Homily for March 30, 2014: 4th Sunday of Lent: Fr. Scott Bullock

Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 30, 2014

Reading 1  1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a

Responsorial Psalm   Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6

R. (1) The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Reading 2   Eph 5:8-14

Gospel   Jn 9:1-41 or 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38

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In a September 2013 interview with Pope Francis by Antonio Spadaro, S.J., Editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, asked the question:  “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?”  The Pope answered, “I am a sinner.  This is the most accurate definition. It’s not a figure of speech, a literary genre.  I am a sinner.”

What does the Pope mean by this? Essentially, I believe he is saying that who he is must be in reference to the Lord.  And, as he stands before the Lord, he has nothing.  He is completely poor.  All he has is his claim on the love and mercy of God. In a nutshell, he is blind—he is lost, but found; blind, but in Christ alone he can see. He is a sinner—he has nothing of his own.

In fact, the Pope is, we are, all of us, the blind man before Jesus in the gospel. We have nothing, we are beggars, poor beggars before Jesus, asking to be able to see. Notice the highly significant scene in today’s splendid ninth chapter of John, when, after having washed in the Pool of Siloam, “meaning sent,” and having been healed of his blindness before Jesus, the man meets his neighbors.  The scene recounts: So he went and washed, and came back able to see. His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is, “but others said, “No, he just looks like him.” He said, “I am.”

Let us pause to take in the richness of this passage. The neighbors ask the question, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” The man replies with two of the most significant words in all the Bible:  “I am.”  “I AM”:  So filled with meaning, so rich!  In the Greek, Εγώ ειμι The name of God given to Moses on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 3:14:  The Divine Name.

The Gospel of John is filled with Jesus using this divine name for himself:

  • 4:26:  Last week, the Samaritan woman says, “I know that the Messiah is coming, who is called Christ.”  Jesus replies, Εγώ ειμι, I am.
  • 6:20:  The disciples are filled with fear at seeing Jesus walk across the water.  Jesus says,  Εγώ ειμι, I am.  Do not be afraid.
  • 8:58:   Jesus disputes with the Scribes and the Pharisees in the temple, after forgiving the woman caught in adultery.  When Jesus says Abraham, the ancient father of Israel, knew him, his opponents reply, “You are not yet fifty years old, and you have seen Abraham?”  Jesus replies, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, Εγώ ειμι, I am.
  • 13:19: At the last supper, Jesus tells the disciples that he will be betrayed.  Lest they doubt, he says, “I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that Εγώ ειμι, I am.
  • 18:6: Jesus is confronted with his betrayers in the garden of Gethsemane. When they say they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus says, Εγώ ειμι, I am.
  • In all these scenes , Jesus, using the divine name Εγώ ειμι, says:  I am God.

Now in today’s gospel, we have the man born blind using the divine name for himself.  In this he claims some identification with the Divine One, Jesus, who has washed him and healed him.  After having been healed by Christ, he is joined to Christ.Secondly, consider the question posed to the man, “Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?” and how he replies.Instead of saying, “I am,” why didn’t he answer, “I was”?Maybe in some ways he remains the beggar—but begging to another patron, the Patron, Jesus.

Surprise!  The man born blind also tells us who we are:  we always have been and always will be ones who come before the Lord with nothing, still and always beggars, still and always sinners.  Remember:  what is a sinner?  A sinner like Pope Francis speaks about is not so much about what he or she does or does not do, it’s about what he or she has—nothing except what Christ has given us—divine adoption.  And because we have a Father in heaven, the great I AM, we too can say of ourselves, like the man born blind, like Pope Francis—we are still begging, but now as God’s children, who share in Christ’s divinity, who are “I am.”   We have nothing of our own to present to Christ except what he has given us:  his healing and merciful adoption as sons and daughters. As our father is “I am,” so because we are God’s children, we too are “I am”: sharers in the divine life.

Because we too have been washed in the Pool of Siloam—the waters of Baptism, we are sent forth no longer just sons and daughters of our parents, but as Sons and Daughters of God—the army of the great I am.At the same time, we can answer in the present tense and in the affirmative to the question “Aren’t you a beggar?” with the man born blind “I am.” Though we have been healed by Christ, we are, even now, poor beggars who have only one claim of merit—the mercy of God that has made us, and continues to remake us, as God’s children. 

Let us come before the great I AM Jesus, just as we are:  sinners, that is, poor beggars who have nothing—nothing to claim as our own—except the saving love of God.  And because God has claimed us as his sons and daughters, we are new creations, clothed in Christ.  So when we hear soon proclaimed before us:  The body of Christ?  We can reply, Amen!  I am.