My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Gospel reading today tells of a prophetic miracle performed by Our Lord warning the Jewish establishment that their tenancy of God’s vineyard was in danger of being revoked and transferred to others; that God was determined to have fruit from His planting even though it meant the creation of a new People of God.
In the first reading you heard how the Lord made a surprising choice when He set about replacing Saul as King in Israel and shepherd of God’s People. He chose no imposing figure such as Saul himself, who had been a man of outstanding physique; instead He told Samuel to anoint a mere boy, the youngest in his family, with no public standing or experience, and thought to be fit only to look after his father’s sheep.
In the same vein, in our second reading St. Paul told the Ephesians:
You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.
Paul’s converts at Ephesus were mainly Gentiles, and we too are of Gentile origin. As such we are the very ones Jesus was foreshadowing as God’s surprising choice to become members of the new People of God, when, in our Gospel episode, His attention was drawn to a man born blind:
As Jesus passed by, He saw a man blind from birth and His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
Now, there was nothing very unusual about a blind beggar in Jesus’ time, so why should this one have drawn particular notice? The disciples had apparently been talking among themselves about the man; and it would seem that at least one of them knew him, because they were discussing the fact that the man had been born blind and they were expressing opinions as to why that should be. Being unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion they turned to Jesus and said:
Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
Jesus was always alert for and responsive to the least indication that His Father was at work,
Though I sit in (am surrounded by) darkness, the Lord is my Light (Micah 7:8);
and here He immediately recognized that His Father was behind both the blind man’s presence and the disciples’ animated discussion among themselves and questioning of Himself. He answered them:
Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.
Notice that answer, People of God: Jesus tells his disciples, ‘Whether this man or his parents sinned is not the point, this has happened in order that I should, in and through this man, do the work, and make known the will, of My Father.’
Though surrounded by darkness, the Lord is my Light
Jesus then spat on the dusty ground and made a paste. Such application and use of spittle on the Sabbath was forbidden by the Law … all the better, indeed, for Jesus’ purposes because that made His Jewish adversaries take note (such a simple but supremely wise awareness and use of human psychology!) … for, having been alerted by that legal fault, some of them would then have slowly gone on to recognize that something of supreme significance for the Jewish leaders and people was taking place before their eyes: God’s original act of creation was being mirrored here (!!) according to Genesis 2:7:
The Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground.
Now, nothing is ‘formed’ out of dust that is dry!!
In our Gospel passage, Jesus -- the Word of God through Whom all things were made -- being about to renew a man’s life, symbolically foreshadows the creation of a new People of God from those Gentiles spiritually blind from birth:
He answered, ‘While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When He had said this, He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes.
Having utilized dust of the earth and His own saliva to coat the eyes of the man born blind, only the bringing of those eyes to life was needed for the symbolic re-creation; and in order to do that, Jesus performed another such action -- like Elisha of old with Naaman the Syrian -- by sending the man off with the words:
"Go wash in the Pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed, and came back able to see.
Now, recall that, at the last Supper Jesus would say to the Apostles:
You are clean because of the word I have spoken to you. (John.15:3)
Here, the blind man heard the words Jesus had spoken to him and, having obediently washed his eyes in the Pool of Siloam, he was able to see again; moreover, on seeing again he would ultimately come to believe in and confess Jesus as His Saviour. All this symbolized the new People of God to come, who, being washed in the waters of baptism and confessing their faith in Jesus, would thereby receive the Gift of God, the Holy Spirit, the breath of divine Life:
Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. (John 3:5)
The Pharisees and Temple authorities, of course, heard of this event, indeed Jesus intended they should; some no doubt saw what He did, or were told of it by friends, because He wanted those who were celebrated because of their supposedly superior spiritual awareness to learn from an occurrence where not only the man and the miracle, but also the time and the place, were all of His Father’s choosing:
It was a Sabbath when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes;
and Jesus, as Lord of the Sabbath, was at hand to bring about the fulfilment of the Sabbath.
However, their party’s interpretation of the Law held the majority of these Pharisees firmly bound to fixed and unbending legal trivialities:
Some of the Pharisees said, "This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath." Others said, "How can a sinful man do such signs?" And there was a division among them.
And so, blind in their opposition to Jesus and after much arguing and discussion, they rejected the man whom Jesus had healed:
They said to the blind man, "What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?" He answered them, "I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become His disciples too?" They ridiculed him and said, "You are that Man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses; but we do not know where this One is from." The man answered and said to them, “If this Man were not from God, He would not be able to do anything." They answered and said to him, "You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?" Then they threw him out.
Being thrown out of the synagogue was extreme punishment; as St. Paul, having himself been cut off from all that he had held dear in the past, explained:
I consider everything as a loss for the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have accepted the loss of all things, and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:8)
This was as Jesus Himself had once foretold:
If anyone comes to Me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)
The man whose eyes had been dead and were now open and alive had been rejected because of Jesus, and so Jesus sought him out in his isolation. The actions Jesus had performed on the man had, as I said, prefigured God’s creation of a new People of God, and now the man himself was ready to have his whole being -- not just his eyes -- made alive; and so we read:
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, He found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him and the One speaking with you is He.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped Him. Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”
People of God, wonder at the sublime wisdom of our God; admire Jesus the perfect and beloved Son, so eager and ready to recognize, follow, and fulfil His Father’s will! And try to appreciate ever more deeply that fact that Jesus our Lord and Saviour has sought out each one of us and joined us to Himself by giving the light of faith to eyes perhaps previously blinded by ignorance and the glittering allurements of the world, and by infusing living and loving hope into souls previously weighed down by cares and sin! But I would have you also recognize the warning with which our reading from St. Paul closed:
You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret.
We know of such shameful deeds going on all around us and we know that we must take care to have no part in them. However, we should realize that such avoidance of sin in no way exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, which is the minimum required by Jesus of His disciples. Israel and Judah had been sent into exile in the past because the people -- as a whole -- had ‘given up’ on the God of their fathers … by indifference and ignorance allowing themselves to do what came naturally, following the example of the surrounding nations. Today, the same is happening in Mother Church with so many nominal Catholics slackening the reins of their obedience and commitment, doing what unbelievers do, while trying to comfort and convince themselves by words such as: ‘it doesn’t seem to matter; does God see?’
On their return from the Babylonian exile back to the Land of Judah certain of those Jewish erstwhile deportees had resolved to serve God and His covenant more faithfully, with the result that their descendants -- the Pharisees and Scribes -- were very devout and deeply committed. However, over time their very religiosity became a stumbling block: they came to love themselves more than God by trusting in their own meticulous observances rather than hoping in His merciful goodness.
People of God, we have, in the Church today, modern versions of such failings: from scholars this time, not Scribes, from enthusiasts not Pharisees; but all, showing – in their lack of humility before God and the Church – the same failings as their Old Testament forerunners. However, were it not for the fact that there are today -- as in Old Testament times -- far too many indifferent and unconcerned members of the People of God, the vanity of some relatively few scholars and the blatant excesses of emotional enthusiasts would have very limited effect on Mother Church as a whole. In the present situation of Mother Church, therefore, we should appreciate that the faith and faithfulness of each and every individual is of the utmost importance. Before God, we matter; each of us individually, for we have been personally drawn to Jesus by the Father, and each one of us is offered, in Jesus, a personal relationship with the Father by the Spirit. That awareness should give us a renewed confidence in the goodness of our God and guide, and also a deeper sense of individual pride in, and personal concern for, the good name and well-being of Mother Church. And that, dear People of God, is what St. Paul had in mind when he told his Ephesian community:
Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.
Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord; you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.