Biblical Readings for each day's Mass,
(as listed in the Liturgical Calendar for Ireland, 2017)

26 March, 2017.
4th Sunday of Lent

First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13

Samuel selects and anoints young David as future king of Israel

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.”

Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”

Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

2nd Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14

Once you were in darkness, but now live as children of light

For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light, for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Gospel: John 9:1-41

Jesus, Light of the World, cures the man who was born blind

As Jesus walked along, 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 this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask himself.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,” your sin remains.


Siding with the Outsider

(José Antonio Pagola)

The man was blind from birth. Neither he nor his parents were guilty at all, but his destiny was marked from the start. People would always look at him as a sinner punished by God. Even Jesus’ disciples wonder whether the sin comes from the blind man or from his parents.

Jesus sees the man’s plight in a wholly different light. In the encounter, he only thinks about rescuing this poor man from a disgraceful life of begging, despised by all as a sinner. Jesus feels himself called to defend, welcome, and cure precisely those who live like that, excluded and humiliated by others.

After a drawn-out cure in which the blind man gets to collaborate with Jesus, he discovers light for the first time. It is a healing encounter that has changed his life. Finally he can enjoy his proper human dignity, without fear of being an embarrassment for anyone. But he’s still under pressure. The religious leaders feel themselves obligated to control the purity of their religion. They are the ones who know who isn’t a sinner and who is. Only they will decide if he can be received into the religious community, and enter the Temple.

The cured beggar openly confesses that Jesus was the one who spoke to him and cured him, but the Pharisees irritably reject that a miracle has happened: “We know that that man is a sinner!” they say. Still the man insists in defending Jesus: “He is a prophet, someone sent by God.” The Pharisees can’t accept that view: “Are you trying to teach us, and you a sinner through and through, ever since you were born?”

The Gospel says that when Jesus heard they had ejected him, “he went in search of him”. Their final exchange was brief. When Jesus asks him if he believes in the Messiah, the expelled man says: “Sir, tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.” Jesus answers him quietly: “You have seen him; he is speaking to you.” The beggar then exclaims: “Lord, I believe.”

That’s how Jesus is. He always has a welcome for those who aren’t officially welcomed in a religious setting. He doesn’t abandon those who seek and love him, even though they are excluded from faith communities and institutions. It’s a sobering thought, that those who don’t fit in our churches have a privileged place in Jesus’ heart.

Who will bring that message today to those groups who at any time have heard unjust condemnation from blind religious leaders; who come to a liturgy fearful of being recognized; who can’t receive communion at peace in our Mass; who see themselves obligated to keep faith with Jesus in the silence of their hearts, secretly and clandestinely? My unknown brothers and sisters, don’t ever forget: Even when others may reject you, Jesus welcomes you.

Open the eyes of my soul, Lord!

It’s hard to know why Jesus went through the ritual of the spittle, the mud, and the water, in order to heal the man who was born blind. We are told that he healed other blind people with a touch, or simply a word.  He sent the ten lepers on their way, and they were healed as they journeyed along. He sent the centurion home and, before he reached home he got word that his servant was healed.

It might well have been a test of this man’s faith. Maybe this is how Jesus heals many of us. We ask for his healing, and nothing seems to happen immediately. Maybe, after asking for his healing, we should go on our way, and expect to notice the healing taking place gradually as time goes by.

As today’s story unfolds, we notice that the man’s eyes were really opened, and that includes the eyes of his soul. Clearly Jesus was intent on healing the total person. We don’t imagine him healing someone, and then having that person going away still filled with resentment against another. Such a person would not really be healed in depth. The man in today’s gospel was totally healed, and he ended up on his knees, worshiping Jesus.

A practical and simple prayer is “Lord, that I may see.” It is a short prayer, but when it comes from the depths of my heart, it is a powerful prayer. Remember that other blind man named Bartimeus? He was told that Jesus was passing by, and he was determined to get his attention. Those around him tried to silence him, but he shouted all the louder. And he also was cured. To another man Jesus asked the pointed question, “Do you want to be healed?’

The greatest way we can do good for others is not by giving them money, though that can at times be what is needed, but in helping  them appreciate what they already have. It is good to affirm others and make them feel both loved and worthwhile. Many people have grown up with a poor self-image, and they just cannot see the good in themselves. This is another form of blindness, and it is a blindness in others that any one of us can have power to heal. The most certain proof that the Spirit of God lives in us is our willingness and ability to affirm and bring a blessing to other people.

It’s all in the preparation

(David Reid)

Response: The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.

“Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:21) No… but a good pastor can! (John 10:11,14) Link the psalm for today with the man born blind.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5). In the psalm-verse, four elements engage us emotionally: 1. you prepare a table, 2. in the sight of my foes, 3. you anoint my head, 4. my cup overflows.

We feel invited and welcomed to partake of the prepared table. With this in mind we can take things further and say that all life is a form of preparation, a way to actively engage in life. Failing at life on this level can take its toll on the quality of our lives. Anticipating the joy of seeing people eat good food, sharing conversation, trying out new tastes and leaving nothing to be wasted, ah what a pleasure!

Of course seeing things this way demonstrates the difference between feeding and dining, which may include the same menu but socially are poles apart. Feeding  looks to the raw need and the effort to supply what’s needed, but dining respects the role that food plays as the interaction of people enjoying each other’s presence. And that brings us to Jesus’ preparation in today’s story of a man born blind who now sees.  How does past meet present through preparation? Our characterization of feeding as raw need and the effort to supply what’s needed is the response of those who only saw a visually impaired man restored to sight. They  concede that the man is healed but they miss the deeper point, the pleasure of each other’s company at table. Why, they ask,  is Jesus involving himself with sinners?  Jesus does not argue their interpretation of illness; he passes over it to prepare the table; in the imagery of Ps. 23, he seems more interested in people enjoying each other’s presence over a meal.  That is the bigger scenario in which to receive what’s going on. Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. (9:3) Plainly, Jesus has entered the strategy of preparation; as wonderful as a healing might be, there is still more.  His purpose: that God’s works might be revealed in him. How? When? Blindness needs light. I am the light of the world! And while there is light, we (Jesus and all you, Christians) need to work. So there was preparation of the man and attention to God’s purpose.  We have the light now but the time is short (9:4). The man, blind from birth, had an immediate past of sitting and begging,(9:8) and so is easily dismissed.

How is Jesus preparing this man? By anointing him, as king David was, so long before! About David the psalm said: you anoint my head with oil. Anointing, yes, but what about but Jesus spitting on the ground? Then he made a poultice out of his spit and some dirt, pretty close to what God did when God made the world (Genesis 2:7).  And then Jesus anointed the blind man’s eyes. It may not have been oil, but it was an anointing. The verb is from the same root as Christ or christening. “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” (9:7) No wonder that this Sunday is a big step in the catechumenate.  The confession of faith has to come yet but first, to be anointed, wash and then dine “in the presence of my enemies.” All of John’s literary skills were put to work on including the enemies, that series of misrepresentations whereby the man and indeed Jesus, were easily dismissed. Not unlike the many scenes of the trial of Jesus before Pilate (18:28-19:16) the formerly blind man is hauled in to answer many questions, which all the while, ironically, prepare him for his confession of faith.

Finally, after he is thrown out of the synagogue, Jesus meets him. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?  He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him” (V. 36)  This blind man is more than half way there to celebrating Psalm 23. He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.  He is home, and his cup overflows for the word he used is the Christian confession of faith in Jesus “Lord.” And then Jesus brings us back to the beginning of the story to re-read and re-savor it. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” It is back to preparation and perhaps, with the urging of Psalm 23,  to go back to the Eucharistic meal  discourse of John 6. So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?” ( 6:30)

Eyes opened to believe

The miracle of the man born blind is an unforgettable story, but it’s about more than a bodily cure. The evangelist tells of the inner journey of a man lost in darkness, who found in Jesus the Light of the world. The blind man’s name is not known. We know, however, that he was a beggar who was blind from birth and used to beg alms outside the temple. He has never seen the light. He cannot even find his way towards Jesus. His life has been spent in the dark and his future offers no hope at all.One day, however, Jesus entered his life. The blind man was so desperate that he let Jesus work on his eyes. He didn’t know Him but he trusted in his healing power. He followed his instructions and went off to wash his eyes in the Pool of Siloam, and his sight was restored. That meeting with Jesus changed his whole life.The blind man’s neighbours found him a changed man. He explained to them the whole experience: “A man called Jesus has cured me; that’s all I know.” He could now see because his eyes were open.

The Pharisees, versed only in the written Laws, asked the cured man all sorts of questions about Jesus: “What have you to say about Him?” The man told them what he felt about Jesus: “He is a Prophet.” What he had received could certainly come only from God. Such is the faith of so many simple people who come to believe in Jesus. They know little about theology, but they know that such man must come from God.Little by little, the beggar was left alone by himself. His parents did not know what to make of the whole affair. “He is old enough, ask him.”

The Jews expelled that poor man from the synagogue. Jesus, however, never abandons anyone who seeks and loves him. When Jesus heard that they had driven him away, he went looking for him. He always knows where to find those who are looking for Him. When he finds the man that nobody seemed to understand, he simply asked him one question: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Do you believe in this New Man, completely human because he is an expression and reincarnation of the inscrutable mystery of God? The blind man was certainly well disposed, but he still had to ask: “Sir, tell me who he is that I may believe in him.”

When Jesus told him: “You’re looking at him, he’s speaking to you!” the blind man’sinner eyes were opened and, falling on his knees, he said: “Lord, I believe,” and worshipped him. It is only when we listen to Jesus and are guided by him, that we find ways to a fuller and more genuine faith.