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The Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 19, 2023

Watch this homily! (Begins at 40:15)

     Each year on this fourth Sunday of Lent the church gives us the wonderful story of the healing of the man born blind. For two good reasons. The first has to do with our Elect, that special group of people in our midst – eight of them - who in three weeks - on the great night of Easter - will receive the Easter sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist. The story of the man born blind has meaning for all of us, but it has special meaning for them because it speaks so strongly of conversion and baptism. For in that story, the blind man not only gained his sight – even more importantly, in his encounter with Jesus, he gained faith: he came to see the Light!

     It’s quite a long story but each detail is important and instructive. Notice, for instance, the way in which Jesus goes about giving the man his sight. He doesn’t do it all at once, although he could have. Instead, he goes about it almost ritually: in a way that should make us think of the sacraments.  Sacraments make use of earthy things like water and oil and grapes and wheat and the human body itself. Jesus makes use of clay from the earth and of human touch. He spits on the ground, mixes his saliva with the dirt, and then smears the resulting clay on the man's eyes.

     How good is your biblical memory? Does this rather strange action on the part of Jesus remind you of the story when God made use of clay from the earth to do something altogether wondrous and spectacular? It should. I’m thinking of the second of the wonderfully poetic creation stories in the Book of Genesis, when God formed the first creature, Adam. How did God do it? You remember. With some clay from the earth. God took it and breathed into it a living soul. We humans may be near the pinnacle of all creation – next to the angels - but we had very humble beginnings. We are clay animated by the very breath of God!

     Think of today’s Gospel story, then, as a creation story.  Jesus gives sight to the blind man using a little clay into which he breathes life, and then he tells him to go bathe in the Pool of Siloam. And in those waters he gains his sight, becomes a new man, a new creature. A creation moment, indeed! But not only does Jesus open the blind man’s eyes, even more importantly, he leads him to faith, gives him eyes to see the unseen - that’s what faith is - and it’s what happens in that electric moment when the no-longer-blind man says to Jesus, “I believe, Lord!” and worships him.

     Is it any wonder the Church is eager for her newest members to hear this story? They are on a great journey: coming to know Jesus in new ways. They are learning to give their lives over to him. Very soon now, in the waters of baptism they will become new creations: their eyes will be opened and their ears, too and, I don’t hesitate to say it, they will hear God’s voice and catch a glimpse of God’s face, as Jesus did at his baptism.

     But, my friends, this story is not only for the Elect. It is for us, for we too can be blind and we need to have our eyes opened. And that’s the second reason the Church gives us this story today. Our blindness well illustrates another kind of blindness that runs through this Gospel story, a more pernicious kind of blindness: the blindness of those who can see but will not. To quote the poet, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” The gospel story is full of such people. In fact, with the exception of Jesus and the blind man himself, everyone else in the story falls into the category of those who will not see.

     Think of Jesus’ own disciples. When they saw the blind fellow, they immediately wanted to know from Jesus whose sin was responsible for his infirmity – his own or his parents. Even though these trusted disciples had been with Jesus a long time, they still didn’t get it. They were very slow to understand that Jesus represented a new moment, a whole new way of looking at God and life, and that the old answers – including the simplistic notion that physical handicaps and infirmities were God’s punishment for sin - simply wouldn’t ‘wash’ any more. What a travesty that kind of thinking makes of an all-loving God, wouldn’t you agree? Jesus came to reveal a God incapable of such pettiness, but his disciples were slow learners. They were comfortably stuck in the old ways. They were blind, those disciples.

     And so were the Pharisees. They knew that Jesus couldn’t possibly be from God. Why? Well, because he blatantly dared to break the Law by working on the Sabbath. And do you know what his work was? Rolling up his sleeves, so to speak, making that mud, smearing it on the man’s eyes. The Law regarded all of that as work. How could he do such a thing on the Sabbath? All good, “religious”, law-abiding people know that laws are sacred and that, if a choice must be made between laws and people, laws come first. Right?! Those Pharisees were legalists; they were blind.

     And the blind man’s parents? They were blind, too. In their fear, they considered their membership and good-standing in the Synagogue more important than their own son’s health and happiness. The thought of alienating the religious authorities and of losing friends - and status - in their community was more than they could bear.

     My friends, there are many “players” in this gospel story, and many layers, and there is something in it for each one of us.

     For those soon to be baptized, there is enlightenment!  Jesus is reaching out to lead them to faith, to heal their blindness, whatever it might be. He is touching the eyes of their souls, inviting them to go and be washed in the refreshing waters of new life.

     For those of us already baptized, there is challenge.  Jesus gently challenges us to hold this gospel story before our eyes – to hold it up as if it were a mirror, and to see if we don’t discover something of our own blindness in the small-mindedness of Jesus’ disciples; or in the legalistic blindness of the religious leaders who had all the answers and never a question; or in the fear-ridden blindness of the blind man’s parents. Blindness can take many forms, but its most insidious form is the blindness of those who will not see.

     My friends in Christ, Jesus wants to touch our eyes today so we can see the light. There is so much darkness in our world, so much darkness in ourselves. But there is also great hope and cause for rejoicing. Listen again to St. Paul’s liberating words to the Ephesians, words we heard today in the second reading, words that speak of our Baptism: “once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk, then, as children of the light! Walk, then, as children of the light!”

Father Michael G. Ryan





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Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303