Reflection for 4th Sunday of Lent
This Sunday is the midpoint of Lent and the Gospel reading is the sixth of St John’s signs. A man who is born blind is healed by Jesus. This is not merely a miracle of messianic healing but a sign that all humanity from birth, is in a fallen condition suffering a spiritual blindness requiring the healing by God. In the Prologue of this gospel we are told that “life and light” are the primary attributes, Jesus “the Word of God” brings. As the Lord increasingly meets conflict on his way to Jerusalem, it is becoming clearer that his message is that He is the light that enables the eyes of the soul to see.
Thinking of Jesus the “light of the world,” I am always amused how in many TV dramas, church buildings are frequently festooned with lighted candles even when the building is empty! It seems that the familiar use of candle light is misunderstood as a decoration rather than a sign of Christ’s presence with us in the liturgy, being set on the Altar, or flanking the Gospel procession or at the Font and so on. In worship, the flaming candle signifies the light of Christ shinning out in the darkness of the world, while the gospel reminds us, “the darkness comprehends it not” [John 1;5].
In Lent we are being drawn into the dark struggle that would surround Jesus as he enters his passion and death. So that we can understand just a little the struggle between light and darkness as it attacks everyone, but is focused as it grips Judas the disciple who sold his master for pieces of silver. The mind of Ciaphas, the High priest who uses every wicked means to falsely convict Jesus with dishonest witnesses at the trial, and the volatile crowd who at first hail the Lord with their Hosannas and then condemn him with their shouts of crucify, crucify. Before all this takes place the man born blind is a sign of dark hearts and dead souls closed to divine illumination, deluded and confused unable to “see salvation” with the eyes of the holy man Simeon.
Tragically today the enemy of faith is a militant anti Christian propaganda sweeping through the heart of the Christian communities in the way that it had once swept through the Soviet Union causing Alexander Solzhenitsyn to warn his countrymen not to live by lies that cause people to become blind to truth and death to their souls. Jesus signalled this conflict many times, in familiar passages, “what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” [Matthew 16;26].
An even greater clue comes in the sixth Beatitude, “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” [Matthew 5;8]. Having the light that overcomes blindness requires a pure heart, like pure water or a room that is swept clean. Impurity contaminates and causes a loss of any ability to see truth; it distorts self understanding, being blind to the beauty of God’s creation of men and women, or to the wonderful variety and history linking cultures that make up the human world. So as we descend into the madness and meaninglessness, a hell on earth without common sense, we can remind ourselves of [Proverbs 1;7], “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and only fools despise wisdom and instruction”.
Moreover, it is the Word of God himself who says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Matthew 10;29]. Thus illumination of human blindness is a process of accepting that impurity that ends up destroying humanity, requiring healing by Christ the Light of the world. This teaching is repeated by the Apostle Paul whose mission is to enable his own converts to see God’s salvation with their own eyes, ending his most pastoral letters saying: “finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things” [Philippians 4;8].
Fr. Geoffrey Neal