The 4th Sunday of Lent [A]

The Fourth Sunday of Lent [A]
1 Sam 16:1,6-7,10-13  +  Eph 5:8-14  +  Jn 9:1-41
March 26, 2017

“He guides me in right paths for His Name’s sake.”

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is commonly called “Good Shepherd Sunday”.  Every year on that Sunday, the Gospel passage is taken from the tenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel account.  In that chapter, Jesus describes Himself at length as “the good shepherd” and even as “the gate for the sheep”.  But today, on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, we also hear about the Good Shepherd, though from the Old Testament rather than the New.  Today’s Responsorial Psalm is the most beloved out of all 150 psalms:  that is, the 23rd Psalm.

At first hearing, it might not seem that this psalm connects with the other three Scripture passages proclaimed today.  It is true that in today’s First Reading, the young man David is described as “tending the sheep”, and is plucked from this role to be anointed the king—that is, the shepherd—of God’s People.  But for the most part, today’s Scripture passages focus on another theme:  blindness.

Still, we should never underestimate the depth of Sacred Scripture.  If we look closely, we might be able to see a connection between these two Lenten themes:  on the one hand, Jesus as the Good Shepherd; and on the other hand, our blindness as sinners.  This connection might help us to confess our blindness more willingly, and to profess our willingness to follow the Good Shepherd wherever He might lead us.

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Today’s First Reading is a good place to start looking for this connection.  The First Reading focuses on both themes.  Yet the passage concludes with the anointing of David as Israel’s king—which is to say, the shepherd of God’s people—so surely this theme of the shepherd/king is the passage’s chief point?

We need to consider something that happens earlier in the passage.  Samuel searches for the Lord’s anointed from among the sons of Jesse.  Samuel does eventually find him, but it takes him eight tries to do so.  What is it that hinders Samuel’s search?  It is his blindness.

Samuel judges wrongly because he is blind to what God’s shepherd ought to look like.  The Lord explains this to Samuel as plainly as possible, saying:  “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”  This is a profound statement, and has a lot to say to us during Lent.  This blindness that the Lord exposes lies at the root of all our sins.  But the Lord here is not just condemning the shallow outlook that claims that beauty is only skin deep.

The Lord here in our First Reading is condemning something more specific:  the blindness that keeps us from seeing our shepherd.  Samuel judges wrongly because he sees only the appearance, and looks for a man’s lofty stature instead of looking into his heart.  But such blindness takes on an even more tragic form in today’s Gospel passage.

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In fact, we see two types of blindness in this Gospel passage.  But the second is far worse than the first.  The first is more apparent because it is a physical blindness, which naturally is hard to hide.  So the man born blind takes up our attention at the beginning of the Gospel passage.

This man born blind is the object of the disciples’ accusations.  They don’t ask if the man’s blindness was caused by sin.  They presume this, asking instead whose sins caused his blindness.  Jesus has to clarify the matter by explaining that “[n]either he nor his parents sinned”.  Rather, “it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” that the man was born blind.  These “works of God” are the works of the Good Shepherd.

After Jesus works the miracle of giving sight to the man born blind, He faces accusations from those who cannot see Him as the Good Shepherd.  The Pharisees say of Jesus:  “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.”  Also, there are the others who command the man given sight:  “Give God the praise!  We know that this man[, Jesus,] is a sinner.”

But as Jesus’ enemies scorn Him, the man given sight speaks more boldly.  At first he only reports the facts of what Jesus had done for him.  A little later he says of Jesus that “He is a prophet.”  Soon after, he speaks out against the religious authorities, insisting that “[t]his is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. … It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.  If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”  The man given sight sees Jesus truly.

Yet moments later, he acts truly.  When Jesus seeks out this man to whom He had given sight, the healed man confesses that he sees Jesus as Lord, and he worships Jesus.

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This event—the man with sight worshipping Jesus—would make a beautiful end to today’s Gospel passage.  It wraps up the story nicely with a pretty bow, except for the fact that after the man with sight worships Jesus, the story continues by turning again to the Pharisees.   Especially during Lent, we need to look again at these Pharisees, and ask whether today’s Gospel passage is a mirror through which we can see ourselves in the Pharisees.

The Pharisees, in fact, bear a double blindness.  Not only are they spiritually blind, but they are also blind to the fact of their blindness.  At least the man born blind knew he was blind!  Yet the Pharisees, blind to their blindness, attempt to lead others spiritually in their zeal for the Jewish Law.  In Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus directly calls the Pharisees “blind guides”, and notes that “if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”[1]

The Pharisees’ double blindness is spiritually a “dark valley”.  They walk through it without a shepherd.  Their zeal for the Law stems from the blindness that the Lord pointed out to Samuel:  they look at the appearances of legal observance.  Their blindness prevents them from seeing Jesus as the Good Shepherd:  as the one who “looks into the heart”.

But as you and I reflect on these blind guides, we need to ask two questions.  First, am I blind like the Pharisees?  Second, what hope is there for someone suffering from such a double blindness?

The spiritually blind person has no reason for hope in himself.  Hope for the spiritually blind rests in God alone.  Their hope—our hope—rests in the truth that our Lord is a Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd “looks into the heart”, and sees darkness there.  But in the face of that darkness, He chooses to lead the blind from darkness into light.

The Pharisees can see into neither their own blind hearts nor the heart of Jesus.  But Jesus sees into the Pharisees’ hearts, and seeing their blindness, He chooses on Good Friday to pour forth from His Sacred Heart the light of Divine Mercy, for the Pharisees as much as for Mary, John, Peter and the other disciples.  But the final question is whether the Pharisees will turn toward Jesus’ light, or turn their gaze away from Him?

[1] Matthew 15:14.

Good Shepherd beardless Sacred Heart