4th Sunday Lent A
Sunday 19th March 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Jn 9: 1-41
As Jesus was walking along with the disciples, he saw a man who had been blind from birth.
His disciples wondered: ‘Teacher, who sinned for this man to be blind, did he, or was it his parents fault?’
‘It was nobody’s fault, neither his nor his parents. It happened so that God’s glory would be seen in his life. While we have time, we should be working to reveal the works of God. No-one can work in the dark. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’
Then Jesus spat on the ground and made clay with his spit. Then he smeared this paste on the man’s eyes and told the man: ‘Go, and wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man went, washed and came back seeing! The people who had known him as a beggar couldn’t believe their eyes and asked each other if this really was the beggar they had known. Some thought it was him; others said it only looked like him but the man himself declared:
‘I am he!’
They then demanded to know how he got his sight.
‘The man named Jesus made a paste, smeared it on my eyes and told me to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. I went, washed and saw!’
‘Where is he?’
‘I don’t know.’
They took the man to the Pharisees. Now it was the Sabbath day when Jesus made the paste and gave the man sight. So the Pharisees wanted to know how he had received his sight.
‘The man put a paste on my eyes, I washed and now I see.’
Some of the Pharisees then said: ‘This man isn’t from God, he doesn’t follow the Sabbath rules,’ but others said: ‘Well, how could a sinner do a miracle like this?’ and they argued amongst themselves. In the end, they turned to the man and said:
‘Well, what have you got to say? You’re the one who can now see.’
‘He is a prophet.’
But the Jews still couldn’t believe that a miracle had occurred so they sent for the man’s parents to verify the facts. ‘Is this your son? Is it true he was blind from birth? Now tell us, how he comes to see now?’
‘Yes, he is our son. Yes, he was blind from birth. But we know nothing about how he got his sight or who opened his eyes. He’s an adult, he can speak for himself.’ They said this because they were frightened of what might happen to them if they acknowledged Jesus as the Christ.
So they called the man back and said;
‘We are putting you on oath – don’t dare perjure yourself before God. We know this man Jesus is a sinner.’
‘Really! Well, I don’t know whether he is a sinner or not, but there is one thing I do know. I was blind and now I can see.’
‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’
‘I’ve told you already and you did not hear. Why do you want me to repeat myself? Do you want to become his disciples?’
So they insulted him: ‘You’re his disciple. We follow Moses. God spoke through Moses. But, this man, we don’t even know where he comes from.’
‘Well, that’s amazing. He gave me sight and you don’t know where he comes from. A little basic theology… God doesn’t listen to sinners, only to those who do his will. This man gave me sight. It is simply unknown for a person, blind from birth, to receive sight. If this man isn’t from God, he couldn’t have done anything!’
‘You, you, you’re sinful through and through, how dare you teach us.’
And they threw him out.
When Jesus heard this, he went and found the man him and asked him:
‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’
‘Who is he, lord, so I can believe in him?’
‘You have seen him; in fact he is speaking with you right now.’
‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshipped him.
Jesus said: ‘I have come into the world to be judgement for the world. I will give sight to those who know their blindness and will show up those who are so sure of their sight as being blind.’
Some of the Pharisees heard this and said:
‘So you think we are blind?’
‘If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty but because you so arrogantly claim sight, you are guilty.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Lord God, divine shepherd;
in the days ahead, just as it has been all my life,
I shall not want for anything.
You will rest me in rich pasture
and lead me beside calm waters.
You will bring my inner being back where it belongs,
and lead me along the right paths,
for the sake of your name.
Even when things seem at their darkest,
sensing your presence, I fear nothing;
you are sure of the way ahead, and you protect me.
Indeed, in spite of the adversity surrounding me
you continue to provide abundantly for my well-being;
anointing me with your hospitality
and pouring out blessing upon blessing.
Surely good and lovingkindness will pursue me all my days,
I will return, and you, O Lord,
shall be my dwelling-place for days without end.
For use in worship, with acknowledgement. (c) Jeff Shrowder 2002.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, send your Spirit into our lives to help us face realistically our liabilities and inadequacies this Lent. With the Spirit’s wisdom, may we deal with the issues which you want us to change, may we be at peace with the issues that you are not ready to change. With Jesus as our healer and wise guide, may we learn to worship you in freedom and in love. We ask this in Jesus’ name confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
Commentary John 9
Inspired storytelling doesn’t just give the facts. It invites the reader or listener into the drama of what is happening within the hearts of the people in the story. In this Gospel story, it is as though John has put his arm around us, giving us little nudges and winks when he knows we share the bigger, deeper meaning.
It is good to have an overview of the scenes of the story. They are as follows
I 9:1-5 Jesus and his disciples
II 9: 6-7 Jesus and the man born blind
III 9:8-12 The blind man and his neighbours
IV 9: 13-17 The blind man and the Pharisees
V 9: 18-23 The Pharisees and the blind man’s parents
VI 9: 24-34 The Pharisees and the blind man
VII 9: 35-38 Jesus and the blind man
VIII 9: 39-10:21 Jesus and the Pharisees
This is an unusual miracle story in that Jesus is rarely centre stage – only at the beginning and the end does he appear. The drama, rather, revolves around the blind man and the Pharisees and their transformation – the blind man into the vision of faith, the Pharisees into the blindness of sin.
The blind man has been dependent all his life – led around by others – and judged as ‘sinful’. The initial question of the disciples to Jesus is based on the Jewish belief that God could not be credited with the evil that happens to people. The disciples want to know where to lay the blame while Jesus shifts the focus to the glory of God. He is about to reveal God’s glory and the disciples are to follow his example.
When the blind man is healed, we are reminded of the healing of the lame man in chapter 5. That story had a very different ending. That man did not understand what had happened while the blind man grows in understanding as he is first questioned, then interrogated, then insulted by the religious authorities. Their questioning revolves around ‘how’ did this happen, his understanding revolves around ‘who’ did this miracle. As their questioning deteriorates into abuse, the man grows in understanding of who Jesus is, and of who he himself is. The one who had been so dependent as to be almost a non-person stands his ground asserting that his healing must have come from God. When he is cast out by the authorities, Jesus then comes to bring his faith to fullness and reveal that he is ‘the Son of Man.’ The man then expresses the deepest stance of dignity for a person… and worships.
The Pharisees with their almost hysterical question of ‘how did this happen?’ miss the point of the miracle and, ironically, the Law/Torah that they think they are defending. Their arrogance has blinded them to any other possible interpretation of reality except their own.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
The Gospel of John uses symbols to convey the meaning of the person of Jesus. Symbols like light and darkness, bread and hunger, shepherd and water are used in a variety of ways, not to convey the facts of the life of Jesus, but the richness of his person and the many ways that he relates to us. Meditating on them, we are led to ask, as did the man born blind, ‘Who is this person to me?’
To be able to think and pray symbolically is essential to the dynamic of faith. Thinking symbolically we can embrace the mystery of sacrament: to believe that the grace of God can be conveyed through the elements of our world, not just in the bread and wine, the water and oil, but also in the events of daily life. Thinking symbolically helps us to encounter the ‘who’ of Jesus within our mundane lives.
In contrast to the man born blind, we have the Pharisees in this Gospel asking an increasing strident ‘how did he do it?’ Focusing solely on ‘how’ blinds them to greater question of ‘who’. This mechanistic attitude is very strong in our modern world. We see it amongst those who put Faith and Science in opposition. They bring to the Bible and religion all their questions of ‘how does it happen?’ and when the Bible and religion fails their quiz it is condemned. We see it, ironically, in the biblical fundamentalists who insist that the Bible is historically ‘true’ – that it explains, for example, ‘how’ the world was created. Both groups would be horrified to see themselves lumped together but their inability to approach the Bible symbolically leads both to read it as a flat ‘historical’ document. Yes, there is history there: the history of how God relates to people, especially in the person of Jesus. Reading those stories, we are invited to encounter God and Jesus in the abundant and rich symbolism of our own lives.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
Miracles do not necessarily lead to faith and faith is not necessarily about believing in miracles. In the Gospel concerning the healing of the man born blind, by the end of the interrogations it is clear that the man himself, his parents, his neighbours, the people who had seen him begging and the religious authorities all know that a miracle has occurred but it is interpreted variously. The authorities claim it is a sinful act, the parents are wary about the implications, the neighbours are wondering what happened. Only the man himself is worshipping.
The movement to faith by the man is worth close study. Initially, he isn’t dazzled by this amazing healing, rather he seems bemused, like someone awakening from a long sleep. His understanding grows as he is questioned and challenged. It is as though he had something to work out within himself before he could profess faith in Jesus and being challenged helped it to happen. As his integrity is first questioned, then assaulted he stands his ground concerning what happened to him and, as he does, he begins to understand who Jesus is: first, ‘the man called Jesus’, then ‘a prophet’, then ‘from God’. Only when he is alone with his own truth and knowledge does Jesus come to him and reveal himself. Then the man worships.
Coming to the fullness of faith is something deeply intimate and personal to each of us yet it takes place in the cut and thrust of life. Many of the difficulties we face challenge our integrity and, at times, we can feel alone. But this is a journey we must take. As we stand alone with our own truth, as did the man, we come into that human dignity that allows us to truly worship God in freedom.
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
– The great age of Sienese School of art began with Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-1319). His depiction of the healing of the man born blind first shows the man cured then has him praising God having cast aside the symbols of his blindness – the stick and the begging bowl.
– This painting by William James Webb shows what it meant for the blind man to stand up to the religious authorities
– William Holman Hunt’s (1827-1910) The Light of the World is the English classic depiction of Christ knocking at our door.
– The Mafa people are a north Cameroon ethnic group. This picture shows a tender Jesus coming close to heal the blind man.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
The grace of God comes to us in various ways through our life: in a moment of insight, in comforting words from others, in challenging situations, in something we have read.
In the quiet moments of this week, in the spaces between jobs, mull on the times and ways God’s grace has come to you and how it has changed you life for the better.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Rest in the love of your God
God teaches us in different ways through our lives. Quite often it is to make us grow: to leave behind our fears, our prejudices, our lazy ways of living, our hurts or our hates. But God often doesn’t ‘seem’ to be with us every step of the way. We may feel that we are working it out in the circumstances and difficulties of life.
Ponder over the some of the ways you have grown in your life. Can you see a pattern in God’s dealings with you? Consider a challenge you are now facing? Can you see the pattern at work in that challenge?
Sit quietly with God, sharing your heart’s response to how God has shepherded you in grace.
Rest in the love of your God