Fourth Sunday of Lent
1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
Saint John Baptist de la Salle/Saint Stephen, March 19, 2023
Today's scripture brought my thoughts back to my first year in college. The town, Greenfield Massachusetts, was small and very friendly. There was a small bar in town called Bill's, where many students would gather in the evening hours for a beer, music, some singing, and doing stupid things. One night, I literally bumped into another student, and as I started to apologize, I soon came to realize that he was deaf and could not speak. From that encounter, we would become good friends and would meet every morning at the local diner, which was always full of people, for a cup of coffee.
One morning, while having our coffee, another young man entered the diner holding a sign that read, "deaf, can't speak, need money," and many people gave him something. When he approached us, my friend Charlie jumped from his stool and punched the guy, and as they both fell to the floor, the guy shouted, "leave me alone," as he ran out. "How did you know he was not deaf and could speak?" I asked, and Charlie said, "I could see it in his eyes. Also, people who are deaf would never ask people for money."
There is a parallel between this Sunday's Gospel and what happened in that diner. This week's Gospel highlights the religious and social exclusion of a man born blind. People with disabilities, although they could enter the Temple area, were excluded from entering the "holy of holies" or from ascending the altar stairs. The list of those excluded includes the blind, the lame, one who has a split lip, a limb too long, a broken leg or arm, a hunchback, and even someone who was deaf. This might seem silly to us in our day and age, but we even find ways to exclude by a set of different standards like race, color, gender, level of intelligence, esteem, sexual orientation, and religion. However, it took our country until 1990 to pass the "Disability Act," saying that those with disabilities cannot be discriminated against. Even though the blind man in today's Gospel has his sight restored, people use his disability to label him as inherently sinful. It is easy to imagine that a broken arm or leg could heal itself naturally and thus restore the disabled person to Temple worship. Not so with a person born blind. The gravity of this disability is enough to exclude the person from full religious incorporation into the faith from birth to death.
What Jesus sees, in contrast, is the opportunity for the works of God to be revealed. This blindness of this person could only be cleansed by Jesus' touch. With a little bit of spit and clay and washing in a pool, the person born blind is restored to himself as well as his community. In the past two Sundays, life-giving water comes from the Anointed One through the Spirit. Jesus is the spring of water that never runs dry for the Samaritan woman who has been marginalized from her community. Jesus is the life-giving water for the man born blind who had been excluded from full society and religious participation.
Perhaps you can think of exclusions in our society, in our Church, that have become normalized. What people do you think of that seek full incorporation into our Church? There will always be a habit within our cultures to marginalize and excommunicate someone from our churches or society. However, who among us does not need to be healed from physical or spiritual disabilities? Jesus shows his anointed mission in the virtue of restoration. So let Jesus heal you this very day, restore you to the person you were meant to be, let Jesus open your eyes.