On three Sundays during the Lenten season the Church offers the possibility of reading key passages from the Gospel of John at mass even in years when the Lectionary is following a different sequence of texts. The three optional readings, one of which occurs this week, have been chosen to accompany the so-called “scrutinies” of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
The scrutinies are brief rites in which those preparing to enter the Church as catechumens (people who have not been baptized) are prayed over and urged to bring to completion the journey of initiation they have begun by deepening their knowledge of the faith, standing fast in virtue, and avoiding evil.
Today we encounter the second scrutiny reading, that of the man born blind, from the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel. Images of light and darkness, sight and blindness prepare us for the Gospel as first we hear the account from the First Book of Samuel of the anointing of the youthful shepherd boy David as the King of all Israel. The great seer Samuel was initially impressed by David’s oldest brother Eliab, guessing that he would be chosen as king, but the Lord corrected him, warning “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).
In place of the seemingly impressive Eliab, God had chosen his youngest brother David, who, though touched by great flaws, would also be marked by enduring faith throughout his life. This scripture reading shows us how Samuel’s spiritual “sight” was at first dim but would later come to perceive the true stature of King David.
The New Testament reading from the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of a sort of spiritual blindness as well, with Paul telling his readers: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph 5:8-9). The lesson is clear: if a person wishes to have fellowship with Jesus then he or she must live in a manner that reflects Jesus’ own goodness and the light of hope which he brings us. That is; we must see and act as “children of the light.”
A different kind of blindness is addressed in the Gospel, though in reality Jesus’ words and actions convey two levels of meaning about blindness. On the surface, he dramatically heals a man from blindness. At the same time, the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees which simmers throughout this long story reveals that he is teaching us about the possibility of spiritual blindness.
We hear Jesus address his opponents: “‘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 sin; but now you are saying, “We see,” so your sin remains’” (John 9:39-41).
Although intended for the benefit of the catechumens preparing for baptism at Easter, these words resonate powerfully for all who seek to follow in the footsteps of the Lord. May we all be reminded and strengthened this Sunday against the danger of spiritual pride and blindness: how it can harden us against making an act of faith, and how we can overcome its ill effects by entrusting ourselves in faith to the Lord.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.