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The Fourth Sunday in Lent (3/22/2020)

Ps. 142; Isa. 42:14-21; Eph. 5:8-14; Jn. 9:1-41.

Light, [F]or at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of the darkness, but instead expose them (vv. 8-10).

Last Sunday at Jacob’s well Jesus revealed himself to a Samaritan woman, source of “living water”, the HS welling-up in Baptism’s new begetting. St. Paul tells us, this is “the glory” of the cross in which we joyously participate, part and parcel of our Christian walk (Rom. 5:3-5).

Our new orientation by Baptism prompted the early church to examine her catechumens in Lent, “the Scrutinies” preparatory for Easter Vigil’s Baptisms and 1st Communion.

On Lent’s 4thSunday the church examined candidates for Baptism in association with the day’s Gospel, “Jesus Healing the Man Born Blind”. Through the man’s encounter with Jesus the church invites us to examine our walk in the world out of which we have been redeemed; to examine the character of our discipleship; and what it means to come out of the dark into light.

The problem perceived by the early church was the same as today. Baptism separates us from former relations in which there is guilt and shame. In this charged reality, the church pastorally ministers to those parting old abuses, given and received; perhaps suffering scruples at being unworthy of grace (which by definition is “unmerited”); additionally, there was the difficulty, especially beginning in the 4th century, of hypocrisy, thinking there a social or political benefit in being identified a Christian.

Not once in all his life had the man born blind experienced the light of day until Jesus, Light of the world (Jn. 8:12), imparted new sight, a consequence now for us in of our Baptism’s begetting in the Resurrection.

From Jesus’ saliva mixed with dust to a paste; he repeated the first creation’s fashioning of Adam from moistened earth; creating for this man new eyes; sending him to wash in the Pool of Siloam betokening him, like himself, a “Sent One” possessed of the HS’s “living water” as light in the world.

With new eyes the man was changed; to possess physical sight, but more importantly spiritual sight in the midst of those in spiritual “darkness”, an extraordinary reversal of condition. By new sight the man perceived God’s merciful action toward him prepared to hear God’s truth from Jesus.

Immediately before his healing, the temple Jews demanded of Jesus, “Who do you make yourself out to be?” (Jn. 8:53b). Jesus responded, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I Am”(v. 58), at which they took up stones, driving Jesus from his Father’s house; as he was from his mother’s home-town of Nazareth (Lk. 4:29, 30).

Later temple Jews and synagogue Pharisees would say to the man born blind about Jesus, “…we do not know where he comes from” (v. 29b); but the man washed in Siloam’s “sending water” believed Jesus’ word, that he is “Son of Man” come for judgment. Belief and unbelief, light and darkness are crucibles of Life and death. The newly sighted man by Jesus’ “living water” was judged for life, well worth his wait.

Like Jesus, the man was a source of division among those he encountered. The man had been epitome of “darkness”; neighbor’s, family, and acquaintances for fear of a Jewish excommunication edict of anyone confessing Jesus the Christ would not agree on the man’s identity, whether the former blind man or someone who looked like him.

Like Jesus later, the man was brought for trial before the Pharisees for scrutiny of his and Jesus’ identity. Next his parents were summoned, confirming his identity but not testifying to Jesus as agent of their son’s new sight.

The Jew’s then put the man on trial a second time to establish Jesus’ identity, already rejected. At this point, the man incredulously taunted his judges for denying God at work in Jesus, “Do you also want to become his disciples?” (v. 27c). Pharisees excommunicated the man from synagogue, as Jesus from the temple.

The man was now bereft of associates, friends, and neighbors. Family and church no longer recognized him their own. The position of an excommunicate, then and with the NT church is the same, “You cannot have God as Father unless you have the church as mother” (Cyprian, also Origin).

In short, an excommunicate is dead; that is, until the man born blind encountered Jesus, the One who is the Resurrection and the Life (next Sunday’s Gospel “Scrutinies”, John 11:1-53).

From Israel’s abandonment of the man given sight and light in the midst of darkness, we discern ourselves in suffering, loss, endurance for spiritual character, and hope in all circumstances (Rom. 5:3, 4).

Once the Christian moves from “darkness” to “light” by faith, we must never return to the “dog’s breakfast” of former lives. The Baptized observe lives mirroring Jesus’ persecution and trials as he come to his own (cf. Jn. 1:11).

In Baptism God does a hard thing, crying out “like a woman in labor; [gasping and panting]” (Isa. 42:14b) to birth a new creation delivering over his only Son.

Of ourselves we are incapable of separating from our sin nature. But by the light of Christ crucified for the sin of unbelief we are graced to live according to Light’s fruit; that which is good, right, and true, recognizing, “it is shameful even to speak of the things that [the darkness does] in secret.” (Eph. 5:12).

St. Paul urges us to expose the shame and guilt of darkness (Eph. 5:11). This is not license to finger point. If you are a man of unclean lips, and you are; if your thoughts ruminate in matters of sex from an impure heart and unclean lips, and you do; if you are impatient from a critical spirit, and you are; overly occupied in accumulating worldly wealth; and prone to the 1,001 sins of the flesh that make you an idolater, then remember your Baptism into Christ that witnesses to his Light in the sphere God has placed you.

Therefore, we pray for grace to model Christ’s suffering and rejection in love, not to “re-crucify” (Heb. 6:4-8) him by associating with the “darkness” from which we have been rescued.

If Christian discipleship takes the character of Jesus’ cross, still it is his cross from which flows “living water” and the instantiating blood of your newly sighted life. On the cross Jesus, our sin bearer, suffered abandon, even of the Father, crying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46b).

Not so you and I! As the man born blind ejected from the temple, Jesus searched him out to enfold him into a new family: a mother the church, brothers, sisters, and God as Father.

In the Resurrection, after Jesus’ work on the cross, Baptism welcomes us into the new Temple of the Father’s presence, the risen body of Christ in Holy Communion, for a fellowship of the saints with their God. Amen.


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