Fourth Sunday of Lent – A

“Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

This hymn, which hasn’t dimmed with the ages, sums up perfectly the healing of the man born blind.  Being blind from birth meant that he was born into darkness, not ever seeing his mother’s face, not ever knowing what colours are like, or how flowers flaunt their beauty in the sunlight. How can one even begin to describe a beautiful landscape or dazzling sunset to such a person?  All he knows is darkness with no distinction between night and day except that everyone else is up and doing during the day. 

Sadly, this blind man has other crosses to bear. The culture of his time tells him that he is blind because of the sin of his parents or his own sin. This is the question that is uppermost in the disciples’ mind: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or is parents, that he was born blind?” How tragic to passed off as someone immersed in sin on top of his grave affliction!

Thankfully Jesus sees him in a different light and is intent on rescuing him from a disgraceful life of begging.  Jesus feels himself called by God to defend, welcome, and cure precisely those who live excluded and humiliated lives.  Therefore, he reaches out to the blind man, makes a paste, anoints his eyes with it and sends him off to the pool of Siloam.  There, lo and behold, the man is healed and enters into a whole new world of vision and colour.  This is indeed amazing grace!

Being cured of a physical defect was only part of the healing. There was a light switched on in his heart also.  What’s remarkable is his courage. He follows his instincts which tell him that only a good man, someone from God, could perform this great miracle of enabling him to see. In the face of rising opposition from the religious leaders, he sticks to his guns. “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  But the more they opposed him the more his faith in Jesus grew.  He begins by referring to his healer as the man Jesus.  Later he calls him a prophet.  Then when Jesus reveals himself to him he believes wholeheartedly and worships him.

The religious leaders are far from happy with the changed status of this man. Twice they call him in. Twice they interrogate him and twice he gives glory to God. They cannot see the prophet, the man from God, that this formerly blind man now sees. They cannot see the new life, the new man, the new creation that bears testimony to the man from God. They cannot rejoice because they are blind to this amazing grace.

Their blindness lies, not so much in what they see, but how they see.  They feel obliged to control the purity of their religion. They pride themselves on knowing who is a sinner and who isn’t. This man before them was blind from birth and therefore a sinner and nothing can change that. By healing this man Jesus has put the cat among the pigeons.  But they are not going to back down.  Instead, they throw him out saying: “Are you trying to teach us, and you a sinner through and through ever since you were born?”

Blindness is not about the quality of our vision or the condition of our eyes. It is not about the darkness around us but, rather, the darkness within us. How we see others, what we see in the world, the way we see life is less about the objects of our seeing and more about ourselves. If only, like St. Paul, some scales would fall from our eyes and see as Jesus sees. When Jesus heard that the cured beggar was rejected he went in search of him. That’s how Jesus is. He always comes to meet those who are on the edge, those who are lost and forgotten by society. He doesn’t abandon those who seek and love him.  His mission is the lost, the last and the least.

Brid Fitzpatrick is an English journalist.  There was a line from Matthew 25:36 that used to haunt her.  It read: ‘I was sick and in prison and you visited me.’ She realised she always heard it as ‘I was sick and unjustly in prison…’ But no Jesus never added the word ‘unjustly’. Recognising this she decided to carry out a kind of remote prison visiting by writing to a pen pal on death row.  After going through various channels, she was given the name Bobby on Death Row in Louisiana State Penitentiary in the US.  To her amazement, she discovered that Bobby had a real conversion to the Lord and writing to him was easy.  She has since visited him twice in 2012 and 2014 and she found both events uplifting. Here is her testimony.

“It was very humbling to sit opposite a man who’s been on Death Row for eighteen years and listen to him talk in such an upbeat and optimistic way about his life and his future and the blessings that God is bringing to him.  It certainly puts our worries and problems into perspective.  I began writing to a Death Row prisoner because I believed it was the right thing to do, but like many other things which we start as ‘acts of charity’ I soon found that I gain just as much as I give in this friendship.” 

One could add that in reaching out to Bobby on Death Row, Brid was given new sight also.  “Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see.”

Sunday, 26th March 2017

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