Fourth Sunday of Lent
Drawing from the first word, in Latin, in the Entrance Antiphon for this weekend’s liturgy, this Sunday long has been called “Laetare Sunday”. “Laetare” means “to rejoice”. The church rejoices that even amid the drabness and penance of Lent, the glory of Christ shines forth, as the Lord rose in brilliant light after being crucified.
The first reading for this weekend is from the First Book of Samuel. An ancient prophet, and therefore God’s representative and spokesman, Samuel selected the young David to be king of Israel. To signify this appointment, Samuel anointed David with oil.
Anointings always have marked persons for special jobs or to strengthen them in particular circumstances. All Catholics are anointed when they are baptized or confirmed. Priests and bishops are anointed. Faithful people in bad health are anointed to strengthen them and reinforce their spiritual constitution should they near death. Once, kings were anointed.
David was, and still is, special in the Hebrew mind. He was the great king who united and empowered the nation, but he was much more than a successful political leader. His ultimate duty was in tightening the bond between God and the people. The bond was in the people’s genuine acknowledgement of God, and their lives of obedience to God’s law confirmed this bond.
The Epistle to the Ephesians provides the second reading. This reading is an admonition to the Christian people of Ephesus, in the first century A.D. one of the major seaports, commercial centers and pagan shrines of the Roman Empire.
Drawing heavily upon the imagery of light and darkness, the reading links light with righteousness and darkness with sin, calling upon the Christian Ephesians to live in the light.
St. John’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. Central to the story is the Lord’s meeting with a man blind since birth. The Lord gives the man sight. To understand this entire story, it is necessary to realize how Jews at the time of Jesus looked upon physical difficulties.
Unaware of the scientific explanations for blindness and other problems that people of this age have come to see as obvious, the ancient Jews believed such terrible handicaps came as a result of sin. After all, Original Sin ushered death itself into the world. In this thinking, sin also upset the good order of nature, hence disease. Thus, the question came. Was this man’s blindness the result of his own sin or a sin of his parents?
Searching for an answer, the Pharisees question the man. The Pharisees are shown as obstinate and smug. By contrast, the blind man is humble and sincere. He has faith in God and in Jesus.
An added element, surely of special interest to the early generations of Christians who suffered persecution, was that the Pharisees expelled the man from their synagogue. The righteous often suffer from the ill will of others.
The Gospel story recalls a miracle. It also is a study in contrasts. On the one side is the man born blind, whom Jesus healed. The other side is that of the Pharisees, so self-satisfied and so confident in their own knowledge and in their own high estimates of their piety.
We must apply these contrasts to ourselves. We may not be very evil, or even pompous and boastful as were the Pharisees. Still, we must admit our limitations. Our exaggerated judgments of ourselves trick us again and again and again.
All this keeps us in the dark. Lent is the time to face facts. We must recognize our need for God. We must turn to God. He is light. The wonder of this is that God will receive us, love us, forgive us and give us sight. The light of God’s presence awaits us. Rejoice!
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