Scripture in Depth
The purpose of the Lenten readings is to prepare for the participation in the paschal feast.
The Old Testament readings focus upon salvation history as the presupposition of, preparation for, and in some respects a prefiguring of, the redemptive act of God in Christ.
The second readings set forth our participation in the death and resurrection of Christ through baptism and in the Christian life.
The gospel readings of series A, after the accounts of the temptation and the transfiguration, which are traditional on the first two Sundays, take up the great Johannine signs, which are prefigurements both of the saving events of Christ’s death and resurrection and of our participation in those saving events through baptism.
Reading I: 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
As already noted, the Lenten readings from the Old Testament form an independent series of highlights in Israel’s salvation history. The story of David’s anointing as king is told in such a way as to emphasize that his selection and the resulting stabilizing of the monarchy were due to divine initiative.
The people had no part in this selection. Nor was it Samuel’s idea. Even when the prophet submits to God’s direction, God overrules him by choosing the youngest and apparently least qualified brother. Samuel’s preference for the eldest brother proved wrong, thus foreshadowing the popular but misguided hope for a powerful Messiah.
The shorter reading of the Roman Lectionary omits the unessential though picturesque details of the story that provide dramatic contrast and local color.
Responsorial Psalm: 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
It is not clear whether this psalm was chosen to go with the First Reading or whether it was first suggested by the traditional, though originally fortuitous, association of this Sunday with the idea of refreshment. In Christian usage, “Lord” can of course be interpreted to mean Christ.
The third stanza, which speaks of the Lord’s anointing the psalmist’s head with oil, suggests some link with the anointing of David in the first reading, but the typology is too complicated to develop profitably in a homily. Those responsible should either explain their intentions or revise their choice.
Reading II: Ephesians 5:8-14
This reading overlaps with the old epistle of the Roman Missal for the third Sunday of Lent. In the Book of Common Prayer, that epistle was lengthened to run through verse 14, as here. It seems to have had a fortuitous connection with the station Mass at St. Lawrence celebrated on that day at Rome.
But its baptismal associations (a catechesis based on the contrasts once/now, darkness/light and the concluding quotation from an early baptismal hymn) have always made this passage highly suitable for Lent. Now it becomes even more appropriate as a complement to the gospel, with its message of Jesus as the light of the world.
Gospel: John 9:1-41
The most likely explanation of the seven miracles (signs) in the Fourth Gospel is that they existed together in a “Book of Signs” and that the evangelist used them as the basis for his discourses or dialogues.
The original story in today’s Gospel must have simply told how a man was born blind and was healed by Jesus. This was later expanded by a trial scene, in which the man was charged with having become an adherent of Jesus. This stage of development reflects the expulsion of Jewish converts to Christianity from the synagogue. The evangelist then added the christological elements, such as verses 4-5, which declare Jesus to be the light of the world, and the discussion about his origins as contrasted with Moses. (Jn 9:29-34)
Thus, the healing of the blind man is, for the evangelist, a Christological sign—it shows that Christ is the light that has come into the darkness of the world. In other words, he is the revelation of God.
It is easy to see how the healing of a blind man would lend itself to such christological treatment. Moreover, the mode of healing—washing in the pool of Siloam—suggests a further connection with baptism, which in the early Church was known as “illumination” (photismos).
The short form of the Gospel reduces the story more or less to its original narrative form, omitting most of the features derived from the church-synagogue relations and the evangelist’s christological insertions. Inadvertently, however, this has the effect of removing what was, for the evangelist, the main point of the story (Jesus as the light of the world) and its connection with the second reading (“Christ shall give you light”). Fortunately, the versicle before the Gospel preserves the theme of light. It is thus imperative that verse 5 be restored to the short form.
Reginald H. Fuller
**From Saint Louis University