John 9:1-41
Accept the Challenge
by Rev. William P. Saunders
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.

As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.  We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.  Night is coming when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” – which means Sent –.  So he went and washed, and came back able to see.

His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?”  Some said, “It is,” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.”  He said, “I am.”  So they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?”  He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’  So I went there and washed and was able to see.”  And they said to him, “Where is he?”  He said “I don’t know.”

They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.  Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a Sabbath.  So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.  He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.”  So some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the Sabbath.”  But others said, “How can a sinful man do such signs?”  And there was a division among them.  So they said to the blind man again, “What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?”  He said, “He is a prophet.”

Now the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and gained his sight until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight.  They asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind?  How does ne now see?”  His parents answered and said, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.  We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes.  Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself.”  Has parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ, he would be expelled from the synagogue.  For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; question him.”

So a second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give God the praise!  We know that this man is a sinner.”  He replied, “If he is a sinner, I do not know.  One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”  So they said to him, “What did he do to you?  How did he open your eyes?”  He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen.  Why do you want to hear it again?  Do you want to become his disciples, too?”  They ridiculed him and said, “You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses!  We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.”  The man answered and said them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.  We know that God does not listen sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him.  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.”  They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?”  Then they threw him out.

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”  Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”  He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.  Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”

Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”  Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sins; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.”

The fourth Sunday of Lent is Laetare Sunday, the Sunday of “rejoicing.” (In Latin, “Laetare” means “to rejoice.”) We have reached the midpoint of Lent, and soon we will celebrate Easter. To show our joy, priests may wear rose vestments instead of violet, and altars may be decorated with flowers.

Nevertheless, this midpoint celebration is a check-up time to ask ourselves, “How well have I kept my Lenten resolutions? Have I prayed daily (reading sacred Scripture or praying the rosary), prayed the Stations of the Cross, been faithful to my sacrifices, performed the corporal and spiritual works of mercy?  More importantly, have I made a good confession?” With renewed resolve, we continue on to Easter. In all, we must ask, “Do I see Jesus more clearly in my life?”

Consider our Gospel passage for this Sunday: Jesus encounters Bartimaeus, who has been blind from birth. He makes a paste of mud and spit, perhaps because “dirt” reminds us of our mortality — God formed man from the earth and breathed life into him — and saliva was believed to have curative powers. Then, having washed in the Pool of Siloam as commanded, Bartimaeus received his sight. What a great gift. Now he could see his parents, friends and surroundings.

Our Lord restores Bartimaeus’ sight to show, as with any miracle, that he is the divine Messiah, the Lord and savior, who is the light of the world (Jn 1:5) and who came to give sight to the blind (Is 29:18; Lk 5:18). The greater miracle, therefore, was that Bartimaeus received the vision of faith — he saw Jesus, first as a prophet, and finally as the Lord whom he worships.

Immediately, we think of the miracle of our own baptism. By the pouring of water and the invocation of the Trinity, we were freed of original sin. The divine life and love of God — sanctifying grace — was infused into our souls. We were recreated as a child of God and incorporated into the church, the mystical body of Christ.

Through baptism, we receive the gift of faith, a supernatural virtue infused by God. When the godparent or catechumen is asked, “What do you ask of God’s church?” The response is, “Faith.” Then having professed faith and received baptism, we are among the “enlightened.” (Keep in mind, God first gives us actual grace, technically prevenient grace, to make this profession.)

Nevertheless, “For all the baptized, children or adults, faith must grow after baptism,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (No. 1254). Aided by God’s grace and the help of others (the church community), we need to nurture this faith through prayer, study, worship, the sacraments and living the faith daily. Just as Bartimaeus wanted to meet Jesus face to face, the true believer wants to know the Lord better, so as to enter into a divine intimacy with him. As such, faith illuminates every dimension of our human existence. Life becomes a walk with Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, who is the light who guides our journey whether through the verdant pastures or the dark valleys, but always along right paths. Finally, the light of faith also illuminates our future destiny, for the Lord has promised eternal life and has prepared a dwelling place in heaven for those who are faithful.

Yes, there will always be some mystery. Poor human beings locked in this time and space, we will never be able to fully understand the mysteries of God; but, as St. Anselm said, we do not understand so as to believe, we believe to understand. As we pray in the act of faith, “I believe these and all the teachings of the Catholic Church because you, who are eternal wisdom and truth, have revealed them, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.”

Yes, we will be challenged, just as Bartimaeus was challenged by the Pharisees. “The disciple must not only keep the faith and live on it, but also profess it, confidently bear witness to it, and spread it,” teaches the Catechism (No. 1816). Consider: Bartimaeus was first questioned. Can we answer questions about our faith? Second, Jesus was called a “sinner”: Can we defend the faith to those who oppose it, deride it and attack it? Third, the Pharisees intimidated Bartimaeus with pressure (“Give God praise” and agree that Jesus is a “sinner”); with ridicule (“You were born in sin”); and physical expulsion. Are we willing to stand firm in such situations and be a real witness, i.e. martyr? With the help of the Holy Spirit, meeting such challenges makes us stronger. Moreover, through us, the Lord will be able to open the eyes of the spiritually blind.

So, rejoice on this Laetare Sunday. Accept the challenge. And continue on faithfully, not only to Easter but to the day when we pass from this life and enjoy, by God’s grace, the beatific vision, seeing God face to face, and standing with all of the saints clothed in white around the altar of the lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem (Rv 7:9).

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