The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent are available HERE.
Every year, the Gospels we hear on the Sundays of Lent take us on a pilgrimage. This year, the Gospel on the first Sunday of Lent reminded us of the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness. This was time He spent alone with God the Father, to help Him prepare to start the work He came on earth to do. It reminds us of the forty days of Lent, the time we are given every year to prepare to celebrate the holiest week in our year and then Easter, the most important day for Christians. On the second Sunday we were taken up the mountain with Peter, James and John, when the Father gave them a clear sign that they were right to listen to Jesus and to learn from Him. Last week, we were with the woman at the well in Samaria, when Jesus surprised her because He knew everything about her; despite that, He did not lecture her about her behaviour, but offered her living water, just what she needed to be a different and better sort of person. Today, we meet a man who has been blind since he was born, and we see Jesus working a miracle, allowing the man to see for the first time in his life. We also see the reaction of the Pharisees, who are angry with Jesus, and say: “this man cannot be from God: he does not keep the sabbath”. In a way, the fact that the Pharisees refuse to accept Jesus shows that they are blind. They cannot see who He really is.
That shows that there is not only physical blindness, when a person literally cannot see anything, like my niece’s son, who is six months old and was born blind. There is also spiritual blindness, when we cannot see God working in the world. The second reading also tells us about the way we can live in spiritual darkness, because we do things that we are ashamed to speak of, things we hope other people will never know about us. These are our worst sins; we know they are wrong and do anything we can to hide them. Saint Paul says this to the Christians in Ephesus, and he says it to us as well: “try to discover what the Lord wants of you, having nothing to do with the futile works of darkness but exposing them”. We hide the things we are ashamed of, but Paul suggests we should allow God’s light to shine on our lives, even on the shameful things we do: “anything exposed by the light will be illuminated and anything illuminated turns into light”.
When the Pharisees are speaking to the man Jesus healed from his blindness, they ask him what he thinks of Jesus. He tells them that Jesus is a prophet. They react angrily, and say: “Are you trying to teach us, and you a sinner through and through, since you were born?” That is because, in their view, sickness, poverty, misfortune or afflictions like blindness are all caused by sin. If this man was born blind, it must be because someone did something sinful. Jesus is not interested in that; He just wants to help the man overcome his handicap.
When we meet people who are not able to accept that Jesus is the Son of God, people who do not accept what Jesus teaches, it is easy for us to think that they are simply refusing to believe. I believe more and more that some people are convinced that it is impossible to believe in Jesus. It is tempting to criticise them for being blind. It is harder to help them to see. Simply repeating what the Gospel says or what the Church teaches will never convince some people. The challenge we have is to find ways of helping people to see who God is, by helping them to see what difference our belief in Jesus makes to our lives. Just think: the man Jesus heals in today’s Gospel was born blind. He has never seen a thing. Jesus changes his life by giving him something he has never had, the ability to see the world around him. If we meet people who have never had faith, they have probably never seen any evidence of what God does in the world and they have no idea what God could do for them. Words and teachings will never be enough. They need another kind of proof that God exists. I suspect that what will really convince them is the effect our faith has on our lives. If they can see your belief in God really does make a difference to you, they are much more likely to listen to what you tell them about God. They may have been born spiritually blind. You could help them see for the first time.
Fr. Peter Fleetwood