The Fourth Sunday of Lent – 22 March 2020
Lectionary Readings: 1 Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13b; Ps 23:1-6; Eph 5:8-14; John 9:1-42
Theme: The LORD is my shepherd
The psalm for this Sunday is the much loved 23rd psalm. It will also be the psalm for Good Shepherd Sunday on May 3rd. The Gospel for that Sunday is taken from the 10th chapter of John, where Jesus says that the good shepherd guides his sheep with his voice: “they follow [their shepherd] because they know his voice.” (John 10:4) The prophet Samuel, surveying the sons of Jesse, hears and obeys the voice of the LORD, as he has since childhood. The people of Israel promise at Sinai: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.” (Ex 19:7) In the Gospel for this Sunday this is what the blind man does – he hears Jesus’ voice and does as he is told. This is the basic narrative of other miracles described in this gospel. Jesus commands, he is heard and then is obeyed. At the first miracle, at Cana, Mary says to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) And they fill the jars with water, which is turned into wine. The official who begs Jesus to come and heal his son, who is miles away, is told: “‘Go; your son will live’ – and the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way.” (John 4:50) He arrives home to find that his son has been cured. The lame man, imprisoned both by his physical disability and his lack of hope, is told to get up. At once, he stands on his own two feet, holding the mat on which he has lain and suffered for so many years. (John 5:2-9) The man blind from birth has mud smeared on his eyes, is told to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, and when he does so, he can see. Lazarus is summoned from his tomb – “Lazarus, come out!” – and shuffles forth in his grave clothes. (John 11:43-44)
The four miracles of healing have other things in common. Not one of the afflicted people asks Jesus for help. The official’s son and Lazarus obviously cannot do so and others – the official, Martha – speak for them. Jesus actually asks the lame man if he wants to be healed and he answers by complaining that he has nobody to help him. The blind man may be hoping for alms, but he does not ask to be given sight. Who would ask for such an impossible thing? Yet he, like the others, does what he is told and makes his way to the pool of Siloam, presumably expecting to get nothing there other than a clean face.
The blind man’s story was dramatized in The Man Born to Be King, a series of radio plays written by Dorothy Sayers (best known for her mystery novels) and broadcasted by the BBC in the 1940s. When he is asked why he did as he was told when he had no expectation of being given sight, he answers: “I sort of made out by his voice there was something good coming. Voices mean a lot when you’re blind. I knowed as that voice meant well by me.” (Sayers, 190) Later on in the play, Jesus asks him: “Are you glad of the gift that you found in the Pool of Siloam?” (Sayers, 194) He does not say “the gift that I gave you”; he says “the gift that you found”. The man was not blessed with sight simply because Jesus spoke to him. He had to hear the voice of Jesus, trust in the one who spoke – and obey.
Bibliography: Sayers, D.L. “The Light and the Life” in: The Man Born To Be King: A Play-Cycle on the Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (London, 1969)
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. There are many voices competing for our attention. How do you discern which is the voice of Jesus? 2. Reflect on your experience of following – or ignoring – the voice of Jesus.