Opening Our Eyes to God's Wondrous Gifts
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4th Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday
Today, we live in one of the most trying times in our history as people all over the world battles against COVID-19 as we speak. And so, we ask, “where is the Good News in the midst of all of this?” To answer this pressing question, I decided to begin this Sunday’s homily with a true-life story of John Newton:
John Newton was born in 1740 in England. He grew up in the Anglican Church. As a little boy, he went to Church and learned Bible lessons. His mother died when he was only eleven, and so he traveled with his father who was the captain and owner of a cargo ship. The “cargo” was two to three hundred black slaves packed, lying next to each other, in the ship’s hold. In a storm, little John Newton was washed overboard and was picked up on the open seas by a slave trader who trained John in his trade as he grew up. Before his conversion, Newton's life had become so debauched, irreverent, and immoral that even his fellow sailors were shocked by his conduct and coarse speech. On one return voyage to England, Newton was caught in such a fierce storm that all aboard despaired of life. The Scriptures John had once learned at his mother's knee returned to his mind, and he began to hope that Jesus could deliver him, dreadful sinner though he was. For the first time in years, John sought the Lord in prayer, and as he later wrote, "the Lord sent from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.” It was on March 21, a date he remembered yearly for the rest of his life, that Newton began to realize the enormity of the evil in his life and his complicity with the evil of slavery in his slave-trading. He left the ship, joined the seminary, was ordained and became a zealous pastor.
Today’s Gospel reading is about “seeing” Jesus’ healing of the man born blind not simply by using one’s sense of sight, but “seeing” it with spiritual maturity. In this narrative, the Pharisees failed on different levels to “see” the true miracle happening in the life of the man born blind. They may not have witnessed the miracle unfold before their very eyes, but they have intentionally “blinded” themselves from God’s Divine intervention.
This Sunday as we celebrate Laetare “rejoice” Sunday, we are being invited by Jesus to “see” things, events, experiences, situations, etc. no matter how difficult they may be under the light or lens of faith. We are to see “joy” through our unceasing faith. For our faith will bring about hope. Our faith will guide us to see the light in the darkness of a seemingly hopeless or desperate situations. Jesus invites us to see goodness in the midst of the already bad scenario. But how?
First, is by opening our eyes to allow Jesus to heal our spiritual blindness. Oftentimes, we tend to overlook our spiritual needs and that alone makes us spiritually blind. We fail to exercise our spiritual responsibilities as they become least of our priorities. Like the Pharisees, though we may have the clearest understanding of those responsibilities, we choose NOT to see them as means toward our ultimate goal, but instead as man’s fanaticism and hypocrisy. We are spiritually apathetic to the needs of our “spirit.” I believe that our battle against COVID-19 is a test of faith. Our response to this pandemic is a test of how deeply we trust God’s power over the virus or any threat to life. We seek His aid, but we fail to recognize His almighty hand already working in our daily lives. Yes, we may be spiritually blinded by worldly things, but is this something we do by ignorance or simply by neglect?
The Good News, however, is this: Regardless of our limitations and failure to see God’s Almighty presence, Jesus wants to heal our spiritual blindness and that is not an overstatement! We have to ask Him to heal us from the root causes of our blindness: our self-centeredness, greed, apathy, prejudice, addiction to evil habits and hardness of heart. Let us pray harder and more fervently to Jesus who alone can heal us and allow Him to open our eyes blinded by these causes.
Second, is by getting rid of our useless fears, worries and anxieties. At this point, it would be more like a cliché to say, “Do not panic!” as we have been hearing this statement since the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. But though we hear this a lot, we seem to remain in the state of panic. Grocery stores are running out of bread, paper towels, sanitizers and toilet papers! Well, these are basic necessities … basic human physical necessities. But in the midst of all this ruckus, there is that one great gift that we have currently the luxury of is GIFT OF TIME. The Book of Ecclesiastes starts the chapter about time with these beautiful words, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) In other words, everything happens under time. It is all up to us now as to how we could make it matter. When we choose to make something special happens with time, it becomes a glorious, wonderful moment. We just have to choose to make it that way. Our fears, worries and anxieties are symptomatic not only of our lack of faith, but it is also symptomatic of being spiritually blind to God’s wonderful gifts.
The Good News? The gift of time is free. We just have to take it by the hand and make use of this gift. Make this moment a glorious moment even though it’s wrapped in darkness. Making use of this time can lead us to victory! Read a book or take that Bible out from the shelf which could have accumulated too much dust at this point and read it! Distance from the crowd but be connected to the Lord who has been waiting this entire time for us to “see” Him.
Now, going back to John Newton. After that dark chapter of his life comes a silver lining …
Thanking God for the grace of conversion, he composed a song which is now one of Americans' favorite hymns: “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Jesus always comes to heal people who are spiritually blind if they ask for help. Newton had a huge personal blind-spot -- tolerance for slave-trading. And Jesus healed John Newton’s spiritual blindness.
As we celebrate Laetare “rejoice” Sunday, let us seek out true joy that the Season of Lent offers to us. Joy comes from the healing of our spiritual blindness; the forgiveness of our sins of self-centeredness, greed, apathy, prejudice, addiction to evil habits and hardness of heart. Joy comes from making use of God’s precious gift of time. Fear, useless worries and anxieties will not help us become victorious against the threat of COVID-19. Make this moment in time matter. Choose to make it glorious … a special moment.
On a final note, we are asked this Sunday to rest while keeping the somber spirit of Lent. Take it. Pray. Reflect. Read. Meditate. Contemplate then be Joyful!