Saturday, March 18, 2023

Seeing Through the Heart of Jesus: Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent 2023

Cross Tipped Churches: Sacred Heart of Jesus (Stained Glass)

The readings this Sunday are clearly about blindness and sight, darkness and light. These two themes run like a thread through the entire lectionary for the day. However, the image which stayed with me, and which I would like to reflect on is that of Jesus spitting on the ground and applying the resulting paste to the eyes of the man born blind.

Let us listen to the words of the Gospel again:

he spat on the ground
and made clay with the saliva,
and smeared the clay on his eyes,

Through all of the Sundays of Lent thus far I have tried to point to the foreshadowing of Christ in the Old Testament, the first Sunday I highlighted the presence of the Son of God in the garden of Eden, the second Sunday the Son’s response to God’s invitation to leave his father’s house, last Sunday the Rock of Horeb from which Moses drew water was a foreshadowing of the heart of Christ which when pierced with a spear issued out streams of living water.

There are two reasons I have been drawing your attention to this foreshadowing of Christ in the Old Testament. The first is to demonstrate how Jesus has always been with us. And with this knowledge, we can be sure that he will continue to always be with us.

The other reason is because it has been my attempt to demonstrate how to read the Old Testament. It is to be read not only literally, but also allegorically, by understanding the symbols that are present both in the Old as well as the New Testament. The Testaments are like a love letter, the language of which is known only to the lovers who exchange these letters. Know the code and you know the story of their love. So it is with the Testaments, understand their symbols and you are drawn into the love of the Father and the Son.

I would like to briefly quote the late Pope Benedict XVI here, who correctly pointed out that being a Christian is not about an idea, or ideology, or in our local context, about which family we are born into. Rather, it is about a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, whose heart burns with love for each and every one of us. We pour over magazines to know about our favourite, and at times not so favourite, public personalities; we should similarly pour over the scripture to know Jesus, but how can we read effectively scripture if we don’t know how to read the love letter he has written us?

The link between the Old and the New Testament this Sunday is somewhat reversed. Jesus does something which links back to the Old Testament, in fact to His work in the book of Genesis.

Very often we operate on the understanding that it was only God the Father who created the world, and that the Son of God comes into the picture only at the time of the Incarnation. Now this is the idea that I have systematically been trying to change through this Lenten period. God the Son was present from the beginning, and it was He who, along with the Father, was responsible for creation. As the Nicene creed says: “through him all things were made.” All things were made through God the Son.

Let us listen to the creation of Adam from the book of Genesis:

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,  when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground;  but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground—  then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Gen 2:4-7)

Man, we are told, was made from the dust of the ground. But we should not assume that man was formed only with dry dust, rather there is another element in this narrative, the water from the stream that “would rise from the earth and water the whole face of the ground”. I like to think that this stream was one more sign of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who since the beginning to time has been expressing water from his heart to give life to the world. It was with this water, and subsequently the Spirit, the breath of life that Genesis refers to, that Adam was formed from the dust of the group. Recollect the words of Christ from the gospel according to John:

no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. (Jn: 3:5)

So, my dear brothers and sisters, when in the Gospel of John Christ is shown as using saliva and clay what we are being told is that Jesus is God, the creator. It is a moment of revelation for us, the readers, and for those who were witness to this action. Just as God the Son gave life to Adam, Jesus, the Son made Flesh, gives sight, or light, to the man born blind.

And it is not by chance that Jesus provides sight, or light to the eyes, to the blind man, because in the bible, the symbols of light and life refer to each other.

Take, for example, the closing of our reading from St. Paul today:

Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.

Christ will give light to the dead is as good as saying that Christ will give life to the dead. To St. Paul, to be in darkness is to be dead, thus, for those who live in darkness – and I am making a reference to that famous prophecy from Isaiah 9:2 of the birth of Jesus here (The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light) – it is as good as being dead, because they do not live in the light, which is life. To live in light is to have life, and have life eternal.

And this is why in our second reading today St. Paul urges us to live as children of the light, to understand what is pleasing to the Lord, because to live otherwise is to be dead even though we still have breath in our bodies.

How do we understand what is pleasing to the Lord? We do so by adopting the eyes of God. As the reading from the first book of Samuel tells us “Do not judge from … appearance or from …lofty stature, because ….Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.”

Now this is not easy, to see as God sees, but we have been given a lens that can help us see like God sees, and this lens is the sacred heart of Jesus. Let us use the heart of Jesus to see the world, and we will not fail.

At the end of the day, this ability to see as God does, or to use the heart of Jesus, is not an intellectual technique, but an affective one. We need to be affectively closer to the heart of Jesus, which is why I would recommend that we repeat, as often as we can, when we are driving, walking, working, whenever we have a moment of silence:

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto thine.

(A version of this homily was preached first in Concanim on 18 March 2023, and then subsequently in English on 19 March 2023, both times at the church of St. Thomas Apostle, the parish of  Aldona)

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