Sunday Lenten Scripture

Arts and Faith: Lent(from
Arts & Faith: Lent | Loyola Press


El Greco, “Christ Healing the Blind,” circa 1567

We enter into this fourth Sunday of Lent with the words of Samuel I telling us that, “not as man sees does God see.” At Mass, we then hear the story of Christ healing the blind man at the pool of Siloam. El Greco painted two versions of this story; here we explore his first rendition. Christ Healing the Blind tells the story but also reveals El Greco’s blossoming artistic vision. In this early painting, we observe El Greco learning to see with the eyes of an artist as he depicts perspective and the movement of bodies from all angles. Just as the blind man learns to see, El Greco is gaining his unique vision here. Christ Healing the Blind presents two main groups of people: Christ healing the blind man on the left, and the Pharisees clustered on the right, suspicious and protesting. Front and center are the blind beggar’s meager possessions and a sniffing dog—perhaps his only loyal companion. Further back, two figures complete the circle, engaged in a pose of compassion and healing—God’s mercy juxtaposed with the confrontation below. Placing Christ and the Pharisees on the left and right is a point of irony: the Pharisees, who are assured of their right vision, are in fact blind to the truth unfolding before them, while Christ reveals the truth on the left. Behind the Pharisees a sky of swirling clouds reinforces their disarray, but Christ’s healing act takes place in front of a firm visual backdrop of stable architectural elements. Behind Christ, El Greco leads our eye to a vanishing point with a long row of arches, hinting that the sight Christ grants to the blind beggar is long-ranging and far. In contrast, the cluster of Pharisees obscures their own horizon, as their near-sighted vision lands on one another. Finally, the four men gathered on the left seem unaware of what is going on. Here, El Greco inserts another kind of blindness: oblivion to grace unfolding before their very eyes. Their mild presence is perhaps more challenging than that of the Pharisees, who are lacking vision but not awareness. This story invites us to open wider our eyes of faith and become aware of the merciful, healing grace all around us.


Exploring the word

Got sight?

Walking in the dark valley is a lonesome business. Maybe that’s why Psalm 23 is the most popular prayer in the Psalter. Even folks who have not been very regular members of the sheepfold can recite a few lines of “The Lord is my shepherd” by heart. Its soothing images comfort us at funerals and in times of confusion and distress. Who doesn’t long for green pastures to lie in, water for refreshment, and guidance toward the right path with a strong and benevolent escort?

Yet the dark valley cannot be circumvented. Sooner or later we’ll cross it. And for some of us, the darkness may last for a season, many seasons, or be a constant feature of the terrain. Perhaps in recognition of this, Christian poet William Stafford titled one collection of his work Traveling Through the Dark. In the poem, “Learning,” Stafford laments: “Worlds can swerve while I stammer; / the stars come different at night and nearer. / I can’t learn even how to enter / what awaits me every year. / And it is late, I know it.”

Every preacher knows what it’s like to stammer through a feeble homily while worlds hang in the balance for the assembly. Grace matters—and, heaven help us, so does the gospel proclamation. For the world we live in, it is indeed late and we are still fumbling in ignorance, stumbling through the dark, unsure how to enter the next moment or make the next decision. O Lord, be our shepherd!

You were once darkness

The Letter to the Ephesians, the great manifesto of the church, celebrates our identity and unity in Christ. It also does not hesitate to acknowledge who and where we’ve been: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” This is not a reference to gnostic darkness; the metaphor does not imply a lack of privileged information. The writer—maybe Paul, maybe not—is talking about moral darkness, ethical confusion.

But we shouldn’t mistake that for the related condition of weak moral fiber. Many times we lack the will to do the right thing, though we certainly know what the right thing is. Still there are times when we honestly can’t distinguish between right and wrong, when we find ourselves persuaded that our hearts are true when they are turning in a direction that is deeply and dangerously false. In those events, we don’t choose darkness so much as become the dark ourselves. At such times, the way is doubly dark.

Then comes the light of Christ into our lives, for the first time or simply burning brighter than before. Now as “children of light” we are invited to live more authentically and courageously. We are the awakened sleepers, the dead raised to new and fuller life. We have no more excuses to wander the dark valley without our guide and champion. Not only do we know better than to participate in works of darkness, we must be prepared to raise the light over a deceitful world and expose the error of the wrongly persuaded.

How were your eyes opened?

If you’re looking for a homily starter this week, here’s a question to ask of your assembly or yourself. It’s the question posed to the man born blind by his neighbors, incredulous that a sightless man has gained his vision: “How were your eyes opened?” We might answer this question in many ways, the saddest of which could be: “My eyes are still closed.”

Yet most of us have managed to gain a little sight after years of attending to the gospel and its many graces. Our eyes may have been opened because of the goodness of our parents or the faithfulness of local saints or the wisdom of our many teachers and mentors. Our eyes may also have been opened by a radical occasion of sin in our lives that caused us to be ashamed, to repent, and to turn in a new direction. We may have gained our sight because some gracious event of mercy or healing that came to us. We may have had a powerful experience in prayer or a change of heart in forgiving someone who dealt us a grave injustice. An encounter with astonishing beauty can enable us to see more clearly. And love, above all, can make all things seem new and full of light.

The story of the man born blind reminds us that, once our sight is made whole, we still have to deal with a society full of folks stumbling around the dark valley. The ignorance expressed in our cultural obsessions, in the media, in politics, and in global relations may make us feel impatient and alienated. We may find ourselves wanting to escape the darkness by retreating from a grossly ignorant community when it is precisely that community that needs us to bring our light and vision to it.

Perhaps this is nowhere more evident than in our families, where some will choose materialism, cynicism, bigotry, atheism, hedonism, scorn for the disadvantaged, and a host of other dark roads leading into the valley of the shadow of death. We may be tempted to sever relations with those family members who are still traveling in the dark, because they tax our restraint and our love. We may also, like the man in the gospel whose sight is restored, face the rejection of our neighbors who no longer recognize us, or the disloyalty of our families who are afraid to claim us. We may even, in the ultimate irony, find that our religious leadership does not trust or validate the new vision we have received. In the end, the only person who may rejoice with us in our clear-sightedness is Jesus.           

Applying the word

Go wash in the pool of Siloam

“Siloam,” John tells us, means “Sent.” The one whose sight is restored has places to go and people to see. To receive the light of Christ and refuse to share it would be to enter into a new kind of darkness. Our testimony to clear-sightedness is our way of saying thanks to the God who opened our eyes. Once we are escorted from the dark valley, it is our duty and privilege to serve as guides for those sisters and brothers who have yet to open their eyes.