4th Sunday in Lent (A)
Learning To Be Light
Picture: cc kevincollins123
Sisters and brothers, some time ago, I paid for something in cash. But, before accepting my money, the lady at the counter first passed each of my bills under an ultraviolet lamp. Ignorant person that I am, I asked her why she did that. Patiently, she told me that she was just checking to make sure that the bills I was handing her were genuine. Apparently, currency issued by the US Treasury contains a strip that glows under ultraviolet light.
A lamp that helps you to separate the counterfeit from the real deal. Now that’s a useful thing to have, don’t you think, sisters and brothers? Especially today, when even the printers and scanners that can be found in the average home are often sophisticated enough to produce fake money. If you have an ultraviolet lamp, you don’t have to worry about being fooled by counterfeit notes. All you have to do is to shine the light on them and the truth will be revealed.
But it’s not just money that can be counterfeited. It’s not only in financial transactions that people need help to distinguish the real from the fake. In the spiritual life as well, we often need something like an ultraviolet lamp to help us to determine whether what we have before us is really of God or not. This is because not everyone who thinks s/he is doing good, not everyone who says s/he is working for God, is really doing so. For example, many of us have probably already heard the latest news about that evangelical pastor in Florida, who had threatened to burn the Holy Qur’an last September. He finally carried out his threat a couple of weeks ago. And, as a result, there was a riot in Afghanistan, in which several people were killed, including a few who were working for the United Nations. Which goes to show that, as with money, so too with people working for God. Instead of simply accepting them at face value, it’s important that we be careful to check to see if they’re really what they claim to be. It’s necessary for us to shine the light of the gospel upon them.
Indeed, our second reading today goes even further. Not only are the Christians of Ephesus told to shine a light on the people and situations around them, they are reminded that, as followers of Christ, they themselves are called to be that light. You were once darkness, they are told, but now you are light in the Lord. You are light in the Lord. And, as light, the Ephesians have the responsibility to help others to distinguish between the things that are truly of God and those that are not, to separate the genuine from the counterfeit. To do this they are urged to make an effort to live as children of the light, to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. But how does one do this? How does a person learn to live in the ways of the Lord, so as to become a light that can help to distinguish between good and evil?
To answer this question, it’s helpful for us to pay close attention to the other two of our readings for today. In particular, we need to carefully consider the experience of the prophet Samuel in the first reading, and that of the blind man in the gospel. Both these characters share several things in common. When we first meet them at the beginning of their respective stories, each one is visually impaired in a spiritual sense. More than being just physically blind, the man in the gospel is at first unable to recognize Jesus as the Christ. In fact, not only the blind man, but everyone else in the gospel is either incapable of, or reluctant to, accept Jesus as the Christ. We’re told that the man’s parents, for example, are afraid to do so, because they would be expelled from the synagogue if they do. The Pharisees, on the other hand, are blinded by their own prejudice. They allow their own narrow understanding of sabbath observance to keep them from accepting Jesus as the Christ.
Now, as we know, the word Christ means anointed one. And, in the first reading, Samuel is searching for an anointed one. He goes to Jesse’s house to anoint the person whom God has chosen to be the next king of Israel. As with the man who was born blind, Samuel too is initially unable to recognize the Christ. Like the Pharisees in the gospel, Samuel is blinded by his own prejudice, by his attention only to appearances. We may recall that, years ago, Samuel had anointed the previous king, Saul. And Saul was a big, strong and imposing man. It is no surprise then that when Samuel gets to Jesse’s house, he starts looking for someone who looks like Saul. But God has other ideas. Man sees the appearance, Samuel is told, but the Lord looks into the heart.
And here’s where we see another similarity between Samuel and the blind man. Although, in the beginning, both of them are unable to recognize the Christ, by the end of their respective stories, each one has developed the ability to do so. Each one has learned what is pleasing to the Lord. After listening carefully to God’s instructions, Samuel lets go of his prejudices. Instead of the tall, strapping warrior he was looking for, he anoints David, a small shepherd boy, as king. In the gospel too, the blind man undergoes a gradual learning process. At first, when questioned by his neighbors, he refers to the Lord as the man called Jesus. Then, in answer to the Pharisees, he affirms that Jesus is a prophet. Finally, when he meets Jesus a second time, we’re told that not only does the man profess his belief in the Lord, he also worships him.
Perhaps more than anything else, it is this willingness to learn, this readiness to let go of their own prejudices, that enables both Samuel and the man born blind to make the journey from blindness into sight, from darkness into light. In both the first reading and the gospel, this teachability on the part of both Samuel and the man born blind is expressed in terms of a willingness to be sent. In the first reading, Samuel goes to Jesse’s house only because he is sent by God. And, in the gospel, the blind man is sent by Jesus to wash in the Pool of Siloam. And we're told that the word Siloam means sent. And not just Samuel and the man born blind. Above all others, Jesus himself is the One whom God sends to be the Light of the World. As Jesus tells his disciples in the gospel, we have to do the works of the one who sent me.
Sisters and brothers, there are many counterfeits abroad in our world today, various voices that claim to be working for God, but are actually doing the opposite. As Christians – people who have been washed in the pool of Baptism – we are called to be the light that helps to distinguish the genuine from the fake. But to do this, we need first to learn to recognize the Lord. We need to allow ourselves to be sent.
Sisters and brothers, are your ultraviolet lamps switched on yet?