YEAR A: HOMILY FOR THE 4TH SUNDAY OF LENT
HOMILY THEME: ARE WE ALSO BLIND?
BY:FFr. Ben Agbo
HOMILY: * 1 Sam 16 : 1 – 13, Eph 5 : 8 – 14, Jn 9 : 1 – 41.
The Lenten season is full of challenges ; The 1st Sunday of Lent challenged us to resist / overcome temptations. The 2nd Sunday of Lent challenged us to be transformed by the hope of our glorification in Christ as incentive . The 3rd Sunday of Lent challenged us to turn from our sins through our personal encounter with the Word of God. The 4th Sunday of Lent (today) challenges us to remove all forms of blindness through our encounter with Jesus.
There are 3 major kinds of blindness that people suffer ;
(a) Physical blindness eg the man of today’s gospel that was born blind – blockage of blood flow to the optical nerves, malfunctioning of the retina, glycoma, cataract and other pathological diseases that distort the eye pressure.
(b) Intellectual blindness ; Failure to see meanings in life, misconceptions about reality and general problem of ignorance.
(c) Spiritual blindness ; Not having Jesus in our lives. He is the light of the world, Jn 9 : 5. Living in mortal sin.
(d) Religious blindness ; A type of blindness or madness that comes as a result of the prejudices of our religion, eg Boko haram. In today’s gospel we shall be looking at the level of blindness that descended on the Pharisees – the religious leaders of the time of Jesus which made them prejudiced, overdogmatic and illogical.
B. RELIGIOUS BLINDNESS : A CASE STUDY OF THE HEALING OF THE BLIND MAN.
Background of the Problem ; There were a number of misconceptions and prejudice going on in the minds of both the disciples of Jesus and the Pharisees, (i) The Pharisees hated Jesus because he was telling them the truth and were jealous of him because of their ‘Carpenter’s son syndrome’. (ii) Both the disciples of Jesus and the Pharisees believed that the man being born blind was as a result of the sin of his parents but Jesus had a different opinion. (iii) The Pharisees had this bias/prejudice about both Jesus and the blind man being sinners because for them Jesus performed this work (he dug out some clay) of healing on the Sabbath day. But for the healed man, Jesus was a Prophet – and that was the bone of contention. This enables us see both the remote immediate or direct cause of their prejudice.
The Pharisees were guilty of 3 kinds of errors proceeding from their blindness ; (i) Error of prejudice which we have explained above. Prejudice is a type of blindness that is not innate but acquired by the corruption of circumstances, pervasion of malice and distortion of facts. (ii) Error of over dogmatism – When the argument climaxed between them and the blind man, they went to the dogmatic position of being disciples of Moses, as if one who is a disciple of Moses (an older theological authority) cannot be a disciple of Christ (a more current theological authority). (iii) Error /fallacy of ‘Argumentum ad hominem’ – When they found themselves logically lacerated by the man’s impeccable argument, they abused him as a sinner and blocked themselves from his superior argument.
I have not seen a more practical case of a logical dislocation between phenomena (physical event) and neumena (its interpretation) ; between knowledge and belief ; between truth and prejudice ; between opinion and fact – as in the case of today’s gospel pericope. It is said that opinion is free but fact is sacred. This man was able to rubbish these Pharisees beyond reasonable doubt and prove to them that Jesus was a Prophet and not a sinner. All their efforts to intimidate both him and his parents proved abortive. He simply made it clear to them : ‘This is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from yet he opened my eyes… Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God he could do no such thing!’.
Prejudice is a very terrible thing. It is the greatest enemy of knowledge and can also be found among us. The fact that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and was born by a Virgin who remained a Virgin even after his birth is a mystery that many Christians have not even accepted – Part of the mystery of incarnation, 1 Jn 4 : 2. The fact that Jesus gave us his real flesh as real food (Eucharist) is a mystery that many Christians are yet to accept, Jn 6 : 54 – 69 all due to past prejudices and historical denominational antecedents.
We must beware of prejudice in everything we do especially in leadership. We must beware of ‘the meeting’ before the meeting, the selection before the interview, the judgment before the hearing. It could happen sometimes even in the Church – in our Diocesan, Deanary or Parish Pastoral Councils, in our CMO, CWO or CYON meetings. It is not difficult for the enemy to keep the children of God under blindness as long as they allow themselves remain prone to prejudice. So many things we think we know in the Church today and indeed in every religion are products of prejudice. Study your Church history critically and you will realize that many decisions taken in the past by our leaders are not free from prejudice. But we keep believing in the infallibility of the magisterium. Yes, Christ promised to remain with his Church till the end of time, Matt 28 : 20.
On March 8 2017, the Pope was reported to have muted some ideas on how to fix the priest shortage in some parishes in Europe through working more with the Youths to improve the dying lustre for vocation to the priesthood in Europe, ordination of older and decent married men (‘viri probati’) to the diaconate, etc. He made it clear that optional celibacy is not the solution but just because he signalled an openness to discussing these possibilities so many people went beserk . Today, we have seen his surprising reaction to the proposal of the Amazon synod. Well the fact remains that crises of faith require critical theological attention. It doesn’t call for prejudice, racism (for example considering the option of pushing ministers from Africa) or over dogmatism (for instance thinking the Church’s sanctity would be spoilt by the ordination of married men). In Nigeria, this year, we witnessed the greatest scandals of judgment from our apex court ( the Supreme Court). It has become clear now that in Nigeria anything go ; black can be judged white and white black as long as the interest of the ruling party is mentained.
I personally enjoyed watching this blind man’s progress /evolution of faith in Jesus ; He knew Jesus 1st as a man, then as a Prophet and finally as the Son of man (Messiah) before he worshipped him. The man ended up not just as a mere believer or disciple but was one of the earliest worshippers of Jesus Christ. The level of worship is an advanced level of discipleship. Worship is the resultant effect of personal encounter – a kind of faith that affects behavior in the form of divine reverence.
Christ ended this passage by talking about judgment : ‘It is for judgment that I have come into the world that those who do not see would see’ – those born blind, for example are not under culpable ignorance . But he reserves a harsher judgment for the proud – the ones who think they know but are actually under the theological blindness of prejudice or over dogmatism.
As I hear the Pharisees ask him : ‘Are we also blind?’, I make bold to ask a similar question : Can we the religious leaders of today still be blind? Can the Diocesan, Deanary and Parish Councillors of today still be blind? Can the Political leaders of our country, State or Local Government areas – the PDP and APC leaders of this country still be blind? Are we still victims of prejudice, overdogmatism and ‘ad hominem’ fallacies? Do we cling to what we think we know in the past so blindly to the detriment of new knowledge, challenge or facts? Your guess is as good as mine. Happy Sunday dear friends!