At the Easter Vigil service at my parish, held the night before Easter Sunday, I stand at the door of the church, and hold the big Easter candle up high. It’s just been lit from a fire burning on the sidewalk in front of our inner-city church. We’re symbolically offering the Light of Christ to our neighborhood and our world. Then the parishioners enter the church, lighting their own candles. In sharing the Light of Christ, we share our faith that he can truly overpower the darkness of our world.
On the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year A), the liturgy presents from the Gospel of John, the story of the “Man Born Blind,” a man who, St. Augustine said, stands for the human race. The early Church used this story, as we do today, with the ritual of “scrutinizing” candidates for Baptism. (In the “scrutines,” the candidates for Baptism stand before the assembly at Mass for special prayers and exorcism.) The ancient name for Baptismal conversion was “enlightenment,” and another name for Lent is the time of “purification and enlightenment.”
In the story, Jesus performs a ritual much like the way we baptize: He first anoints the man’s eyes and then tells him to wash in the Pool of Siloam.
Anointing, washing, enlightenment–all these are “code words” for Baptism. John even tells us that “Siloam” means “sent.” Jesus is the One who is sent into the world. Clearly, this story is about coming to believe in Jesus, and the early Church would have recognized in the details their own coming to faith through Baptism.
But like last Sunday’s story of the woman at the well, this story is about the process of coming to believe. The man gets his sight right away, but only slowly does he come to real faith in Jesus. Along the way in the story, he and those around him are caught up in conflict over who Jesus is.
The Pharisees call the man and question him. Since he could not see Jesus, and after the cure Jesus left quickly and was caught up in the crowd, the man knows little about Jesus. The authorities also call the man’s parents, badger them and even threaten to expel them from the synagogue. In repeating questioning, the man born blind gradually begins to assert his faith in Jesus. Near the end of the story, when he meets Jesus again, he is able to make a full profession of faith.
It’s a story which causes us to ask ourselves: How does our faith still need to grow? Where might it be tested? How can we shine the light of Christ on the world, on our society? What false values in the world need to be brought into the light of day? Being a Christian isn’t just about a private conversion experience, the light of faith to be kept hidden away. Rather, we’re called to take it out into the world.
Image: public domain