Ars Praedicandi: Homily for the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Deacon Jim Pauwels, a regular Pray Tell reader, sent along his homily for the fourth Sunday of Lent to include in our Ars Praedicandi series. Jim notes the following:

I’m a deacon of the Chicago Archdiocese. My parish is a large suburban parish. The first few paragraphs are meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and this was made clear to the assembly by the way I delivered it.

Here is the text:

These Gospel stories from John’s Gospel, which we hear during these Scrutiny Sundays of Lent, are wonderful, aren’t they? Last week, the Woman at the Well; today, the Man Born Blind; next week, the Raising of Lazarus.

The stories are so good that I’ve often thought they would make good films. As a matter of fact – I’ve never confessed this before – I’ve been working on a screenplay for this Gospel story of the Man Born Blind. I hope to be in Hollywood this coming week to pitch it to Disney Studios, although for some reason the president of the studio isn’t returning my calls…

I have a script advisor for my screenplay, and he’s advised me that Disney films all follow a certain formula. He tells me that I should feel free to alter characters and plot elements to make my story fit the Disney form. So my screenplay takes a couple of liberties with the story we’ve just heard.

Actually, it would help me get ready for my meeting with studio execs if you’d let me practice my studio pitch with you. So here goes:

“A man is born blind because a wicked sorcerer casts an evil spell on him before he is even born. Even though he has a hard life as a blind person and he is ignored and despised by his neighbors, he is a good and likeable person, rather dashing-looking and with a certain raffish charm, as well as some special, hidden talents that nobody else knows about. The wicked sorcerer brews up a disaster that threatens his family and the entire village, and there is nothing that the townspeople can do to stop it; but it turns out that the most unlikely person in town, the man born blind, is the only one who can save them. Despite several near misses and close calls, by his own pluck and luck he uses those hidden talents to overcome great odds, defeat the sorcerer, and save his community. In the final scene, he breaks the spell, gains his sight, and the community that used to despise him now hails him as a hero. He marries a beautiful princess, and everyone lives happily ever after, the man born blind home at last with his parents, his community and a new family of his own. The man once rejected by his own people finds wholeness and acceptance with the community.”

That might make for a nice story. But that’s not the story we’re given today/tonight. This story of the man born blind as told in John’s Gospel isn’t a conventional story. It’s not written for Disney. Instead, it’s an unsettling story. By the end, we may not be sure how we’re supposed to feel. There is no celebration, no beautiful heroine to ride off into the sunset with.

I’d like to suggest that one of the keys to understanding this story of the man born blind, is to see the light. Seeing and light pervade our readings today/tonight.

Jesus is the light of the world. And when he comes into our world, we see things as they really are.

The man born blind is cured when Jesus, the light of the world, comes into his life. Suddenly his existence, which formerly was in the dark, is flooded with light, and he can see things as they truly are. Granted, once his sight has been given to him, some of the things he witnesses and experiences aren’t very edifying. He sees a community going to great lengths to deny what is clearly true. It is as if the community is enveloped in darkness. And he witnesses his parents failing to support him, choosing to side with darkness rather than light. Finally he is bounced from his community. Rather than finding wholeness and acceptance with his community like in my screenplay, his own community tosses him out.

But for the man born blind, getting thrown out was like getting thrown out of a dark building, into the sunlight outside. When Jesus comes into our lives, it is as if the light turns on. We see things through new eyes. As we get to know God through Jesus, we become aware that our God is a God of love. God wants to give the world things that the world lacks and is crying out for: peace, and unity, and holiness, and justice, and truth, and mercy, and love. And when Jesus brings the lights up for us, we see that we are being called to work for those things.

Having Jesus, the light of the world, come into our lives has the power to change us. It leads us to say things and do things that we might not have imagined ourselves saying or doing before. The man born blind was tossed from his community because he saw things as they really were, and wouldn’t deny what his enlightened eyes told him. Once the lights were turned on for him, and he saw things as they really were, he held onto the truth like a dog holds onto a bone.

The story of the man born blind is unsettling. It isn’t the plot contour, the narrative arc, we expect. But once Jesus turns the lights on for us, and we see things as they really are, we realize that we can’t accept the sinful ways of our world as they really are. Wholeness and acceptance of the world’s old, sinful ways is no longer as appealing as it once was. Instead, we turn to Jesus, and look for wholeness and acceptance from him.  The acceptance we seek is to be accepted into God’s kingdom. The wholeness we seek is to be one with him. It is in Jesus that we find our true community of love. It is in Jesus that we find wholeness and acceptance. In Jesus, we find our true home, a place filled with light.

If you have any resources, homilies, or suggestions for this new series, feel free to email Nathan at npchase@csbsju.edu or fill out the form in the “Non Solum Question box” on the Pray Tell homepage.

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