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Saturday, March 9, 2013

"Believing is Seeing" (1) - the Man Born Blind

Everyone has a take on that phrase, from Santayana to "The Santa Clause" movie, but I first heard it in the children's book Welcome Comfort, which Terry got for Desi half his lifetime ago. It's a good place to start when thinking about the second Scrutiny this week, and the gospel from John 9 about the encounter between Jesus and the Man Born Blind. My general tack is to write these posts after the liturgical experience, because I don't want to limit what you or I might hear in them by whatever I have to say. So most of what I write about a Sunday will be after the Sunday liturgy. Sometimes, though, I think it is helpful to sort of "frame" our hearing, wake our ears up to words and motifs in the scriptures, so that there will be some resonance in the liturgical experience. I hope that works all right.

The three scrutinies, as I have mentioned, are Lenten rites of exorcism and blessing of the elect. They are exorcisms that aim to uncover what is sinful and weak in their lives, and pray that those things be repented of and healed. At the same time, they seek the strength of Christ in building up what is good within each of the candidates, so that they can become true disciples of Jesus and vibrant members of the Church. The rites of the church call Lent the period of "purification and enlightenment" for this very reason: while we pray for the purification and enlightenment of the elect, we ourselves are subjected to the same scrutiny by the word of God, so that we can come to know ourselves better, repent of what is evil, and turn more completely toward the Light of the World. 



For those who are celebrating scrutinies, the gospel this Sunday, from John 9, is set up by the first reading from 1 Samuel about the anointing of David, when Samuel is sent by God to anoint one of Jesse's sons as king of Israel. One by one the strong and beautiful sons are brought to the prophet, but it is none of these. "Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart." It is the youngest of the sons, the weakest, the shepherd, who is brought last to Samuel from the fields, and with Samuel's anointing the Spirit rushes on David. Then, in the second reading from Ephesians, Paul says, "Once you were darkness, now you are light in the Lord. Live then as children of light." 

I'd like to mention one thing about this gospel that we sometimes underplay, and then I'd like to say what I think is most appropriate about this scrutiny for us American Catholics. It is important to remember that Jesus does this cure on the Sabbath. This is the cause of the tension in the whole story. "Making clay" is the work of artisans and builders, and against the law of Sabbath rest. But for the author of the fourth gospel, this action of Jesus is meant to recall God's work in Genesis: a new creation is beginning in the man born blind. Who is the Sabbath for? Whose is the Sabbath? And what does God want from Sabbath justice?


If these three rites, these scrutinies, are meant to lead the elect and us with them, deeper into the mystery of sin and grace, then it seems to me we can detect, among many others, a thread that goes like this. In the First Scrutiny, celebrated last week, sin seems to be the web of political and interpersonal boundaries that need to be breached and lowered. Just as the ancient enmity between Jew and Samaritan was overcome by the preaching of the apostle Philip, and just as the woman at the well came to acknowledge Jesus, a Jewish man, as the messiah, so we are called to gather at the wells of our own lives and communities and meet there the enemy, acknowledge our mutual thirst, and drink the living water that will transcend our differences and unite us. Now, in this Second Scrutiny, we are asked to look at false religion that worships a god who puts cult and law above human need, that disenfranchises the weak and broken, even for a day, while the wheels of liturgy grind. We are asked to see that Jesus Christ is not a religion but a person, that he is met in other people. We are asked to see that with new eyes, and reject the false religion of gesture and rhetoric that purports to be more important than the people where God has made God's home. Finally, in the Third Scrutiny, we are asked to confront death itself, and therefore the very meaning of life. Ultimately, do we believe in the God of life, who has power over the grave, or do we put all our existential eggs in the basket of the Now, envying, grasping, accumulating, and consuming all that we can, regardless of the harm done to others? 


The pool of Siloam
This second scrutiny is a wake-up call to everyone who claims the title of Christian, and to all the institutions that bear that name. Who is your God? it asks. Do you believe that God wants healing to wait until tomorrow, or that God wants it now? Do believe that God wants "sacrifice" more than mercy, or do you take God at the word that it is mercy, and not sacrifice, the God desires? It's not an either/or. It's not at all the death of ritual. It merely means that for ritual to have any authenticity, it has to be genuinely sacramental, that is, to signify something that is part of our reality. I can't say "Our Father" with integrity if I only live for myself. I can't offer the kiss of peace to my neighbor if my actions outside the church support war, violence, revenge, imperialism, the devaluation of human life, and other strategies of hell. I can't take communion with Christ and all of humanity if I support strategies of division, subjugation, and impoverishment outside the walls of the assembly. In three short weeks, we will be asked to renew our baptismal promises, rejecting those very ways of darkness. We'll need all the help we can get for that in these times, and so will the new pope who will soon be elected.




(Other posts on Lent 3/4/5 Year A and the scrutinies here.)