Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-87,10-13a; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
A few weeks ago, when I first read over today’s readings, I felt as if I were being hit by too much. I’m not complaining about the length of the Gospel; in fact, it’s one of my favorite sections of St. John’s Gospel–the more the merrier!
It reminds me of John’s narrative of Jesus’ Passion and I suppose it is meant to reflect just that: if we seriously follow Jesus, we should not be surprised by difficulties, misunderstandings, even persecutions that pop up in our lives. If I want to embrace Jesus and his Way, I have to look for him right here in the middle of this mess: that’s exactly where he came to meet us and redeem us. Embrace the mess, don’t run away from it; take it on the chin and don’t hit back: that’s the way I risk discovering God’s disruptive grace and being changed as I am not capable of changing myself.
Whereas Jesus in John’s Passion is shunted back and forth from ecclesial court to government bureaucracy, from one office to the next until Pilate finally takes the responsibility to dispatch him, so this beggar, blind from birth, is battered from one contrary group to the next till he ends up at the feet of Jesus.
I find the narrative line as compelling as the didactic content of enlightenment: coming to see the truth; the consequences of following that truth in a society that prefers its delusions, securities, prejudices and intolerance. This is concrete. At this stage of my life, that interests me: how do I school my reactions in concrete situations? Where, in whom do I place my hope and trust? Have I been investing my trust in the wrong places, in the wrong things or expectations, in the wrong people?
Although none of that is trivial agenda, that’s not why I felt I was being hit by too much. No, it’s trying to see the connection between such a Gospel and this Sunday of Lent called Laetare Sunday. It’s named for the first word of today’s Introit: Rejoice! I don’t know about you, but I can no longer swallow what I was taught decades and decades ago: “joy” is distinct from “happiness”. OK, I get the point: it not joy that characterized a giddy, mindless ninny in denial about the harsher realities of life. Joy, however, has to be more than grinning and bearing whatever comes down the pike.
Whenever I’m offered a “joy” that’s so intellectualized as to have no expression of enthusiasm, happiness, self-confidence or spontaneity, I feel cheated. I know I cut a pretty serious figure up here–I’m not cracking jokes or dispensing unctuous smiles; I’m not even wearing pink on Laetare Sunday. But that’s nothing compared to an uptight, humorless, unforgiving puritan who claims to be communicating the Gospel with “spiritual joy”.
That’s quite a contrast to Pope Francis who, I believe, is a very shrewd man, as tough as nails, but who genuinely enjoys his soccer team or being with people or his vocation. A man who quite simply enjoys what there is to enjoy in life, just as he would readily weep over what is lamentable and challenge what is complacent in our life together.
Where is the joy in the tensions of today’s Gospel? Is it in the gradual awakening of the man born blind, from total dependence on others towards claiming his own voice, recognizing willingly, if against the grain of his benefactors, the Son of Man, the very Son of God? Is the joy in Jesus himself who, at the end of three years of a demanding and frustrating and often fruitless ministry, can still want to heal and listen and be present to a stranger who really needs him? Is this Gospel inviting me to uncover the energy and graciousness of a palpable joy, as hidden in the narrative as it is in my life, in our lives?