There is a man born blind sitting at the very crowded and busy streets of Jerusalem going about his daily business. It is likely that this man, like so many others, was seeking a hand-out and depending on the generosity of others. For this man, who had been born blind, this day was like every other day of his life. He has no idea, however, that this day his life would change for ever.
Had one of his disciples not pointed out this beggar, it is likely that Jesus would have passed him by or paid him little mind. One of his followers used this man as a foil for a theological question to Jesus. And instead he himself becomes a disciple of Jesus.
While the initial conversation between Jesus and the disciple is about the nature of sin and the consequence of sin which was presumed to be this man’s blindness, Jesus shifts the focus to the very nature of sin itself.
The man born blind could not see light through his eyes, but he could experience light through his openness to the action and presence of God in his life; no doubt he experienced the kindness and generosity of so many people who passed his way every day. He may have been blind, but he knew the light when he “saw” it.
After smearing mud on his face, Jesus tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam so that he can gain his sight. That he does so is evident of his desire to see and his faith in the man whom he did not know, Jesus. He could have chosen to dismiss this stranger, wipe off the mud and curse this stranger, while remaining in his spot begging for alms; but he did not.
While there are many other people Jesus heals throughout the course of his ministry, it is this man who gets caught up in a controversy about Jesus. He is attacked by the Pharisees because Jesus made mud on the Sabbath. They thought that perhaps this man and Jesus were in collusion with one another and that he was a faker planted by Jesus to make it seem that he had been cured of his blindness. A man born blind doesn’t just gain his sight because someone smears mud on his face and he washes it off in a pool.
The increasing tension between the man and the Pharisees about Jesus focuses on the ironic reality that those who see (the Pharisees) are blind (to the acts of God in Jesus) and that those who are blind (this man) can see (the acts of God in Jesus).
Our First Reading, the selection of David as King by the prophet Samuel, carries the message that while the prophet focused on the external appearance of the sons of Jesse (height and strength), God saw the interior (moral character and faithfulness) and chose the latter over the former.
Earlier in his ministry, in a conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus, Jesus remarked: “And this is the verdict, that the light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”
This Lenten Season challenges us to shed the obstacles in our lives that prevent us from seeing the light and basking in its warmth. We cannot allow our sinfulness to so cloud our minds and hearts that we prefer to be in the darkness, unable to see the great things that the Lord has in store for us.
April 2 – Jesus weeps at their lack of faith
Lazarus is dead. His sisters Mary and Martha are observing the customary mourning rituals and their friends, family and neighbors, called simply “the Jews” by John, are offering their support. While Jesus had been informed several days earlier that Lazarus was ill, he lingered where he was and then set out to Bethany. By the time they arrived Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days.
There are extensive and meaningful conversations between Jesus and the sisters of Lazarus. Each of them shows faith in the final resurrection and they have faith in Jesus, though each is still upset that Jesus did not get there before Lazarus died.
There is a great deal of negativity in this scene. The disciples were reluctant to return to Judea from Galilee as the Jewish authorities had threatened Jesus’ life just a couple of weeks prior. Thomas suggests that they will all be killed if they return, yet, return they do.
In the midst of this moment, as the sisters express both their disappointment and their faith in Jesus, and the others gathered around mock Jesus for his delay in coming to Lazarus during his illness and then Lazarus dies, , Jesus expresses three very distinct emotions. It is these emotions that will be the focus of this reflection.
While speaking with Martha, who begins to weep, and with the others gathered also weeping, John notes: “he became perturbed and deeply troubled.”
Two verses later we read the famous verse: “And Jesus wept.”
Three verses later John notes: “So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb.”
What are we to make of this visceral and emotional reaction of Jesus? Is he upset at the death of Lazarus? Is he upset at accusing finger of the sisters and the crowd? Is he just caught up in the frenetic setting?
We need to look a bit deeper, both into the context and the Greek text itself to get a better appreciation of what is happening.
The reaction of Jesus, “perturbed” actually suggests a more visceral and physical response. Jesus is angry about the death of a friend and the distress of his friends and their neighbors. He knows what he is about to do. The death of Lazarus itself is inconsequential to Jesus.
The absence of faith from all those around him – the disciples who don’t understand why they are there, Martha and Mary, who while believing that God will indeed listen to Jesus, are more unbelieving than believing, and this vociferous and accusatory crowd that totally lacks faith, has brought Jesus to the point where he is surrounded by evil. He cannot abide their unbelief.
The other reaction of Jesus – where he begins to weep – has a different connotation in Greek. While in English we have one word for crying or weeping regardless of the context, the Greeks used different words. The crowd and the sisters are weeping in mourning. The author uses a word for Jesus that means to weep in the face of disappointment.
“Have I been with them so long and they still do not believe?”
Jesus doesn’t say this here, but it provides the context for understanding his reactions in this moment.
Jesus says nothing more to the crowd or to the sisters after Lazarus emerges from the tomb.
This is a real challenge for us in faith. Many of us feel as does Jesus in the face of the unbelief of friends, family and coworkers. Jesus shows us that even in the face of overwhelming doubt and lack of faith that we must continue to act with boldness in faith.
That is part of our Lenten journey. To walk boldly in faith and to live in the certitude that Jesus does what he says he does – and that he leads us to eternal life.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.