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The Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 26, 2017

Click here to listen to this homily (.mp4 file)

    There is more than one story in the gospels about Jesus restoring sight to a blind person, but the one we just heard is quite different. It’s a story not about Jesus restoring sight but about giving sight to someone who never saw in the first place, a man who was blind from birth.

     It’s a powerful story and a long one but, long as it is, it leaves a lot unsaid. For instance, it doesn’t say a thing about what it was like for this man when he first opened his eyes. It must have been dazzling but confusing, also, because he would have had absolutely no point of reference. He didn’t know light or color; he had no idea what people looked like, or trees, or water, or flowers, or the sky. And then in a flash, he was surrounded by an infinity of newness.

     But we hear nothing of this because it’s not the concern of the gospel writer or the point of the story.  Remember, we are in John’s gospel, the gospel of signs and symbols. That should tip us off to the fact that we are dealing here with a physical miracle, yes, but with far more than that. In John’s gospel, miracles are always signs that point beyond themselves, so we have to dig a bit, we have to get below and beyond the appearances of things because in John’s gospel, if you’ll pardon the pun, there is always more than meets the eye.

     And what is that “more” in this story?  It’s a kind of seeing that is deeper by far than physical sight. This story is not so much about the glorious things we see with these eyes as it is about the far more glorious things that we see with the eyes of faith.  It’s about a man getting his eyes opened, yes, but the really important eyes that get opened here are the eyes of faith.  That’s why the Church gives us this story every year during Lent. Lent is the Church’s prime time for growing in faith. Lent is meant to be eye-opening time for the Church, and especially for those who are preparing for baptism at Easter. What better time, then, to hear this story? What better time to reflect on faith and on what it means to us, and where it can take us?  What better time to come to terms with what a gift faith is and, at the same time, to acknowledge how weak and fragile and shaky our faith can sometimes be?

     I often find myself wondering how people without faith make it in life.  Maybe you do, too.  I know people who would really like to believe, who have been searching for years - even coming to church - but they’ve never been able to make the leap of faith.  And I wonder why.  Why do I have faith and they don’t?  I honestly don’t know. All I know is that faith is a gift, and gifts are always mysterious and never deserved. I also know that even those of us who are blessed with faith have to struggle with it at times.  A favorite prayer of mine from the gospels is the simple one a father made to Jesus when he desperately wanted him to cure his son: “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!”  Do you relate to that? I think we all do.

     I recall a conversation I had years ago with Ulrich Henn, the German sculptor who created our bronze doors and the tabernacle in the Blessed Sacrament chapel.  He was telling me about the door handle he was planning to make for one of the doors out there, how he wanted it to tell the gospel story of Peter walking on the water toward Jesus and then starting to sink. When I asked him why that story, he told me, “people who come here may believe, but not always very well, and they need to know that Jesus will be there to pull them out of the water just as he did Peter.”  “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief!”

     Today’s gospel shows that faith is more a process than a possession. Faith is not a neatly packaged set of beliefs, a portable catechism we carry around with carefully crafted answers to every possible question. No, faith is a pair of eyes - a way of looking at life, a way of knowing, a way of living.  And faith is never stagnant: it’s a growing thing.

     We know that from today’s gospel. The blind man came to faith only in stages. Only gradually did he come to recognize who Jesus was, only gradually did he come to actually put his faith in Jesus. This is clear from the way the story unfolded.  When the authorities first questioned him about how he got his sight, he told them it was from “the man called Jesus.” There’s a certain distance in that language, isn’t there?  Some detachment.  Then, as they continued to grill him, he referred to Jesus as “a prophet”, and then “a man from God” (and there are stirrings of faith there, for sure). Later, when Jesus found him and engaged him in conversation, he called Jesus “the Son of Man” (that’s a highly charged biblical title with divine overtones), and finally, in an act of profound faith he called Jesus “Lord,” and he worshipped him.

     Quite a trek that was -- from “the man called Jesus” to “Lord.”  No wonder we speak of faith as a journey!

     My friends, the blind man’s path to faith should give hope to all of us who are on a similar path -- all of us who believe, but not always very well, all of us who have our blind spots.  And we can draw even more hope from today’s reading from the Book of Samuel where we were reminded that all this is not just about what we see but about what God sees. God sees in ways we humans don’t, and can’t.  The God who saw promise in the young shepherd boy, David, sees promise in us, too, no matter how unpromising we may feel.  That’s because God “looks into the heart” and we see only the appearances. May this Eucharist we are celebrating open our eyes to the God who looks into the heart and loves what he sees!

Father Michael G. Ryan 

 

 

 

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