Gospel Reflection – 4th Sunday of Lent
Children of the Light
Last Sunday we had the story of Jesus sitting with the woman at the well, offering her the living water of friendship and mercy. It is a story about the grace of baptism. Today we have a second baptismal story from John’s Gospel, the miracle of sight for the blind. In the early centuries of the Church a favourite name for baptism was Illumination or Enlightenment. Lent is a preparation for Easter when we renew our baptismal promises, renouncing the ways of darkness while holding a candle lit from the Paschal Candle representing the risen Lord.
The lark ascending
In Christian art the evangelist John is usually shown as an eagle, regarded as the only creature that can look directly into the light of the sun without damaging its eyes. More than the other evangelists, John gazes into the blinding light of the beatific vision, now filtered through the humanity of Jesus, Son of God. “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18).
I like to think of John as a skylark. This bird is a mimic who picks up a sound and composes a song with it, not flying from place to place, but ascending skywards. Ralph Vaughan Williams left a fascinating musical composition called The Lark Ascending. John is the writer who starts with something ordinary like bread or water and ascends gradually to divine bread come down from heaven (John 6: 58), or “the spring of water within, welling up for eternal life” (John 4: 14).
Pondering on today’s Gospel, reflect on the ascending titles given to Jesus … man, prophet and Lord. First, he is referred to as “the man called Jesus.” The surest way of knowing what God is like is constant study of the human life of Jesus, the Word made flesh. God has spoken to us in a human life, a language we can understand. What did he say, how did he feel, what were his ideals, how did he respond to situations?
The lark ascends as Jesus is recognised as a prophet, one who reveals the presence of God.
The song goes higher again when the man who was blind from birth says to Jesus, “Lord, I believe,” and worshipped him.
The Church is the Light of Christ
Jesus is the light of the world and his Church is called to be Lumen Christi, the Light of Christ. In today’s Second Reading, Saint Paul tells the Ephesians, “You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord; be like children of light, for the effects of the light are seen in complete goodness, and right living and truth” (Eph 5:8).
Jesus had an extraordinary ability to see goodness and beauty in the most unlikely people … in a hot-tempered fisherman, a compromised tax- collector, James and John known as the Sons of Thunder, Simon a zealous nationalist, and some notorious sinners. One of his eight beatitudes reads, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” True followers of the light of Christ can see other people as God’s creation, recipients of God’s mercy. By contrast, those who are spiritually sick view other people with the jaundiced eye. And everything looks yellow to the jaundiced eye. When our prejudices are strong, we use our eyes more as a murky inlet than as windows of goodness. The famous lines of Frederick Langbridge express the contrast between light and darkness:
“Two men look out through the same bars:
One sees mud, the other the stars.”
The unenlightened mind operates in a very selfish way. Self-interest is the primary motivating source. But the mind enlightened by faith operates with Christ’s vision. It is motivated by charity and strives for justice.
Pilate, in a tone of sarcasm, asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Truth is unknown to the powers of darkness. Nowadays many elections are won by concealing lies under cloaks of attractive slogans. Killing a child in the womb is camouflaged as compassion. Paul continues his advice to the Ephesians: “Try to discover what the Lord wants of you, having nothing to do with the futile works of darkness but exposing them by contrast. The things that are done in secret are things that people are ashamed even to speak of; but anything exposed by light will be illuminated and anything illuminated turns into light. That is why it is said: Wake up from your sleep, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Lent is a preparation for Easter. It is a season to challenge our mediocrity, to wake us up from our slumber so that we will rise with Christ. At Easter we publicly state that we renounce the works of darkness and commit ourselves to the light of Christ.
“I am the light of the world, says the Lord,
Anyone who follows me will have the light of life.
Let us pray with catechumens preparing for Baptism
Father of mercy, you led the man born blind to the kingdom of light through the gift of faith in your Son. Free us from the false values that might surround and blind us. Set us firmly in your truth, children of the light forever. Stir up our desire for what is good. Let us rejoice in your light, that we may see, and like the man born blind whose sight was restored, let us be fearless witnesses to the faith, for you are Lord for ever and ever. Amen.