To see, and to see more deeply

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4th Sunday of Lent, Year A: March 18, 2012
1 Sam 16:1, 6-7, 10-13; Ps 23; Eph 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

The sense of sight is something we value very highly. Sometimes teenagers and college students will ask each other the question, “If you had to lose one of your five senses, which one would it be?” And eventually the question progresses to the two senses that most people value most highly: sight and hearing. And they ask, “If you had to lose your sight or your hearing, which would it be?” It’s a tough call to make; but most people will choose to lose their hearing and keep their sight.

Because our sight tells us so much about the world around us. It enables us to detect danger and defend against it; to know where to go and where not to go; to know who and what is near us, and many things about them. To be blind is to operate at quite a loss, by comparison.

Our sense of sight provides us with so much important information that philosophers have long compared the act of knowing what is true, with the act of seeing what is visible.

Our Scripture readings today are full of references to seeing—and they present us first of all with three levels of seeing. In our first reading, from the first Book of Samuel, we have the contrast between normal, healthy human seeing, and the much more penetrating sight that the Lord has. For the prophet Samuel, upon meeting Jesse’s sons for the very first time, naturally had only their appearance to go by. So he thought that Eliab, the oldest, tall and good looking, must be the one the Lord wanted to be the new king. But the Lord tells him, “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” The Lord wanted “a man after his own heart” (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22) as king; and he could see that that man was young David.

If the first reading gives us regular human sight and God’s more penetrating sight, the Gospel reading adds a third level of seeing, which is blindness. For we see that the blind is unable to see what is right in front of his eyes, unable to evaluate it correctly, unable to respond to it.

But who am I talking about? There is the man born blind, to be sure, whom Jesus heals in the beginning of the reading. But as the reading goes on, and the dialogue progresses, it becomes apparent that there is an entirely different kind of blindness going on here; and it is not the man born blind, but the Pharisees, who are afflicted by this more profound blindness.

For they do not wish to accept the truth of what they see with their own eyes. First, they do not wish to believe that the man born blind has truly been made to see. And then, when they no longer can deny this, they do not wish to believe that Jesus is a holy man who works miracles; but rather they continue to assert that he is a sinner, rejecting all contrary evidence and mistreating anyone who dares to present it. “My mind’s made up; don’t confuse me with the facts” that I don’t want to see right in front of my eyes.

But, while the Pharisees dig deeper into voluntary blindness, the newly healed man is seeing in a more and more penetrating way. From simply testifying to what he has seen and experienced, he soon progresses by putting two and two together. Jesus is a prophet, he realizes. He is from God; he is devout and does God’s will, and God clearly listens to him. And as he continues to reflect and to experience rejection, it appears that he is penetrating deeper and deeper into hidden truth—so that he is ready for the revelation to Jesus is in fact the prophesied figure of the heavenly Son of Man. It is like St. Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God—to which Jesus responded, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” (Matt 16:16-17)

In other words: the man born blind, with the help of God’s grace, has begun to see not just with normal human sight, but as God sees, looking into the heart. While the Pharisees are becoming more and more blind, in their pride and their stubborn refusal to change, this formerly blind man has found the Messiah, and worships him.

This year, the men and women in our RCIA process have been coming to know our Lord Jesus, the Light of the World. By grace they have come to know more and more about him, enlightened by the truth that he revealed; and, even more importantly, they have increasingly come to know him. And the three who are preparing for baptism are preparing to meet him as they never have before.

In just a moment, these three elect will experience the second of three Scrutinies to help to prepare them to receive this tremendous gift. The name “scrutiny” implies that they will be asked to answer questions—and perhaps that is what occurred in the original scrutinies of the early Christian centuries. But now it is not the priest who asks them questions, but Christ himself shining within their hearts through this Gospel passage. As with the man born blind, he wants to draw out of their heart anything that is weak and sinful—so that he can heal it; and also all that is strong and good—so that he can strengthen it. Christ reveals himself to them, as to that man and to all of us, as the Light of the World who wants to bathe us in his light and make us truly children of light—a transformation they will experience in four weeks, when they are baptized at the Easter Vigil. And so, in this final stage of their journey, we will assist them with our prayers for their guidance and protection.

I invite the elect—Jack, Aimee, and Tommy—called and chosen by Christ—to come forward at this time, with their godparents.

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