are you doing for Lent?” How many times have you been asked that? What about
writing a note to a death row inmate? Each week we list three names
The second reading from Ephesians sets the tone
and names the tension in both today’s readings and our world: the conflict is
between light and darkness – good and evil. “You were once darkness, but now you
are light in the Lord. Live as children of light....” It doesn’t take too much
life experience to know that the struggle is far from over, contrary to the
euphoric opening tone of Ephesians. But then, right after these opening words,
Christians are advised not to take part in the “fruitless works of darkness.”
So, the seeming triumphalism is tempered with a note of reality - the struggle
is far from over. Christians, “children of light,” still must be strong and
vigilant to do what is “pleasing to the Lord.”
Lest the worshiper get the impression that Ephesians is merely a voice of
encouragement, cheering us on from the sidelines, today’s gospel gives us a
vivid and dramatic miracle story. It is not only about the cure of the blind
man, but the deeper light-giving that happens as the man faces opponents and
naysayers to his experience. Let’s turn to this story, but before we do, I will
repeat a suggestion I have made before when the gospel selections are so long,
as they will also be in subsequent Sundays. I would not choose to proclaim the
shorter version that is given as an option. Why violate the story teller’s
intention? Why chop up a well-told story? If John thought a shorter story would
have accomplished his intention, he would have given one. If the reading seems
too long for people to pay attention to while standing, then invite them to be
One significant ray of light we receive from Jesus in the blind man’s story
comes from the opening lines. It was the common belief at that time that
sickness and misfortune were caused by one’s sin. People wanted to give God
credit for everything that happens to humans. But they went too far, attributing
to God both the good and the bad of their lives. The belief also attributed
birth defects to either parental sin or the baby’s sin while still in the womb!
When the disciples point out the man “blind from birth” they voice the
contemporary opinion, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was
We might chuckle at their naivety, but we still hear sickness or misfortune
being attributed to God and to our wrong doing. “God must be punishing me.” “I
must have done something terrible for God to be punishing me in this way?” When
we already feel the disorientation, confusion and the disrupted life that
suffering causes, how sad to be additionally burdened thinking that God is the
source of our pain. And, that it is a punishment for something we have done!
What isolation such a thinking can cause; believing that not even God is with us
and that those closest to us might hold the same belief and think less of us.
“She must have done something wrong otherwise why is God doing this to her?” “If
he really had faith, God would help him.”
Are we so far removed from the thinking that blames a person for the misfortune
they bear? In our “enlightened” world don’t people still think that poverty, and
its resulting maladies like sickness and short life span, are the fault of the
poor? (And aren’t those physically or sexually abused sometimes blamed for what
they “provoked” in others? “She wouldn’t have gotten raped if she hadn’t dressed
that way.”) As long as people think in this way, they won’t look deeper into the
economic, cultural or political reasons that keep poor people and whole nations
in a permanent underclass. Such attitudes about poverty’s sources will also
prevent people from doing something to change oppressive conditions for groups
of people in our own cities and for nations in other parts of the world. Jesus
casts light on such darkness and answers their question, “Neither he nor his
parents sinned.” The blame lies elsewhere; maybe even on the very people who are
blaming others for their dire conditions! God is not punishing the man for sin;
indeed, God wants to do something that will deliver the man from his blindness.
After enlightening his disciples, Jesus sets about changing the man’s condition.
So, he cures two forms of blindness. He enables both the man to see and his
disciples to get a different perspective.
Did you notice that when Jesus responds to the disciples’ question he shifts
from the “I” to the “we”? No accident, for he suggests we too must be involved
in activities that bring light to the world. The Christian’s unenlightened ways
of thinking are exposed by the light the “Rabbi” (the teacher) has cast and we
are expected to bring this light to similar situations. We are to stop finding
excuses for our lack of involvement in the needs of the world; we must stop
blaming the victims and set about making visible “the works of God,” by ending
the situations that cause and continue misery in people’s lives. Jesus’ cure
also extends to those of us who carry judgmental thoughts about the race,
gender, economic condition, or sexual orientation of others. We invite his
healing today, asking to see our neighbor in a true light. With Christ’s help we
will attest to the same healing the blind man experienced – “he opened my eyes.”
Jesus invites the blind man to wash in the Pool of Siloam. Why would John make
the aside that Siloam means Sent? He is reminding us in subtle ways that not
just Jesus, but all those whose eyes have been opened at the pool of baptism,
are sent to be bearers of light. But it is necessary to emphasize that we are
not sent on our own. Look at how the story unfolds. The man’s eyes are opened at
the pool. At first he only has a beginner’s notion of who Jesus is, “he is a
prophet.” Yet, this is enough to get him in trouble with the religious
authorities. He is expelled from their presence. This suggests he is
“excommunicated” from their religion. Since the religious leaders hold so much
authority in the community, this expulsion would put him even further apart than
his blindness did. He is really left alone. Jesus searches him out and confirms
the new thing that has happened to him and then evokes an act of faith from him.
At first the man called Jesus a prophet; by the time this part of his journey is
completed he has made an act of faith in Jesus, “I do believe, Lord.” And John
adds that he “worshiped” Jesus. He has gone from being blind, to having physical
sight, and then to an even deeper sight, for he sees who Jesus is.
The story also reflects John’s community’s experience. As Jews, they first
thought their following Jesus could happen within Judaism. One way those new
Christians continued to practice their Jewish faith was to be “discrete”; they
kept a low profile when among others. Perhaps their faith resembled the first
stage of faith expressed by the blind man, they believed Jesus was a prophet.
But that is an inadequate expression and more is required. (Jesus is not just
one very good person among many who have lived. That’s not what we believe.)
Eventually, their confession of faith in Christ got them in trouble with their
Jewish families and friends. Like the blind man, they too were expelled. Imagine
how difficult following Jesus had become for them. It all started simply enough,
but they could not imagine how far from their origins and former lives their new
sight would take them.
Just as the man’s initial sight was not the end of his coming to the light, so
it is with us. Our darkness is replaced in baptism by the vision of Jesus as
Lord; with the blind man, we too worship him. But whether we were baptized as
infants or later in our lives, the washing in the pool was just the first step.
We can agree and exclaim with Ephesians that we were “once in darkness but now
are light in the Lord.” The task, as Ephesians suggests, is to live as “children
of light.” Easier said than done. Left on our own, we know this is not possible,
but we were not left on our own after we left the baptismal pool. Jesus has come
out to find us and accompany us on our way. We look to his light to be children
of the light. We know we need that light because, like the blind man, we are
daily challenged by an unbelieving world. At the Easter Vigil we will be invited
to turn to the baptismal pool and sign ourselves with the water. This is not a
re-baptism. It is a renewed commitment to the One who is the Light and who
guides us in a world that requires us to daily distinguish light from darkness.
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
“The only reason for Jesus to mix clay with the
spittle and smear it on the eyes of the blind man was to remind you that he who
restored the man to health by anointing his eyes with clay is the very one who
fashioned the first man out of clay, and that this clay that is our flesh can
receive the eternal life through the sacrament of baptism.
You, too, should come to Siloam, that is, to him who was sent by the Father.
Come and be baptized, it is time; come quickly, and you too will be able to say,
‘I was blind, and not I see.’”
—Ambrose of Milan, (fourth century), quoted in A LENT SOURCEBOOK: THE FORTY DAYS
, BOOK TWO (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications), page 66.
Mini reflections on the Sunday
scripture readings designed for persons on the run. “Faith Book” is also
brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
Jesus...smeared the clay on the blind man’s
eyes and said to him,
“Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” – which means Sent.
So he went and washed,
and came back able to see.
We who have been washed in the baptismal pool have received sight. Now we must
be ready to give our own accounting of what has happened to us – just as the
blind man did. We must be prepared to put into plain and personal language who
Jesus is for us and what difference our faith in him makes in our lives.
So we ask ourselves:
DEATH ROW INMATES
"The death penalty is one of the great moral
issues facing our country, yet most people rarely think about it and very few of
us take the time to delve deeply enough into this issue to be able to make an
informed decision about it."
– Sister Helen Prejean
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten
people in the prison system. Each week I am posting in this space several
inmates’ names and locations. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of
them to let them know that: we have not forgotten them; are praying for them and
their families; or, whatever personal encouragement you might like to give them.
If the inmate responds, you might consider becoming pen pals.
- Shan Carter #0486636 (On death row since
- Lyle May #0580028 (3/18/1999)
- Jason W. Hurst #0509565 (3/17/2004)
----Central Prison, P.O. 247,
Phoenix, MD 21131
Please note: Central Prison
is in Raleigh, NC., but for security purposes, mail to inmates is processed
through a clearing house at the above address in Maryland.
For more information on the Catholic position
on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:
On this page you can sign “The National
Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty.” Also, check the interfaith page for
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/
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