I am tired of looking at Fred Phelps. There is more I could say, but I will leave it unsaid. This past weekend, I had parish duties. I appreciated the readings. I decided to share my reflections.
Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Cycle A
A number of years ago when I was a pastor in northern Alabama, the neighboring town of Tuscumbia, Alabama was the home to Helen Keller, a woman not blind from birth but whose hearing and sight vanished by the time she was about a year and a half old. Through the efforts of her teacher Anne Sullivan, Helen learned to name and recognize objects by the braille method as Anne, her teacher, tapped letters into her palm. Later Helen learned to speak. She went on to college, wrote several books, and lectured around the world. Helen's life has been celebrated by the movie and play titled The Miracle Worker.
I always thought Helen Keller was a woman whose life in many ways exemplified what I thought this gospel story about the man born blind was trying to say. Helen Keller was a person who was blind but could really see. There is a heroic quality about her life.
The gospel and the first reading about the choice of David as the successor to Saul are very much about seeing and blindness. The Pharisees in this gospel from John think they have all the answers and profess to see, but they are blind.
The blind man who is not too steady or sure of himself is the one who sees. By the end the gospel passage the man born blind sees so well that he recognizes and professes his faith that Jesus is the Messiah.
What is the blindness of the Pharisees? In John's gospel the Pharisees were the authorities and thought they had all the answers. The Pharisees argue for the established way. They were legalistic. They accuse Jesus of not keeping the Sabbath. In their stubbornness the Pharisees refuse to recognize goodness in the man whose sight had been restored. The Pharisees failed to rejoice with him. They reject the man born blind and cured of his blindness by throwing him out bodily.
In the first reading the focus is also on seeing. This time the scriptures remind us that it is not always simply by judging the external appearances that we arrive at really knowing the truth and the value of the other. When the person to be chosen to follow Saul as king is being picked by Samuel from among Jesse’s sons, it is not the tallest, or most handsome; the words the scripture uses: mention “his appearance or lofty stature".
After examining and rejecting seven of Jessie’s sons, Samuel settles on the youngest who had been sent off to the fields during the selection process to tend sheep presumably because Jessie did not think him kingly material. He is the one God chooses. Today’s scriptures especially this account of the choice of David as Saul's successor, as they often do, favor the underdog. The sacred writer reminds us that God sees into the heart, beyond external appearances.
The readings today, particularly the story of the person born blind, are meant as a meditation for those who will be baptized at Easter. They are meant to be a reflection on the quality of life that faith in Jesus brings. The gospel tells those who are to be baptized that Jesus comes as light and sight for the blind. That quality of life that Jesus brings through baptism is an invitation to us,also, who have been baptized to get over any of our blindness whether it is blindness like the Pharisees that keeps us entrenched in some kind of stubborn position. Faith that comes with baptism enables us to see. We are invited to overcome that kind of blindness that perhaps keeps us from valuing the goodness and beauty in the other person.
In the yard of Helen Keller's home at Ivy Green, the water pump is still there, that water pump where Helen and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, made the breakthrough that allowed Helen to fully live. It was the water from that pump splashing over her hand as her teacher tapped out the braille letters w-a-t-e-r on her other palm that Helen made the connection that this liquid was water. The world opened up for her. Helen referred to that day as her "soul day". This Easter will be the "soul day" for those preparing for Baptism. The waters of Baptism are just like that. Baptism takes away our blindness and allows us to see in a whole new way. Baptism offers us life in a whole new way to live.
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