Sunday, March 22, is the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year A). Mass readings: 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a, Psalm 23:1-6, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41.
As a boy, I sometimes thought that believing would be much easier if I was able to see the same kinds of dramatic miracles and demonstrations of divine power as are described in the Scriptures. After all, although the mighty acts of God — such as the parting of the Red Sea, the sun standing still in sky, the healing of the sick, and the raising of the dead — regularly punctuate the biblical text, they do not seem to occur in the world in which we live. I often wondered why it is that people living in today’s world are not given the privilege to experience them in the same way.
Our Lord’s words to his disciples in today’s Gospel speak to just this issue. When asked by his disciples whether it was the sin of the man born blind or that of his parents that caused his blindness, Christ responds: “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (John 9:3). With this response, Our Lord not only corrects a common misunderstanding about how God deals with humankind, but he also somewhat surprisingly explains the man’s blindness in terms of divine self-manifestation. The man was allowed to be born blind so that the power and glory of God might be made manifest in and through the healing work of Christ. Our Lord’s explanation reveals to us that it is not always through dramatic and public demonstrations of raw power that God makes himself known in the world. Instead, God’s self-manifestation more often comes through the weak; specifically, through their being made strong by the healing power of God. The “catch” with this mode of self-manifestation, however, is that people must be properly disposed in order to see it.
It is perhaps a subtle point, but just because something is visible does not mean that it is seen. In the case of today’s Gospel, Christ makes God’s works visible, but not everyone sees them. While the man himself certainly does, and possibly some Pharisees as well, the majority of the Jews do not.
This is not all the Lord has to say on the matter, for he continues by explaining, “We have to do the works of the One who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). Referring here to the Father as “the One who sent me,” Christ continues to explain that he and his disciples must do the works of God while it is still daytime. It is likely that Christ is drawing on a rabbinic saying in which “day” is a figurative reference to the span of earthly life, while “night” is an allusion to death. In this case, Christ is inviting his disciples to cooperate with him in doing God’s works while they are still alive. But just what are these works? If we look to the wider context of John’s Gospel, we see that “God’s works” (ta erga tou theou) and similar phrases are really a way of speaking about the Father’s overarching plan to show people the Communion of Love that is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit so that they might believe. This means that when Christ entreats his disciples to do “God’s works,” Christ is really inviting them to cooperate with him in manifesting God’s presence to the world through their good deeds.
This same invitation is extended to us as disciples of Jesus Christ. By virtue of our baptism and confirmation, we are given the power to cooperate in this work of manifesting God’s presence in the world. We do this every time we perform works of mercy, whether corporal or spiritual. Let us, then, strive to make God more clearly visible this Lent through our cooperation with Christ in doing God’s works.
Dominican Father Jordan Schmidt is an instructor
in sacred Scripture at the
Pontifical Faculty of the
Immaculate Conception at the
Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.