4th Sunday of Lent (A); March 25, 2017
1 Sam 16: 1b,6-7,10-13a Ps 23 Eph 5:8-14 Jn 9:1-41
Deacon Jim McFadden; (New) Folsom Prison
As we read today’s Gospel from John (9:1-41), it will be helpful to remember John’s audience and his purpose. John is writing at the end of the first century to people who were waiting for the return of the Risen Christ. His purpose in writing his Gospel is to help them see, that is, realize that the Risen Christ is already present to them in the Church and in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. What is true then is true now: Jesus is present because He is risen! In order to experience this Resurrected reality, we need to move beyond appearances and to go deeper: to “look into the heart,” into the essence of things. For that to happen, we must have an encounter with Jesus. Indeed, if we are going to be witnesses to the Gospel, if we are going to see reality as God sees it, that can only be possible if we have encountered our Lord and are engaged with Him in an ‘I-thou’ relationship. Those who truly know Him and are falling in love with Jesus, become his witnesses and are highly motivated and energized to share the Good News. But , the encounter has to come first.
The Blind Man in today’s Gospel is a lot like the Samaritan woman, as we read last Sunday. That Triple Outsider encountered Jesus, spoke with him, and her life radically changed: she returned to her people and said: “Come, see a man who told all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (Jn 4:29).
A witness to the Gospel is one who has encountered Jesus Christ, who knows him, or better who feels known by Him, personally recognized, respected, cherished, loved, and forgiven. When we encounter Jesus in this way, how cannot we be deeply touched, filled with a new joy, given life a new and deeper meaning? And this shines through; people can tell and what we have received, we share with others.
Both the Samaritan woman and the Blind Man are clear examples of the type of person that Jesus loved to encounter, to make witnesses of: persons who are marginalized, excluded, scorned. Does that sound familiar? In today’s Gospel the Blind Person was especially scorned because at that time a disability was seen as a consequence of previous bad behavior of the person or his family. In other words, he was not only blind, but he deserved to be so. Jesus radically heals the man at two levels: he cures his physical blindness and he forgives the man’s sins. Brothers, Jesus forgives your sins and he yearns to bring healing to your parched soul. Once you accept his healing, he invites you into a new community based on faith and fraternal love. We are, indeed, brothers to one another in Christ Jesus.
Well, this does not sit well with the religious establishment. Because Jesus healed on the Sabbath, they judged him to be a sinner along with the Blind Man. What we have is two opposing cultures. In the story of the Samaritan Woman and the Blind Man, we have the culture of encounter and we have the culture of exclusion. The latter is characterized by prejudice because it does not see people in their inherent dignity but sees them through the blinders of biases. So, they criticize and exclude. I am sure you have experienced this kind of marginalization. At the same time, brothers, precisely because of your vulnerability, fragility, and limitations, you can become witnesses to the encounter with Jesus, which opens you to a deeper life and faith, and therefore empowers you to be genuinely present to others because you now “move, live, and have your being” in the Risen Christ.
Our holy Father, Pope Francis likes to describe the Church as a field hospital of wounded, broken people who are in need of Divine Mercy. That’s why our Lord Jesus needs you to enthusiastically give witness here at Folsom Prison. Indeed, only those who recognize their own fragility, their own limitations, their radical dependence upon God’s mercy and grace, can build fraternal and solid relationships in the Church and society. How are you going to respond?