Homily: 4th Sunday of Lent – Cycle A
As many of you know I grew up in a Catholic household. My parents practiced their faith and taught their children to do so also. My siblings and I all spent eight years in Catholic grade school (well, nine, I guess, if you count Kindergarten) and three of the four of us spent an additional four years in Catholic high school (it was still segregated between boys and girls when my oldest brother went, which didn’t sit well with him, so he went to the public high school). Thus, when I went off to college I felt pretty confident that I knew what it meant to be Catholic: Go to church, don’t eat meat on Fridays, be kind and generous to people. This is what I did. I followed all of the rules (well, most of them, anyway) and otherwise I pretty much did whatever I wanted to do.
A couple of years after I graduated from college, this system fell apart on me. I wasn’t happy with my job or my decision to move to Indiana, my relationship with my girlfriend of nearly three years ended disastrously, and those thirteen years of Catholic schooling didn’t seem to leave me any answers for why I ended up so unhappy. It was then, of course, that I had an encounter with Jesus.
In this spiritual encounter that I had with Jesus he showed me how blind I had become to my sin (that is, how blind I had become because of my own self-righteousness). “I’m a good person”, I used to say. “I’ve never really hurt anyone intentionally, so I’m ok.” While this latter part was somewhat true, Jesus opened my eyes to see how I had actually hurt many people through my selfishness and self-righteousness. Although he didn’t directly command me to do so, I knew what I had to do next: I had to go and wash in the “pool of reconciliation” by making a good confession.
From there I began a journey, not unlike the blind man who was given sight in today’s Gospel reading. At first, all I could do was say “Jesus healed me.” When others would ask me, “Who is this Jesus? point him out to us”, I couldn’t. I had encountered him, but I was still getting to know him. As I more intentionally engaged all of the practices that I had before—going to Mass, giving up meat on Fridays, being kind and generous to people—as well as taking up new practices—giving time to daily prayer, studying the Bible, and volunteering in my parish and the community—the answer to the question “Who is Jesus?” started to become clearer for me until the point that I could see him clearly and, thus, worship him in truth.
Of course, the man in the Gospel reading today had a much more profound experience. In many ways, his story is a baptism story: one that highlights the “re-creation” aspect of the sacrament that we celebrate. This man was born without sight. In other words, he was born broken: “damaged goods” if you will. Jesus confirms for his disciples that this was not caused by any particular sin either by the man himself or by his parents. Thus, in a sense, his blindness is a result of a legacy of brokenness that man has inherited. Does that sound like a description “Original Sin” to anyone? Well, it should!
What Jesus does next is very symbolic. He makes clay using his saliva. (I know, it sounds gross, but back then they believed that saliva had healing properties.) Think for a moment about some other time that God used the dirt of the ground to do something important… In the book of Genesis, right? “Then the LORD God formed the man out of the dust of the ground…” So Jesus uses the dust of the ground to make clay and places it on the man where there should be sight, although there never was… Interesting. Then he tells the man to do what? To go wash in the pool of water! And what does that remind us of? Baptism! of course! So the man is baptized and washes the stuff of creation off of his eyes and, voila!¸ the sight has been created in the man. (Suddenly this doesn’t look like the same old story anymore, does it?)
Thus, this man’s faith journey begins. At first he doesn’t have much to say about this Jesus that gave him sight. He knows the name of the man who gave him sight and, because of what he did, that this man must, therefore, be a prophet and a man of God, but he didn’t know much else about him. When he then sees Jesus for the first time, he is open and ready to make a profession of faith. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asks him. “Sure! Just tell me who he is, that I may believe in him”, replied the man. He trusted Jesus so completely—because of what Jesus did for him—that he put his complete confidence in whomever it would be that Jesus would identify. When Jesus reveals himself to the man—“the one speaking with you is he”—the man then professes his faith in Jesus and bows down in worship before him.
In many ways, the Elect—those who will be baptized at the Easter Vigil—are having this same experience. This Sunday we will scrutinize them again and call them to acknowledge their blindness because of sin; and, in a way, to imagine Jesus putting the healing, creating clay on their eyes. We will then send them forward towards Easter to be washed in the pool of Baptism, where their blindness caused by sin will be washed away; and, re-created, they will walk as “children of the light”. As their brothers and sisters in light, we walk with them on their journey towards re-creation. Thus, Lent is also our call to scrutinize our own lives and to identify how sin has increasingly made us blind to our selfishness and self-righteousness; and, thus, to the needs of the poor and those living on the margins around us that we have been ignoring.
My brothers and sisters, Jesus wants to meet us there, in our acknowledgement of our blindness, and he wants to place the healing clay on our eyes. He will then send us to the pool to wash—that is, the sacrament of reconciliation—so that we too can have our sight restored. In this time of preparation for the great celebration of Easter, let us not be afraid to approach him in this sacrament and to let him do this great work for us. For when we do, we will truly know what it is to worship him; just as that man in the Gospel did; and just as we are invited to do every Sunday here at this altar.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – March 29th & 30th, 2014