4th Sunday of Lent 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6–7, 10–13a; Ephesians 5:8–14; John 9:1–41
Now I see Baptism removes our spiritual blindness and opens our eyes to Jesus. John Howard Griffin disguised himself as a black man and toured the South in the early 1960s. He wanted to experience firsthand what it was like to be black in those years of racial turmoil.
Griffin described his experience in a book called Black Like Me. The book was later made into a movie.
But there’s another side of the John Howard Griffin story that very few people know about.
During World War II John was blinded in an airplane explosion. For the next 12 years he couldn’t see a thing.
Then one day he was walking down a street near his parents’ home in Texas. Suddenly he began to see “red sand” in front of his eyes. Without warning, his sight returned again.
An eye specialist explained to him later that a blockage of blood to the optic nerve, caused by the explosion, had opened, causing his sight to return again. Commenting on the experience, Griffin told a newspaper reporter:
You don’t know what it is for a father to see his children for the first time. They were both much more beautiful than I ever suspected.
This dramatic episode in Griffin’s life gives us a deeper appreciation of today’s gospel story. It gives us a better idea of how the man born blind felt when he was miraculously cured by Jesus. But there’s a second even more spectacular miracle that takes place in the story of the blind man. It is the miracle of faith, or spiritual sight, that Jesus confers on the man.
It is this second miracle, the gift of faith, that enables the man to fall to his knees and address Jesus as “Lord.”
Significantly, it is this second miracle, the gift of faith, that John stresses in today’s gospel.
Let’s take a closer look at it. The first thing we notice about this miracle is that it takes place gradually. It does not happen all at once.
For example, the man’s first reaction to Jesus is to regard him as just another man. Thus when some people ask the blind man about his cure, he replies:
The man called Jesus made some mud, rubbed it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash my face. So I went, and as soon as I washed, I could see.
The blind man’s first perception of Jesus, then, is that he is a mere man a remarkable man, but just a mere man.
The blind man’s second perception of Jesus comes when he is quizzed by the Pharisees. They ask him, You say [Jesus] cured you of your blindness well, what do you say about him?
The man replies, He is a prophet.
The blind man’s answer clearly shows that his perception of Jesus has undergone a giant leap forward.
The more he thinks about what happened, the more convinced he is that Jesus can’t be just another man. He is a prophet.
This brings us to the blind man’s final perception of Jesus.
Later in the day the blind man meets Jesus face to face. Recall that Jesus was no longer around when the man returned from washing in the pool of Siloam.
Now, Jesus looks straight into the man’s eyes and says, Do you believe in the Son of Man?
The man answers, Tell me who he is, sir, so that I can believe in him!
Jesus responds, You have already seen him, and he is the one who is talking with you now.
I believe, Lord! the man replies, and he falls on his knees before Jesus.
And so the man’s perception of Jesus takes a final leap forward. He perceives Jesus to be more than a man or a prophet. He is the Lord, before whom all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees. Philippians 2:10
The man’s gift of faith, or “spiritual sight,” is even more miraculous than his gift of physical sight.
But before we wax too eloquent about the blind man’s gift of faith, let’s recall that we, too, received this same gift of faith from Jesus in baptism.
Before we were washed in the waters of baptism, we were “spiritually blind,” just like the man in today’s gospel.
But after we washed in the waters of baptism, Jesus became much more to us. He became someone deeply personal to us.
This brings up a second similarity between us and the blind man in today’s gospel. Besides receiving the gift of faith, as he did, we grew gradually in our perception of Jesus, as he did.
For example, the picture we had of Jesus when we were small was that of an extraordinary man. As we matured, our perception of Jesus also matured.
Eventually our perception of Jesus reached its richest form; we perceived him to be what he really is: God’s own Son.
The exciting thing about Jesus is that the more we learn about him, the greater he becomes.
In other relationships, it is often a sad fact that the more we learn about another person, the more we become aware of that person’s shortcomings.
This is not the case with Jesus. The more we grow in our knowledge of him, the more spectacular and glorious he becomes.
Let’s close by paraphrasing the words of Albert Schweitzer at the end of his book The Quest for the Historical Jesus. Schweitzer was a concert pianist in Europe who gave up his career in music to become a doctor and work as a missionary in Africa. Schweitzer writes:
Jesus comes to us as one unknown, as he did long ago to the apostles on the seashore. He speaks to us the same words he spoke to them: “Follow me!”
And to those who accept his invitation, whether they be wise or simple, young or old, he will reveal himself to them in their toils and sufferings. And they shall learn through their own experience who he is.
Series II 4th Sunday of Lent 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6–7, 10–13a; Ephesians 5:8–14; John 9:1–41
Second miracle Baptism removes our spiritual blindness and opens our eyes to Jesus. At the age of 37, Jack Abbott wrote a book called In the Belly of the Beast. Since the age of 12, Abbott has spent all but one year of his life in reform schools and prisons. About 15 of these years have been spent in solitary confinement. One of his worst solitary experiences was the so-called “blackout” cell, which Abbott describes this way: It was in total darkness. Not a crack of light entered the cell. . . . The darkness was so absolute it was like being in ink.
The only light I saw was when I closed my eyes. Then there was before me a vivid burst of brilliance, of color, like fireworks. When I opened my eyes, it would vanish. . . .
My eyes hungered for light, for color, the way someone’s dry mouth may hunger for saliva.
Compare Abbott’s experience of his loss of light to the experience of another man named Evans. After being blind for 51 years, Evans received sight through an operation. Describing how it felt to see for the first time, he says:
It’s the most amazing thing in the world. . . . I can’t wait to get up each day to see what I can see. . . . Everything is like a constant high. These two stories give us an insight into how the man born blind felt when Jesus gave him physical sight.
He too probably hungered for light and color the way a dry mouth hungers for saliva. He too probably thought the gift of sight was the most amazing thing in the world. He too probably couldn’t wait to get up each day to see what he could see.
But the blind man’s miracle of physical sight was nothing compared to the second miracle Jesus worked for him. That was the miracle of spiritual sight, the gift of faith, which Jesus also gave him.
And it is this second miracle, the gift of faith, that John stresses in today’s gospel.
The first thing John implies is that the gift of faith takes place gradually, not all at once. John describes the miracle as taking place in three stages.
The first stage comes when some people ask the blind man about his cure. The blind man replies:
“The man called Jesus made some mud, rubbed it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash my face. So I went, and as soon as I washed, I could see.”
And so the blind man’s first perception of Jesus is that he is a man a remarkable man, but just a man.
The second stage in the blind man’s gift of spiritual sight comes when the Pharisees quiz him. They ask, “You say [Jesus] cured you of your blindness well, what do you say about him?”
The man replies,“He is a prophet.”
The blind man’s answer reveals a growth in his understanding of Jesus. His spiritual vision of Jesus takes a giant leap forward.
The more he thinks about what happened, the more convinced the blind man becomes that Jesus must be more than just another man. He must be a prophet!
This brings us to the third stage of the blind man’s perception of Jesus.
Later on in the day the blind man meets Jesus face-to-face. Recall that Jesus was no longer around when the man returned with his sight after washing in the pool of Siloam.
Now, Jesus looks into the man’s eyes and says, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man answers, “Tell me who he is, sir, so that I can believe in him!”
Jesus responds, “You have already seen him, and he is the one who is talking with you now.” “I believe, Lord!” the man replies, and he falls on his knees before Jesus.
And so the man’s spiritual vision of Jesus takes its final leap forward. He perceives Jesus to be more than a man. He perceives Jesus to be more than a prophet. He perceives Jesus to be the Lord, before whom “all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees.” Philippians 2:10
And so the man’s spiritual sight, his gift of faith, is far more miraculous than his gift of physical sight.
But before we wax too eloquent about the blind man’s gift of faith in Jesus, let’s recall that we too received the gift of faith in Jesus when we were baptized.
Before we were washed in the waters of baptism, we were spiritually blind, just like the man born blind.
But after we were washed in the waters, we experienced the miracle of spiritual sight, or faith in Jesus.
This brings us to a second similarity between us and the man born blind.
It is that our gift of faith in Jesus did not come all at once either. It too came gradually, by stages.
For example, when we were small, the first picture we had of Jesus was that of a man a remarkable man, but still only a man.
As we grew older, our perception of Jesus also grew. And our perception of Jesus continues to grow, even to this day, regardless of how old we are.
One of the exciting things about Jesus is that the older we get, the more we learn about him. And the more we learn about him, the more remarkable he becomes.
In other relationships it’s usually just the opposite. The more we learn about a person, the more we become aware of his or her shortcomings.
This is not the case with Jesus. The more we learn about Jesus, the more exciting and the more glorious he becomes.
Let us close with these thoughts about our Lord and savior:
Jesus comes to each one of us as he came to people in biblical times. He comes as a remarkable man. He speaks the same three words to us that he spoke to people in biblical times: “Come, follow me.”
And if we follow him, as did the people in biblical times, Jesus will reveal himself to us step by step.
Then some morning, when the sun rises in the sky, we too will eventually come to see what they saw. Then we too will fall on our knees before Jesus and say to him, “We believe, Lord! We believe you are the Son of God!”
Series III 4th Sunday of Lent 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6–7, 10–13a; Ephesians 5:8–14; John 9:1–41
Baptism Death to an old life; birth into a new life.
J esus said to the blind man, “Go and wash your face in the Pool of Siloam.” And so the man went, washed his face, and came back seeing. John 9:7
Gary Cooper was a Hollywood superstar. He won two Oscars during his career one for the title role in Sergeant York; the other for the high-drama role for the town sheriff in High Noon.
Many of Gary Cooper’s movies are still big-ticket items on cable and Direct TV.
Gary’s life like the lives of so many people seems to have fallen into two stages.
The first stage was pretty much one of living exclusively for this life. His goal was to be successful and to enjoy the fruits of success.
The second stage began with an encounter with Jesus. With that encounter came a new vision of life. Gary saw it as the prelude to and preparation for a more wonderful life to come.
In spite of his celebrity status, Gary Cooper retained a genuine simplicity and humility throughout the first stage of his life.
It was this simplicity and humility that paved the way for the second and most important stage. Upon his death in 1961, a foreign newspaper said of him:
He had the soul of a boy and was the incarnation of the honorable American.
The pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Beverly Hills knew Gary well. After Gary’s death from cancer, the pastor wrote:
As a priest, I have prepared many people for death. But I have never met a person more resigned and disposed for death than Gary. Like Christ, he remained meek and humble of heart to the end.
The pastor cited two examples to illustrate his point.
Afew months before Gary died, the two of them were conversing in a softly lit room in Gary’s house. At one point, Gary said:
As you know, Father, I became Catholic only a few years back. Why is it that now, as a Catholic, I feel more sinful?
The pastor responded by saying, “Gary, have you got a flashlight?” Gary went off and got one.
Taking the flashlight, the pastor said, Gary, you’re wearing what looks like a flawless sweater; but when I shine the flashlight on it like this we both see a tiny stain and some loose threads on it.
Before your conversion, you were in the dark. You never reflected much on your relationship with God.
Since your conversion, you reflect on it a lot. This is why you are now more aware of your shortcomings.
Gary said, “Now, that makes sense. That really makes sense!”
The pastor’s explanation fits beautifully with Paul’s words to the Ephesians in today’s second reading. Paul writes:
You yourselves used to be in the darkness, but since you have become the Lord’s people, you are in the light. So you must live like people who belong to the light, for it is the light that brings a rich harvest. . . . Try to learn what pleases the Lord. Sometime later, Gary began experiencing intense pain from his cancer. The pastor gave him a small steel crucifix, saying,
Gary, hang on to this tight. When the pain gets really bad, squeeze it and remind yourself to unite your pain with the pain of Jesus for the salvation of souls.
After Gary died, his pastor saw an article by a popular author. He described a visit in the final days of Gary’s life.
The author commented that during their visit together Gary kept squeezing a small crucifix. The pastor said later,
The author of that article had no idea of the significance of the crucifix, but Gary did, and so did I. Retold from “The Last Days of Gary Cooper,” by Monsignor James A. O’Callaghan, Catholic Digest,March 1997, pp. 68–74
The story of Gary Cooper dovetails with today’s Gospel.
The story of the man born blind tells how he went through a faith journey not unlike Gary’s own faith journey. It, too, involved two stages.
During the first stage, the blind man did not know Jesus. Understandably, during that stage he was not too concerned about any other life, except this one.
The second stage of the man’s life began with his encounter with Jesus. We might compare the blind man’s washing in the waters of Siloam to Gary’s washing in the waters of baptism. Both washings resulted in a totally new vision for both the blind man and for Gary.
Both washings resulted in a new vision of Jesus. And both washings resulted in a new vision of life.
Significantly, both washings also resulted in a period of suffering for both. And in both cases, the suffering was instrumental drawing both into a closer relationship with Jesus. I t is right here where the stories of the blind man and of Gary touch our lives. In both stories, the sufferings of each began as a cross, but ended up a blessing.
By offering their suffering in union with the suffering of Jesus on the cross, they transformed it into a vehicle for helping others, and a vehicle for growing in their relationship with Jesus.
Both stories remind us that we, too, can turn our sufferings into blessings by following their examples.
This is the Good News in today’s readings. This is Good News we now return to the altar to celebrate.
This is the good news Jesus wants us to carry forth from this Church today and, by our example, share with all whose lives touch us.