Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 19, 2023
The Academy Awards aired last Sunday. In the days and even weeks building up to the show, there was a lot of news about the nominees in the various categories. Of course, the actual production held a prime time slot on television. And entertainment reporters, at least for the next few days, will continue to find things to discuss about the winners and losers. Although the whole thing was of little interest to me, it did give me an idea about this week’s Gospel.
The story of this “healing miracle” and the backstories leading up to it would be a powerful movie, that, if done properly, could well be an “Oscar sweep.”
The screenplay writers, in order to do justice to the script, would have to understand the social customs of the times. The so-called “holiness code” that influenced people’s impressions of and relationships with one another, provided that “bad things” happen to people because they have sinned. The movie will begin with disciples, aware of this misguided belief, asking The Lord: Rabbi, who sinned…this man or his parents that he was born blind?
And so, a “backstory” will be needed. What did this family do…or fail to do in the past…maybe even several generations in the past…which resulted in “inherited guilt” and the punishment of a child born blind?
The family’s shame will surface again during the investigation into the healing. The parents carry a sense of guilt because a past sin (even if they are unaware of what it might have been) is the only logical explanation for their son’s blindness. They are called before the authorities investigating the healing without social standing or credibility. They know they have been per-judged.
Of course, they are reluctant to make any statement or express an opinion which might add to their troubles. Their sense of shame is so great that they leave their son to defend himself. They are already broken down by a totally misguided theology which depicts God as a harsh and punitive judge. In short, they are terrified…of God and of those representing God.
With respect to the inquisitors, the costume department and the makeup artists will be key. The religious leaders must be extravagantly dressed to demonstrate their power and privilege. They must appear sanctimonious, confident in their righteousness, and understanding of the situation before them. The actors will play the role with arrogance uncaring, but at the same time with exaggerated piety.
It will help to refer back to the “holiness code,” which explains that honor and privilege comes to those who lead exemplary lives. But the audience must be left asking themselves: What kind of example are these religious authorities really giving?
Actually, these parts won’t be particularly demanding. Even an inexperienced actor could offer a convincing performance. Human nature is such that we often jump to conclusions without bothering with the truth of a matter. And once we form an opinion, we vigorously defend it, regardless of the facts… especially when it comes to playing the “blame game.”
The casting director’s real challenge will be to find a young actor capable of depicting a person who has lived his entire life unable to judge or evaluate people by the color of their skin or the quality of their clothing. The man’s blindness has left him with a sort of innocence that is to be admired. Throughout his whole life, this man has been dependent on others for his safety and well-being, so the role must be played with humility.
Since he has never known anything different, there is the sense of acceptance of his disability. The man did not ask Jesus to be cured. The challenge of the part will be to communicate the total surprise and delight in seeing the world for the first time. The sheer joy and excitement will come, however, with a sense of confusion. Imagine living your whole life in darkness, and suddenly, without warning, being called into the bright light of the world.
The part demands that he bring all this emotion before the self-righteous panel of religious investigators. The young man has not only been given the gift of sight, but, as a result of his encounter with Jesus, he slowly comes into a spiritual vision which is an even greater gift. His growing insight is reflected in his answers.
Ironically, this growing spiritual vision and insight is completely absent in the so-called religious authorities sitting in judgment. They are blinded by their own privilege and pride.
A supporting actor, capable of bringing the complexity of this young man’s life onto the silver screen, will certainly be deserving of an Oscar.
Of course, the lead actor in the drama will need to capture the unconditional love, the unshakable peace, and the overwhelming compassion of The Lord. No easy feat. If the actor is to rise to the occasion, his performance must leave the audience with an understanding that Jesus did not always require belief or even faith before performing miraculous deeds. Sometimes, a miracle had a purpose beyond the healing.
In this case, for example, The Lord gave the man vision to demonstrate that spirituality is about seeing what God is revealing, and that arrogance and self-righteousness often blinds us to what God places before our very eyes.
If the movie is successful, people will leave the theatre appreciating the importance of “unlearning” customs and beliefs like the notion of inherited guilt and punishment…or the folly of the “holiness code” which enabled some to enjoy unearned honor, while others suffered from undeserved shame.
It is highly unlikely that a movie inspired by this Gospel will ever come to a theater near you. But there is no need to buy a ticket in order to enter this drama. During this fourth week in the Lenten season, you can simply close your eyes and sit with this passage to learn all it has to offer.
Better still, cast yourself in the supporting role of the blind man. Allow yourself to feel Christ summon you with His gentle and loving touch. Imagine opening your eyes to everything that God has in store for those who believe that Jesus is The Son of Man and worship Him as their Lord and Savior. Use this powerful drama to enhance your spiritual vision and enjoy a brief glimpse of Easter Glory on this Laetare Sunday!