Sunday Homily: Lent IV

I Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41

Today’s Gospel is one of my favorite passages on which to preach. It’s just a great story with interesting characters that give insight on several levels, spiritual, moral, interpersonal, and so on. In this story, Jesus manifests himself as the light of life. First, Jesus heals a man who was blind from birth. That is remarkable enough, but it gets Jesus into trouble with the Pharisees because he healed on the Sabbath. Those in authority were determined to get to the bottom of it, so they called the young man’s parents before the Sanhedrin. They wielded a lot of power, and it was very intimidating for ordinary folks. So much so that the parents push their son to the front. “Ask him yourself; he is of age.”

I can imagine what went through his mind, “Thanks, mom and dad!”. But he was fearless.  The Sanhedrin couldn’t do worse to him than he had already been through. When Jesus restored the young man’s physical sight, he gained spiritual insight as well. He not only stands up to the Sanhedrin, he mocks them. “Why this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. … If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” I will not comment on their response to him, but let’s just say it was less than cordial. I wonder if the young man was present in Jerusalem during Holy Week and especially on Good Friday. On that day, I imagine he would have thought that the gift of sight was more of a curse than a blessing.

Today we suffer from our own blindness. We cannot see the future, and we cannot tell how our lives will change in the coming months. This pandemic is the first time that world governments seek to get ahead of the curve of a pandemic at such an early stage. In times past medical practitioners sought to mitigate the effects of outbreaks, but they generally let diseases run their courses. The Plague in 1348, Spanish Flu in 1918, Malaria forever since ancient times and even the Swine Flu in 2009, in all these cases the diseases infected the populations, and they ran their natural course and whoever died, died.  Now governments are shutting down their economies to minimize the spread of this pandemic. Over the years vaccines and antibiotics have greatly improved public health. More important but less dramatic have been advancements in sanitation, clean water, and waste disposal. For us, the present situation confronts us with this question: how we are going to respond to it.  We face a situation in which there is relatively little we can control.  What we can control is how we respond spiritually, morally and ethically.

It was my experience in life that I never grew up because I wanted to. I grew up because I had to grow up. Much the same is true about spiritual growth. To best respond to the challenges and hardships of everyday life, we must let Jesus Christ show us the way. We will grow and mature spiritually of we let him be both the journey and the journey’s end. May the healing love of Jesus Christ open the eyes of our hearts and souls to behold his presence in all that we face. How will we react? Will we hoard the necessities of life from one another, will we look out only for number one and concern ourselves only with our circumstances? If we want to mature in Christ, we must let Jesus be the light of our lives and show us how to be as generous and open-handed with his love and mercy, as he is towards us.

I recently read the story of Marla Runyan, who, at age nine, was diagnosed with Stargardt’s disease, a form of juvenile macular degeneration that causes progressive vision loss. Despite her blindness, Marla’s successfully competed in numerous track and field events during her college career and beyond. In 1992, she competed in her first of two Paralympic Games, ultimately winning five gold medals and setting nine world records in the visually impaired classification. In 1999, Marla won gold in the 1500-meter event at the Pan-American Games and finished 10th in the IAAF World Outdoor Championships. In 2000 Marla qualified for the 2000 US Olympic Team in the 1500-meter event. She was the first legally blind American track and field athlete to make a US Olympic Team and repeated the achievement in 2004.

These and her many other accomplishments, have made Marla Runyan one of the most versatile athletes in US track and field history. Marla Runyan achieved such goals only because she saw more profoundly and saw herself as God sees her: a person with gifts to share and who brings light to others. God sees what is in the depths of our hearts and ignores the physical appearance. It’s not our outward appearance that makes us pure and holy; it’s the disposition of our hearts and souls.

The Gospel reveals to us that there are many kinds of blindness, but it is a spiritual blindness that is the most dangerous. It hinders us from seeing ourselves as God sees us, and that prevents us from being who God intends us to be. It keeps us from using our God-given abilities to draw ourselves and others to him. It causes us to put limitations on ourselves that can separate us from the grace of Almighty God.

The man blind from birth was both physically and spiritually blind. In his blindness, he has no idea what it means to walk as a child of the light, any more than he knows what it is like to see physically. Once Jesus heals him, he sees the world for what it is, but more importantly, he sees Jesus for who he is. From there, he set out to bring that light to others. 

As we face the darkness of this present world, let us learn to be children of the light. Let us open our spiritual eyes to the love, grace, and mercy of our Heavenly Father, even in times of uncertainty and stress. It is our Lord who leads us; we have no thing and no one to fear. To Him be glory and praise and honor forever and ever. Amen.