The Fourth Sunday of Lent at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: 1 Sam 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41]
About a hundred and twenty years ago, when Helen Keller was nineteen months old, a tragic illness left her totally deaf and blind. She no longer saw clouds sailing majestically through azure blue skies, or a monarch butterfly dancing around the petals of a red rose, or heard the early song of a robin at dawn, or the humming of her mother rocking her to sleep. As years passed this intelligent child grew increasingly agitated in her black and soundless cloister. She groaned and screamed in frustration until she was about seven years old when a young teacher named Ann Sullivan touched Helen for the first time. Ann placed a doll in her arms, then traced the name “doll” on the palm of her hand. Helen didn’t understand. Then one day Ann led her to a well and let a cool stream of water spill over Helen’s hands. She traced the word “water” on her palm. Remembering the excitement of that moment Helen wrote: “I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motions of Ann’s fingers. Suddenly I felt a … thrill. The mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that water meant the wonderful cool stream that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope and joy, and set it free. … It would have been difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my bed at the close of that eventful day and relived the joys it had brought me.”1 She would soon receive an even greater gift.
Almost two thousand years ago someone else lived in total darkness. The man born blind never saw a rose colored sunrise or sunset, or the blood red lips of his mother when she kissed him. Everything he touched was pitch black: his food was black and all his clothes, even flowers and water were entirely black. Did he live in anguish, wondering why he was different, why God was punishing him? One day he overheard Jesus saying, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” Jesus bent down, picked up some dusty soil and mixed it with spittle. The blind man felt the fingertips of Jesus anointing his eyelids with the mixture. His whole attention was fixed on the motions of Jesus’ fingers. Something wonderful was taking place. When Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam,” someone had to lead him there, for it was far away, at the southern tip of the City of David. After he was led down a winding path to the pool he put his hands into the cool water and splashed it over his face and eyes. Light suddenly exploded in his head. Bright rays pierced his eyes like spears. At first the brightness hurt. As he blinked and squinted his pupils adjusted to the bright sunlight. Then the world of colors, shapes and distances began dancing around him. Filled with wonder, with an expression of joy sweeping over his face, did tears of happiness wash away the last grains of the healing remedy from the corners of his eyes? He would soon receive an even greater gift.
Jesus found him and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man replied, “Who is he, Sir, that I may believe him?” “The one speaking with you is he.” He answered, “I do believe,” and he worshiped him. The gift of faith is even greater than the gift of sight. When Helen Keller was eight years old she asked, “Where did I come from? And where shall I go when I die? Who made the earth and the seas? What makes the sun so hot? Why does the earth not fall, it is so very large and heavy? … May I read the book called the Bible?”1 Not long afterwards she also received the wonderful gift of faith. She said, “My eyes filled with tears, and my heart beat with love for the gentle Nazarene who restored sight to the blind and speech to the mute, healed the sick, fed the hungry and turned sorrow into joy. … It fills my heart with joy to know that God loves me … and that we shall see God in heaven and always be happy.”2 Telling how faith robbed death of all its power to terrify her she said, “I cannot understand why anyone should fear death … Life divides and separates, while death, which at heart is life eternal, reunites and reconciles. I believe that when the eyes within my physical eyes shall open upon the world to come, I shall simply be consciously living in the country of my heart.”2
We also were born blind, without faith, totally unable to see the infinite beauty of God face to face because these wonderful divine gifts were tragically lost at the beginning of human history. Confusion about the meaning of life, and heart-rending anguish over the ultimate darkness of death enveloped the whole world. Then the Son of God mixed the life giving water of his divinity with the dust of our humanity and became our healing remedy.
The blind man washed many times without being healed. It was only when the water in the Pool of Siloam was invested with the power of Christ that he received his sight. Helen Keller touched water many times without knowing it had a name until Ann Sullivan opened her inner eyes to the gift of language and the ability to communicate. In a far more marvelous way the waters of baptism are invested with the power of Christ to open our inner eyes to purpose of life, to give us awareness with love of God, that is the gift of prayer, and best of all, the greatest grace, the gift of sharing God’s eyes, his own divine nature so that one day we will see him face to face.
It is by faith we look at rose colored blood running down the body of Jesus hanging on the cross and see God bleeding for us. It is by faith we look at rose-red wine in a chalice and see the Blood of Christ given to us out of love. It is by faith we receive the chalice and feel Jesus wetting our lips with his kiss and entering our flesh, filling us with his love in the country of our hearts. There we see, we believe, and we worship!