Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the Fourth Sunday of Lent – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray.
The Liturgy of the Mass is the Light in the World
The First Reading for the Fourth Sunday of Lent – Year A from 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a excludes a very important preface from the previous chapter, concerning why the Prophet Samuel was sent to the home of Jesse the Bethlehemite to anoint the future King of Israel. Saul, who was anointed by the Samuel as King had transgressed against the commandments of the Lord, and for this, God had rejected him from being King over His people. After Samuel communicated to Saul why he lost favor with God, the text from 1 Samuel 15:35 reads, “And Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.” We do not know how much time had passed between these events of Samuel departing from Saul and then being sent to anoint David, but chapter sixteen opens with, “The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Next, the Prophet sees two things that he should not have. First, he sees an obstacle; fearing that Saul will kill him if he hears about him going to anoint a new King, so God tells him to visit Jesse under the pretense of offering a sacrificial banquet for the town. Second, he sees Jesse’s son Eliab “and thought, Surely the Lord’s anointed is before is before” me, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” When Jesse’s son David arrived, the Lord spoke to the Prophet Samuel, saying, “There—anoint him, for this is the one!” Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed David in the presence of his brothers; and from that day on, the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.” Upon anointing David, the text from 1 Samuel 16:14 informs us, “. . . the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirt from the Lord tormented him.” The interesting point here is that the Prophet Samuel could not see until God gave him eyes to see.
Then in today’s Gospel Reading from John 9:1-41, Jesus healed a beggar who been born blind by making clay with saliva and smearing it onto his eyes and then instructing him to “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” —which means Sent—. So he went and washed, and came back able to see.” So, there is an immediate connection here between the First Reading and the concluding Rite of the Mass with sight being connected to being sent by God. Now, keep in context that because of this man’s disability, for all of his life he had been treated poorly by some or most of the religious establishment at the time, who may have taken the enigmatic saying “the blind and the lame shall not come into the house” from 2 Samuel 5:8 literally and, thereby, use that was as a weapon to keep him outside of the Temple and on the fringes of Jewish society. So, now we can understand why this unnamed beggar seems a bit perturbed and hostile at times when that same religious establishment who never did anything for him now approaches him and his parents to interrogate them about the man who gave him sight. In the first instance, they asked the beggar what he had to say about the man who opened his eyes, and he replied, “He is a prophet.” For his parent’s part, they were afraid to answer any questions about who gave their son sight because the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ, they would be expelled from the synagogue. For this reason, his parents said, “He is of age; question him.”
The text then reads, “So a second time they called the man who had been blind and said to him, “Give God the praise! We know that this man is a sinner.” He replied, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.” So they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” They ridiculed him and said, “You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.” Now, here is the beggar, who had been treated horribly by some or many of the religious establishment for all of his life over the perception that his physical disability was proof that he had been born into sin, yet, now are still treating him horribly even though that he can see, just because he confessed to them the truth. What this reaction by the Pharisaic religious establish altogether demonstrates is a triple level of blindness to the truth; that is, they are blind in three ways; (1) they are blinded to the man’s human dignity; that he should be treated as an equal son of God; (2) they are blinded from obeying the law, which forbade the mistreatment of blind persons (Cf. Lev. 19:14; Deut. 27:18), and (3) they are blinded from seeing the Messiah, who was prophesied to give sight to the blind (Cf. Is. 35:5-6).
“When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.” Just a quick sidenote to those who like to say that the Sacrifice of the Mass is the only way to worship Jesus, that is not true. The liturgy of the Catholic Mass is the highest form of worship we can offer God, because it is the only form of worship that He promises His Real Presence to be with us at, but it not the only form of worship, as the text just informed us. Then Jesus said, “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.” That was quite the turn of events for the religious establishment. Just moments ago they were accusing the beggar of being born into sin, but now those who are judging others of sin are being told they are the sinners, not because they are blind, but because they can see.
Today’s Second Reading from Ephesians 5:8-14, extracts a portion of the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to the Church of Ephesus about turning away from their former life as Gentiles. Previously, in Ephesians 4:17, the Apostle wrote, walking “in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” Paul then goes on to describe the degrees of debauchery by such people, before he encourages them, saying, “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. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness.” The Apostle ends his treatment of light versus darkness with what appears to be an early Christian hymn that belonged to the Baptism kerygma, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
The Christian transition from darkness to light is only possible because Christ, the light of the world, triumphed over darkness first, passing from death to life for us have life after death in Him, and over death He triumphed for the redemption of the world. For this reason, of all the vigil liturgies, only the Easter Vigil holds the honor of being declared the “mother of all vigils” and the “greatest and most noble of all solemnities,” because it most excellently sings of the deepest truth of the Christian mystery; that we were once blind and once in darkness, but now in Christ we see through the light of Christ; not just so that we might see the truth, but so that those who are blind might see the truth of Christ in us, and those who do see might become blind.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the liturgy and how the liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the liturgy.