Fourth Sunday of Lent – Year A 1 Sam 16:1b,6-7,10-13a; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41
Dear brothers and sisters, today we celebrate the Fourth Sunday of Lent. Some of you may know this, but the Fourth Sunday of Lent is a special Sunday, just like the Third Sunday of Advent is a special Sunday too. Today is called Rose Sunday (because the priests and deacons can wear rose). It’s also called Laetare Sunday. It means “Rejoice Sunday,” or “the Sunday of Rejoicing,” and we can see the reason for all the Church’s rejoicing in today’s Gospel. The Church offers us the opportunity to meditate on a rather long passage from John’s Gospel, recounting the healing of the man born blind, and the consequent rejection of both him and Jesus by the Jewish authorities. It might seem strange to rejoice when there’s lots of suffering and persecution in the world, but today’s Gospel shows us how Christ is nonetheless there in the midst of us and our difficulties. There’s a lot of things to consider, but we can focus on three: first, the words of Jesus to His disciples before the man’s healing, second, the healing itself, and, third, the second meeting of Jesus and the blind man after the miracle. So, we can consider before the miracle, the miracle, and after it.
Before the miracle, Jesus and His disciples walk by the man born blind. It’s a rather odd encounter, in the sense that it almost seems that, if the disciples hadn’t said anything, the miracle wouldn’t have taken place. Yet, Jesus knows exactly what He is doing. His disciples pose the question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This is an interesting inquiry, and we see here one of the debates in the contemporary culture. Some thought that children were punished for their parents’ sins, and hence the man was born blind because his parents had done something bad. Yet, this goes again what God said in the book of Deuteronomy, namely, “The fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers” (24:16). However, if it wasn’t the fault of the parents, then it must have been the fault of the man himself, right? But, if he was born blind, then . . . he must’ve sinned before he was born, which doesn’t make much sense either.
This is why Jesus replies and tells them that neither is the case. “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” In other words, the disciples need to change the way they think about suffering and illness.
Commenting on this, Saint Thomas Aquinas says that, yes, “God sometimes imposes physical punishments, or difficulties in external concerns, as a beneficial remedy for the soul. And then punishments of this kind are not given just as injuries, but as healing remedies.” In other words, sometimes God causes, or at least permits, sufferings or evil, but this in order to get a greater good out of them. The same saint quotes Saint Augustine, who says: “God is so good that he would never permit any evil to occur, unless he was so powerful as to draw some good from every evil,” and the Angelic Doctor adds that “God allows [or permits] certain sins to be committed because He intends some good; in this way, he allows the rage of tyrants so that martyrs may be crowned. Much more, therefore, should it be said that the evil of punishment, which He causes – as Amos (3:6) says: ‘Does evil befall a city, unless the Lord has done it?’ – is never applied except for the good He intends. And among these goods the best is that the works of God be manifested, and from them that God be known. Therefore, it is not unfitting if God sends afflictions or allows sins to be committed in order that some good come from them.”
Likewise, Saint Augustine says that the blind man represents all humanity, that is, each and every one of us. We are blind to the good things that God does, blind to His goodness, and closed in sin. The greatest good that God gives us is the light of grace through baptism. Especially in these difficult times, we should consider how we see the bad things that happen in this world, and how well we try to see God at work through them.
Next, we have the miracle itself. Commentators, including Augustine, John Chrysostom, Aquinas, and those from today, have pointed out at least three interesting details: first, Jesus uses saliva and clay in the man’s healing. Again, as with every miracle, Jesus could’ve healed the man with a word, or just with the spit, but He used clay and told the man to go wash. Why in this way? On one hand, in this way, Christ shows that His body is the instrument of His divinity, and that He who can heal a man’s eyes with clay, is the one who made man out of clay in the first place. On the other hand, it also shows that the clay itself wasn’t miraculous; in other words, the healing came from Christ. The man had to walk with clay on his eyes and wash before he was healed.
The second detail is precisely this walk to the Pool of Siloam. It would’ve been a distance to get to it, and with this Christ made sure that the blind man was seen by many. At the same time, this required faith on the part of the blind man, because he wouldn’t have been able to see where he was going since he was still blind.
The third detail is this blindness. It’s interesting that the blind man goes all the way to the pool, all without seeing Jesus, without knowing who He is. The only thing he has heard is Christ’s voice.
This leads us to our third point: after the miracle, the Jews are angry and try to get as much information as possible about Christ from the man. However, the man is firm in his convictions. He admits that he does not understand; we can easily think that the man must’ve been quite simple, since, being blind, his education would have been quite limited. Yet, “even when a man cannot understand with his intellect, he can still feel with his heart. It is better to love Jesus than to love theories about him.”
After being kicked out of the synagogue, Jesus went and looked for the man. As Saint John Chrysostom put it: “The Jews cast him out of the Temple; the Lord of the Temple found him.” The man simply attested to Christ’s miracle, and was punished for it. This is a message for us: if our Christian witness separates us from others, it will always bring Jesus closer to us. He remains faithful to His own. Indeed, before the man only heard Christ’s voice; now, he is rewarded with seeing Christ and the chance to grow even deeper in his faith.
Today, as we celebrate this fourth Sunday, this Sunday of rejoicing in the midst of difficulties, we can ask ourselves: how well do we try to see God at work in our lives, even in the midst of hardships? Do we believe that He wants us to draw closer to Him, and that He can get good out of anything, even what seems evil?
Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us ask for the grace to draw near to Jesus, to seek Him with all our hearts, and to trust in His love for us.