Lent 04, Year A

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Rom. 6:3)

I wonder if, not long after he had been cured, the man born blind ever wished—in the complaining and grumbling manner of the Israelites of the exodus (cf. Ex. 14:11-12; 16:3; 17:2-3)—that he had not been given eyesight. He had no sooner been able to see than his life seemed to have turned for the worse. First, he became an object of curiosity. Then he was interrogated, scrutinized, cross-examined. Even his parents’ standing at the synagogue was suddenly at risk. He was subsequently ridiculed and characterized as “born totally in sin,” having therefore nothing worthwhile to say whatsoever. Finally, he was thrown out of the synagogue. And all this because Jesus granted him what the general population would normally take for granted.

But, on second thought, the fact that the man born blind calmly accepted himself to be in need and recognized a healer—first as the man Jesus, then as a prophet, and finally as the Son of Man worthy of worship—was indicative, I suppose, of his not being locked up in the darkness of self-centeredness and disbelief. Openness and faith, I would think, do not usually make for constant complaining or grueling grumbling.

So then, the man born blind, just like the Samaritan woman of last Sunday’s gospel reading, would fit in better, I believe, among the poor who, according to St. Vincent—speaking some 1,655 years later—have the true religion, the living faith, those “who believe with simplicity, without dissecting things, submit to orders, are patient in the miseries that they have to endure as God wills.” For very much like St. Vincent’s poor peasants, the man born blind not only bore patiently and resignedly the uncertainties and vicissitudes of life but was also at the mercy of superior power, the power wielded by those who thought themselves to know better than everyone else and who reserved for themselves the decisive say on spiritual matters.

And not the slightest did these supposed leaders suspect that they were steep in disbelief and so wrong in their ready assumption, first, that physical blindness meant sinfulness and, second, that Jesus could not have come from God simply because he did not keep the Sabbath the way they insisted it should be kept. They were so self-righteously sure of themselves and so absolutely and arrogantly certain of their knowledge that they thought they had got everything and everybody figured out, including Moses and even God himself. They thus rendered faith unnecessary, for all practical purposes. What they could not make sense out of, that they readily assumed to be wholly senseless, contemptible and to be censured. It apparently never crossed their mind that their knowledge and its categories could be thoroughly inadequate. The claimed to see and were convinced they were not blind, and so their sin remained.

But thanks to the sense of faith and the grace Jesus confers likewise upon all believers the day he himself baptizes them, even when it is a man who baptizes, they can rest assured that, albeit that they are blind, they will see because Jesus heals them of blindness at the font of baptism and effects a new creation in the same powerful way that God formed Adam from clay (cf. SC, 7, and Catechism of the Catholic Church, 91-93; see also John R. Donahue, S.J., “Thirsting for Light and Life,” in the February 4, 2008 issue of America). Those in darkness can indeed become light in the Lord; though sleepers, they can awake and arise from the dead because Christ will give them light.

And it is Jesus who finds them, rather than them finding Jesus. Thrown out as he has been himself and rejected time and again (cf. Mk. 8:31; Lk. 4:28; Heb. 13:12-13), he seeks out the ostracized and chooses them, obviously not on the basis of appearance or lofty stature, but on what he sees in the heart. He sets apart and gives his Spirit on anyone of his choosing, without excluding those who, in human terms, may count for last and may be among the least of all. With them, in fact, Jesus identifies, proclaiming them blessed since theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And in the end he will commend or condemn all on the basis of what they shall have or have not done to these least of the brothers and sisters—the least who drink the cup he drank and are baptized with the baptism with which he was baptized, submissive to hard life and harsh treatment, without opening their mouths, silent like lamb led to the slaughter or like a sheep before the shearers (cf. Is. 53:7).