4th Sunday of Lent – Year A
1st Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a Ephesians 5:8-14 John 9:1-41
David, Jesse’s youngest son, was anointed the second king of Israel somewhere around the year 1000 BC by our calendar. The custom of that ancient culture and era was to “anoint” him king, which was done by pouring a significant amount of olive oil (imagine perhaps a quart or a liter) over his head. This action describes the literal meaning of the word “messiah” (or from the Greek, “Christ”), i.e., “the anointed one.” In ancient cultures where kings, prophets and priests were anointed, their expectation was that an official anointing do more than merely bestow the status of office. The anointed one was expected to be gifted and purpose-driven as well. David was, according to biblical tradition, a great warrior, very charismatic, handsome, a very capable leader, and a musician (the author of some of the psalms). In practice, he was also a deceiver, an adulterer, and a murderer. These vices aside, the anointing by which he was elevated to kingship was a divinely directed event which afforded him great power for doing good among God’s Chosen People. The oil of anointing was in itself unremarkable, ordinary olive oil probably with a fragrance added. But, olive oil was not only a tool of king-making, it was a staple in the ancient near eastern cuisine and it fueled oil lamps by which artificial light was enjoyed at night. And, trivially to us moderns, it was a cosmetic; one anointed one’s face with oil for celebratory occasions and the anointed faces gleamed in the light. When the king was anointed, the religious expectation was that the very power of God would “rush upon him.” This was a metaphor for the kingly person to acquire all the gifts and talents necessary to rule, including the gift of perception and insight. Thus, King David ought to have been the heroic personification of a believer seeking and finding God’s guidance through life.
Today’s Gospel’s “man blind from birth” was protagonist in an event in Jesus’ ministerial life through which John narrated a spiritual journey from being “blind” (let the hearer understand both physical blindness and also being “without spiritual perception”) to a more sophisticated spiritual stage of life wherein the unnamed man came to see Jesus both by physical sight and also by spiritual insight, i.e., he perceived and appreciated the person and power of Jesus as a true prophet. In Ancient Near Eastern cultures blindness (along with deafness, physical deformity, barrenness, leprosy, and other disabilities) was often thought to be a sign of personal disfavor from God. Such a condition was believed to be deliberately used by God as a punishment for some immoral behavior or circumstance. So, an event in which a man “blind from birth” gained use of his eyes was not only a miracle, it also had positive moral overtones, i.e., God has removed the punishment of blindness. Indeed, in John’s Gospel, the “man blind from birth” who “can now see” was heroic because he came to see and recognize Jesus as the savior, while others who were reputedly more religious than he actually failed to “see” Jesus in reality. John’s Gospel cast the characters of the religious leaders as villains in the narrative, unable and even unwilling to see Jesus as genuine healer and Christ. The character of the “man blind from birth” might be for us a personification of moral reprobates and serious sinners (along with prostitutes and tax collectors in other Gospel narratives) who undergo conversion and deep personal change. As in other Gospel healing stories, the sinner received the ministrations of Jesus and came to proclaim the power and goodness of Jesus as Christ. A subtle undercurrent of this narrative to the ancients was the insight that perhaps blindness or illness or any other personal disability might not be a punishment imposed by God after all! Note how we moderns consider poor-sightedness merely a disability to be corrected with eye glasses or surgery. Human blindness is no longer of itself considered a moral issue. That one chooses to be “blind” to reality, however, has moral overtones in the 21st Christian Century.
The Ephesians reading elaborates upon the metaphor of sight-light as a moral tool by which to engage life well. The light of Gospel life exists to expose the evil done in secret which does not nurture life. The ancient mindset often thought of God’s Will as a single, correct, and prescribed path for all. We moderns have much evidence that suggests a multiplicity of ways by which to come to God, and a veritable limitless number of paths to take in life itself. We consider the movement along a healthy Gospel life not so much a narrow path, but more a lengthy journey or pilgrimage with much to see along the way, including temporary detours. In any event, one must be able to “see” rather than to merely stumble along. To quote the psalmist, “Your [God’s] Word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).
As in last Sunday’s liturgy, the “Second Scrutiny” is prayed today over the Elect among the catechumens. This Sunday’s Orations ask for “joy,” “thanksgiving for salvation” and “protection in [God’s] love.” The prayer of Exorcism prays for “freedom” in God’s “Spirit of truth.” The theme of salvific light pervades today’s scripture texts and prayers, and allows for rejoicing, gratitude, and safety along the journey of life.
We who have been fully initiated into the Church, and who have lived the Gospel message, have been “anointed” in the tradition of David as “Christians” (i.e., become other “anointed ones” in Christ). We who are anointed in Christ are meant to be morally transparent and enthusiastically joyful, wise, and safe as we travel through life. The Gospel we profess is announced precisely to enlighten and guide us as we move and detour along life’s journeys, and to invite others to join us on the way. We profess, with both pride and humility, that Christ is our light! Only three weeks from now on Easter Vigil night, someone will intone, “Christ, Our Light!” as we process from the Easter fire to illuminate the darkened church building with the Easter light. We live in hope of such light!
Christ, Our Light! Thanks be to God!