Jesus will lead us through darkness

  • February 22, 2008

Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year A) March 2 (1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41)

Glamour, good looks and glitz are the reigning values of much of our culture. Appearance is everything and is the standard by which one’s worth is judged. If only as much time, money and energy were expended cultivating personal qualities and the inner life.

One wonders how David would have fared on one of our culture’s “Idol” programs. All of his brothers are in the running for King of Israel and by all appearances they all fit the bill: tall, strong and a powerful presence. But God has not chosen any of them for not one of them has the inner qualities to lead the nation.

Here we see the real difference between people and God. Most people are taken in by appearances and judge both people and situations according to very superficial criteria. But God looks within; God reads the human heart and soul. If only we were able to do the same in the social and political sphere. Often it is glamourous appearances, fancy clothing and hairstyles, witty sound bites and soaring rhetoric that win the day. God is not impressed, and neither should we be. God will choose individuals who have the proper disposition: an open and generous mind and heart and a desire to serve. It is the youngest brother, the one not even judged worthy to be considered, whom the Lord chooses. The truly great men and women in history are those who permitted themselves to be a vessel or channel for God’s grace and power. God calls; God also grants the power and grace to accomplish what God asks of us. In this case, the Spirit of God falls on David with power and force enabling him to assume the kingship of Israel.

The irony of dwelling in darkness is that those doing so are often unaware of their own state. Spiritual darkness is the inability to see and think clearly — it is being trapped in a distorted world of one’s own creation. That darkness and ignorance can be so profound that the Scriptures frequently use the metaphor of death for the ordinary human state. Depth psychologists insist on the need for the individual to become aware of his or her own inner darkness — the shadow — and bring it into the light of consciousness. Enlightenment occurs when we wake up spiritually — rise from the dead — and allow the light which is God’s justice and love to illuminate hearts and minds.

Who are the blind and who really have sight? This entire story from John is an extended parable on the human condition. We are imprisoned by hardened and closed minds and this is especially acute in the religious realm. This “blind” man is sensitive and astute: he picks up on all the cues Jesus is giving concerning His identity. The authorities are outraged because Jesus has worked outside the system and the rules, so He is a sinner and cut off from God. Fearful of tradition and status quo, they interrogate the man. But the newly sighted man can see clearly what they cannot. If Jesus were really a sinner as they were saying, He would not have been able to give sight to one blind from birth. Jesus must be sent from God. The learned authorities — utterly convinced that they are in possession of the truth — are especially offended that this man, whom they believed to be a cursed sinner because of his blindness, is presumptuous enough to teach them something. For his troubles, he is expelled from their midst. He already acknowledged Jesus as a prophet, and with a little prompting he professes his faith in Him as the Son of Man. Jesus declares further that His whole mission is to give sight to the blind — to enable them to perceive the truth — and to take it away from those who are convinced that they see. When the authorities protest in a huff that they are not blind, His reply is devastating.

There is no sin in being genuinely blind. But to dogmatically insist that one sees and understands when one is manifestly in darkness and incomprehension is a huge sin and will not be easily taken away. Openness and the humble realization of one’s own limitations and ignorance is the first step on the road to enlightenment.