives, or better expressed, allowing God into our lives. We may prefer not to let faith enlighten our consciences and conduct. We may fear to know our responsibilities and obligations before God as Christ’s followers. In reality, though, we cannot afford to walk in darkness through this life, like someone who has a driver’s license but has no clue about the laws of the land regarding driving or the operating of a car.
When the man born blind is given sight he experiences a great peace and hope in his heart. When the opponents Jesus refuse to see and believe, they feel vexed and unhappy. Also today, Christ is being offered to us as the light of the world and we need to decide about the golden opportunity being given us, not just once, but every day and every minute. Will we accept or reject God’s call and gifts?
If it is necessary to open the eyes of the body in order to see color around us, so also is it necessary for a clearer mind and more informed conscience to have God actively at work in our lives, enlivening our faith. That happens when we leave ourselves open to be formed by God’s word and sacraments of grace.
We are people who seek God. Sometimes we may feel overcome by the darkness, our brokenness, our tendency to stray and to put other things above the love of Christ, but we should never lose hope in the light of Christ.
May the biblical readings for this Sunday in Lent enlighten our minds and show us the way we need to walk. May the bread and wine that become the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharistic celebration be the means of seeing our God present in our midst. May our common and private prayer help us see the path before us, not with fear but with confidence that Christ is with us at all times and everywhere.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB