Sunday, March 19, 2017

Fourth Sunday of Lent - March 26, 2017

First Reading Commentary
The horn was a very common vessel; it was generally used to hold liquor.  In this case the horn was used for oil; and since the horn is a larger vessel than the vial that was usually used to hold oil, this may be a clue as to the duration and abundance of what would soon be the kingship of David. 

"Surely the Lord's anointed is here before Him."  Samuel's thoughts were coming from his own spirit as he was judging by appearance only; but God rejects this eldest son.  One of God's perfections is His ability to read or look into our hearts and whatever was contained in the hearts of Jesse's other sons apparently was not what the Lord was looking for in a king. 

At the time that Jesse is presenting his seven sons before Samuel, David is not present.  In the estimation of many scripture scholars, David, the youngest, was probably about fifteen years old.  It's not likely that Jesse or Samuel had revealed to the other brothers why David was being anointed with the oil; or if they were told, then great precautions would have been taken to keep this a secret for fear of the danger they would be in if Saul, the current king, had found out.  After the anointing, "the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David," meaning that the Lord came upon him to make him prosper and gave him all the graces needed to make David a worthy commander and king.  The Spirit of the Lord rushes upon us at baptism and gives us the graces necessary to fulfill the will of God. 

One of the lessons to be learned from this Reading is that while we don't always understand the ways of God, His ways are the only way.  If the decision to choose a new king had been left in the hands of mortal human beings, they would have made the decision based on outward appearance only, and then salvation history as we know it may have been quite different, as the promised Messiah of David's lineage may not have come to light.  As always, “Thy will be done!” 

As Christians, the Voice of Christ speaks to us in the opening of this Reading.  Jesus fills our vessels, that is, our souls with His Precious Body and Blood, the Food needed to sustain us on our journey; and He says to us: "I have filled you with the Bread of Life, be on your way; I am sending you."  The battle is hard but the Real Food and True Drink along with a viable and vibrant relationship with our Lord through prayer can help us to see not as man sees but as God sees.  Our Lord has given us the blueprint with Scripture; and His is the Voice to be listened to and not the voice of the serpent who tells us to always believe what our physical senses perceive and to trust in our own inclinations to fulfill the desires of the flesh and to commit sin.  Sometimes our own physical senses become tempters because what we can see, hear and feel could deceive us into thinking that this must surely be the will of God because it is right there in front of us; and the seeming obviousness of the physical senses makes it all too convenient to skip the often grueling task of discernment.

Second Reading Commentary
The darkness that Saint Paul writes about here is the state of infidelity into which the Ephesians had plunged to worship false gods and idols and the grievous sins they had committed which Saint Paul writes were too "shameful even to mention". 

Saint Paul instructs us to "live as children of light".  It is the Holy Spirit that makes us children of light and that light is received at baptism.  Baptism is the bath of enlightenment.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that a baptized person has become enlightened and becomes a son/daughter of light.  At Baptism sin is buried in the water (cf. CCC 1216).  When living as children of light the fruitless works of darkness are exposed, revealing the abomination of these works of darkness.   

This Reading closes with the words: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."  The exact origin of these words is unknown but it is believed to be a very ancient Christian hymn that was used at baptismal liturgies.  It may have been formed from words which are found in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: "Rise up in splendor!  Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you" (Isaiah 60:1).

Gospel Commentary
When Jesus healed the paralytic He told him: "Your sins are forgiven" (cf. Mark 2:1-12).  Because of this the disciples must have concluded that his infirmity was sent to him in punishment for his previous sins.  Therefore, when they saw the blind man, they asked Jesus: "Who sinned, this man or his parents?"  Jesus explained that "neither he nor his parents sinned".  A belief that affliction was punishment for sins committed was quite common in Christ's day.  When Jesus explains that the blind man did not sin, this of course is not to be understood to mean that the blind man was not a sinner.  For both he and his parents were sinners; but the meaning is that his blindness was not inflicted as punishment for any sin that he or his parents had committed, but as we see by Christ's healing, this man's blindness was given for the manifestation of the glory of God. 

Jesus says: "We have to do the works of the One Who sent Me while it is day."  This is not a reference to the time of day; He's referring to the time lived in this life as a mortal.  This is a marvelous example of how Scripture gives us the True Reality as opposed to the perceived reality we tend to live out.  Perceived reality might, for example, ignore someone in need because our precious schedule dictates that we must be someplace else or there simply isn't enough time in the day for an inconvenience while at the same time trying to get all these other things done.  But Jesus says, no, "we have to do the works of the One Who sent Me".  Not, "we should do" but "we have to do"; and if you're curious about the ancient text, the Greek translates as "it is binding".  That's strong language! 

Jesus follows this up with, "Night is coming when no one can work," meaning that in death we can no longer do the works of the Lord in mortal life; but only be rewarded for our labors in this life. 

Jesus used clay and saliva to heal the blind man not because clay and saliva were necessary to make the miracle work but instead to make the miracle more visible.  The Church follows this example when administering the sacraments.  Jesus is present in all the sacraments even though we can't see Him or the works He performs in them.  For this reason, the Church, for visibility, administers the sacraments in religious ceremonies.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts forth a very comforting reminder that in the sacraments Christ continues to touch us in order to heal us (cf. CCC 1504). 

The Pool of Siloam was at the foot of the walls of Jerusalem where its waters were collected in a reservoir for the benefit of the city.  The word "Siloam," which means "Sent," was a figure of Christ, Who was sent by His eternal Father into the world to enlighten God's people.  The Pool of Siloam is a representation of the Sacrament of Baptism, by which we are sanctified.  Its waters signify divine grace and light which is given to us through Jesus Christ, Who was sent by the Father. 

When the blind man was questioned about Who Jesus was, the man replied by saying, "He is a Prophet."  The title of "prophet" was given to anyone who seemed to possess one or more extraordinary gifts.  The blind man honored Jesus when he thought Him to be a prophet; but when it was revealed to him that Jesus was the Son of God, the man worshipped Jesus.  Worship is an act reserved for God alone.  The Catechism teaches: "If any one is a worshipper of God and does His will, God listens to him.  Such is the power of the Church's prayer in the Name of her Lord, above all in the Eucharist.  Her prayer is also a communion of intercession with the all-holy Mother of God and all the saints who have been pleasing to the Lord because they willed His will alone" (CCC 2827). 

Those questioning the blind man proclaimed, "We know that God does not listen to sinners."  We are all sinners, and so, this statement does not mean that God doesn't listen to our prayers; it pretty much is singling out those who have no intention of repenting. 

The Pharisees said, "This Man is not from God, because He does not keep the Sabbath."  This seems to be a popular complaint about Jesus throughout the Gospels.  In Saint Mark's Gospel, Jesus answers this complaint with a question: "Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?"  After this question the complainers were silent (cf. Mark 3:4). 

Jesus says, "I came into this world for judgment" but in this same Gospel (12:47) Jesus says, "I did not come to condemn the world but to save the world."  On the surface, these two statements seem contradictory.  The meaning, however, is that He has not come to exercise the office of Judge, but He tells them what will be the consequences of His coming, and their refusing to believe in Him and thus remain in their willful blindness.  Jesus did not come so that some should remain in darkness while others receive the light of faith.  Those who are in darkness or blindness are there under their own free will and not by any acts or words of Christ.  The Pharisees ask Jesus, "Surely we are not also blind, are we?"  If the Pharisees were blind by reason of never having heard of or about Jesus and His teachings, this kind of blindness might be excused.  But they saw Him and knew of the miracles He performed, therefore, it is for this reason that Jesus says to them, "Your sin remains." Thanks be to God for His love and mercy; if we exercise enough humility to acknowledge our blindness and ignorance, and seriously seek a remedy, namely the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we would soon be delivered from our sin.  The Pharisees, however, remained in blindness voluntarily.  The Catechism makes the point that sin is universal; therefore, those who pretend not to need salvation are blind to themselves (cf. CCC 588). 

The Pharisees knew the Mosaic Law.  In early Christian history, it was said that many of the desert Fathers knew all the words of the Psalms by heart.  The similarities end there.  While the Pharisees knew the letter of the Law, they failed to grasp the spirit of the Law.  The desert Fathers, however, knew the Psalms but those ancient hymns were breathed by them.  We need to examine these distinctions in our own lives.  First, are we familiar with the words contained in the pages of Scripture; next, and more importantly, is Scripture a very real part of our lives and not just a Book that is filled with great stories?