The collect prayer for Sunday’s liturgy reads: “O God, who through your Word reconcile the human race to yourself in a wonderful way, grant, we pray, that with prompt devotion and eager faith the Christian people may hasten toward the solemn celebrations to come. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
This Sunday is known as Laetare Sunday. The term comes from the entrance antiphon: “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast” (Isaiah 66:10). In the midst of our observance of Lent we are reminded, as we prepare for the Triduum and Easter, that Christ has triumphed already and we readily recognize the joy of his victory that lasts for all time. The Lenten season helps us to prepare for these celebrations that mark our deliverance from darkness to light, from sin to grace, from death to life.
The readings for the Mass help us in our preparations. We are reminded of God’s saving activity in the life of mankind. We are invited to consider that God does not always act in expected ways. He saving activity supersedes all human expectations.
The first reading comes from the First Book of Samuel and recalls the selection of David as the “Lord’s anointed,” who will one day reign as king. He will be a great king, though not without his faults. He will defend Israel from her enemies and strengthen the bonds among the tribes and he will eventually bring peace.
Yet here at the beginning, there are no signs of future greatness. When the Lord sends Samuel to the house of Jesse to find the “one,” the Lord says: “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”
So Samuel goes and sees the sons. It is not the first-born son, and it is not one of the next six sons who have been gathered. In fact expectations are so low with regard to David that he is not even there. The youngest son is out working in the fields and has to be summoned. When he arrives the Lord says to Samuel: “There – anoint him, for this is the one!”
Jesus, a Son of David through Joseph, likewise was not the “obvious” one by man’s standards. The Pharisees give witness to this attitude in Sunday’s Gospel reading from the Gospel according to John. In the account of the man born blind, the Pharisees have already determined that it is impossible for Jesus to be doing the Lord’s work. They determine that Jesus is a sinner because he cured on the Sabbath, thus breaking the Lord’s law. They refuse to acknowledge that Jesus has delivered the blind man from his blindness.
In their minds it is impossible for Jesus to be the “one,” for God does not work through sinners. Through their obstinate judgment of Jesus, they are “blinded” to God’s saving activity among them.
Jesus comes into the world to dispel the darkness of doubt and unbelief. His saving activity is seen in the cure of the man born blind which foreshadows the salvation offered to all.
At the beginning of the account, Jesus is asked about the man’s sinfulness. The presumption is that blindness came through sin – in this case the sins of his parents since he was “born blind.” Jesus tells them that physical “blindness” is not the result of sin. Rather it is this blindness that will allow the glory of God to shine forth in Jesus’ saving activity.
Jesus tells those disciples: “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” He then goes on to restore sight to the man born blind. The healing is offered, not just for the blind man who will later acknowledge his faith in the Son of Man, but also as a sign for others to see so they too might have faith.
We celebrate the “light of the world” who is Christ Jesus. The joy is so great that on this Sunday we even use the bright rose-colored vestments to mark it. Lent continues, though, as we journey toward the triduum, the celebration of baptism and the renewal of our own baptismal promises.
The sacred time affords us the opportunity to move from darkness to light, to be healed of our sins and to celebrate worthily the life won for us in Jesus Christ.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.