This Sunday: Jesus Brings Trouble. But Then …
“Jesus came into Mary’s life,” a priest once told me, “and that was when her trouble started.”
The Fourth Sunday of Lent is called Laetare Sunday is named after the ancient introit at Mass, “Laetare Jerusalem” (“Rejoice, Jerusalem”). Like Gaudete Sunday midway through Advent, Laetare Sunday reminds us of that the penitential season is almost over. We have a little anticipated joy that we have turned the corner and Easter is near.
It’s a good thing. We need to rejoice in God, because it is easy to forget how good his presence is in our lives — because, so often, he brings nothing but trouble.
First, take David in today’s first reading. The story of the choosing of David to become the Lord’s anointed is a great moment in salvation history and a great story — the story of the forgotten brother becoming the chosen one. But this is not the glorious end to David’s story; it is rather the beginning of his story of hardship and struggle.
God came into David’s life, and that was when his trouble started. The same thing happens to the man born blind in today’s Gospel.
He has an intense, healing encounter with Christ, who restores his site. But what does this mean for his life? Rejection and hardship.
First, his neighbors reject him, pronouncing him a suspicious person who needs to be reported to the Pharisees. It is hard to imagine a more difficult persecution than being reported by your neighbors.
Next, the Pharisees interrogate him and publicly speculate that he is a sinner — which if anything worsens the original experience of being reported at all.
His parents are brought in, and rather than give him a ringing endorsement, they take a cagey view of their son with the authorities. Given the choice between standing by their son or saving face in front of the Pharisees, they ditch their son.
So the immediate consequences of the man’s encounter with Christ: He is ostracized by his neighbors, his priests and his own family. He met God, and that was when his troubles started.
But what else happens?
The blind man’s new gift of physical sight is accompanied by an increased spiritual insight, and at each stage in the story, he sees something new.
When his neighbors reject him, he doesn’t mince words. He doesn’t speak vaguely about his cure, or soften the story by attributing it to “spirituality” in some unspecified way. He gives Jesus Christ full credit.
When the Pharisees object to his words about Jesus, he doesn’t backtrack with them either; he sees something new: He sees that Jesus is a prophet — a unique conduit of God’s grace and truth to the world, like Samuel in the first reading.
Then, after his parents “throw him under the bus,” he comes to further insight and boldness. He now directly takes on the Pharisees’ strained reasoning and calls it “amazing” that they “do not know where [Jesus] is from,” telling them, “If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”
So his new sight has allowed him to see what those close to him cannot: That Jesus Christ is a very special person.
Next, after having been rejected by society, religion and family, he comes to Christ. In his humbled condition, he is ready to hear Jesus’ message of grace. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” asks Jesus. “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” he replies.
Then he gives one of the Gospels’ greatest testimonies of faith. He says, “I do believe, Lord,” and “he worshiped him.”
Was the pain worth it? He may have been rejected and underappreciated by those around him, but he gained something indescribably great. He got to meet his creator and know the meaning of his life and the world.
One day, for each of us, Jesus came into our lives. That is when our troubles started. But that was also the day those troubles stopped mattering, because they were dwarfed by the infinite gift of a relationship with God.