19 March 2023

Homily - The Fourth Sunday of Lent - 19 March 2023

The Fourth Sunday of Lent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

There is much that might be said about the Gospel passage Mother Church presents to us today; indeed, it could take hours to mine the depths of its riches. However, let us content ourselves this morning with focusing on the action of Christ Jesus in relation to that man born blind.

Saint John tells us the Lord “spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes” (John 9:6). This seems a bizarre gesture to us, perhaps even one that is more than a little rude, even an invasion of personal space. Something more is happening here, though, as both the Evangelist and the Lord draw us back by it to the Book of Genesis, which “recounts using the symbol of dust from the ground, fashioned and enlivened by God’s breath,” to create man (cf. Genesis 2:7). In fact, ‘Adam’ means ‘ground’ and the human body was in effect formed of particles in the soil. By healing the blind man Jesus worked a new creation.”[1]

Duccio (d. 1311), Healing of the Man Born Blind

Here we see that “in his preaching the Lord Jesus often makes use of the signs of creation to make known the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.”[2] He does so because, as creatures made of both body and soul, we need physical reminders of the presence of God; intellectual understanding alone is not enough for us. This is why small children seemingly have to touch everything as they learn about the world around them; it is the same with us as we seek to learn about the Kingdom of God

At any rate, although in a dissimilar way, Jesus wishes to work a new creation in us, as well; he wishes to remove our spiritual blindness brought about by sin – both the original sin and our own personal sin – so we might look upon the beautiful radiance of his Face.


He began this work of his in us in Baptism, when he washed each of us in the waters of rebirth and enlightened the eyes of our minds and hearts. This is why, when we emerged from those waters, we were given the baptismal candle, “a sign that helps us to understand what happens in the Sacrament. When our lives are enlightened by the mystery of Christ, we experience the joy of being liberated from all that threatens the full realization” of dwelling forever in the house of the Lord (cf. Psalm 23:6).[3]


When Saint Augustine reflected on the healing of the blind man in so visceral a way, he saw clear allusions to the Sacrament of Baptism.[4] Here is something we cannot forget: “in the sacraments Christ continues to ‘touch’ us in order to heal us.”[5] He does so through the physical things of this world and through the power of his words because he knows what it is to be human.


In that encounter with the blind man, we see that “Jesus’ use of materials – spit, mud, water – underscores the materiality of this healing sign and subtly connects it with the incarnation. Just as Jesus’ flesh embodies and reveals his divinity, so also his perceptible signs disclose his divine identity and work.”[6] So it is also with the Sacraments.


When receiving the Sacraments, some are surprised or frustrated that they are not instantly made perfect in holiness, that they do not immediately “produce every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). We ought not grow impatient with Jesus or with ourselves.


Just as Jesus healed the man of his blindness in several steps – spitting, touching, and washing – so also do the Sacraments work gradually in us. Sometimes it seems they even work imperceptibly in us until, looking back after many years, we can notice a closer conformity to the heart of Christ Jesus. Most people awake gradually from the darkness of night and need some time before they become fully awake; in a similar way, we often wake only gradually from the darkness of sin and only open our eyes slowly to the light of Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:14).


As we journey with the Lord toward his Passion in these remaining days of Lent, let us not be afraid to allow him touch us, to take us by the hand, and lead us to “restful waters” where he can make us a new creation and enlighten us to look with wondrous love upon his luminous Face. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 2 March 2008.

[2] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1151.

[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 3 April 2011.

[4] Cf. Saint Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel of John, 44.2.

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1504.

[6] Francis Martin and William M. Wright IV, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2015), 173.

No comments:

Post a Comment