Orbiting Dicta

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

1 Sm 16:1b,6-7,10-13a
Ps 23
Eph 5:8-14
Jn 9:1-41 or 9:1,6-9,13-17,34-38

It’s an election year, in case you hadn’t yet noticed.  Most people in this country seem not to have, because they did not vote in the recent elections.  After all, they were only primaries and local elections and even in November, it will only be a mid-term affair.  So much for participatory democracy.

God, I hear, is not a democrat, and traditionalists like to point out that the Church is not a democracy.  Actually, in the beginning, right up to the Middle Ages, people elected their own bishops, including the pope in some instances, and frequently their priests and deacons.  And today in parishes everywhere Catholics are observing the Second Scrutiny of the catechumens who will be elected to be baptized at Easter.  Popes are still elected, of course, at least by the College of Cardinals.  And Israel was elected.  Everyone, we hope, will eventually be elected, for in Scripture, God’s people all the way back to ancient Israel, were called ‘The Elect.”

Basically, “elect” and “election” simply mean “chosen.” Selected. Picked out.

At some point or other in your life, you were probably elected to some office — class president, prom queen, valedictorian, person most likely to succeed in business without really trying, perhaps the head of a committee at work, or a position in the local PTA.  Or maybe you ran for election but were not chosen, and had to swallow the defeat with the good grace that is expected of losing candidates.

Not all elections turn out well. The first election I ever won, the first one I can remember anyway, was in the first grade, when the girls of the class elected the boys who would play various parts in the Christmas play.  My cousin Pat was chosen to play St. Joseph, and I — well, someone had to be Herod.  I prefer to think it was because it took great acting ability to portray such a villain.  My death scene was pretty terrific, actually.  My insides got eaten by worms and I suffered very dramatically.

Today’s readings, not so coincidentally, focus on election, on being chosen.  They also draw our attention to the cost of being chosen.

The first reading, from the first Book of Samuel, is about the election of David to be the anointed ruler of Israel.  Although the least promising of Jesse’s sons, he is nevertheless God’s choice.  As always, God’s ways are not like human ways.  Those God elects may not be those we would choose at all.  In fact, God seems to chose people that tend to get overlooked and, from what appears to be unpromising candidates, selects women like Joan of Arc and men such as Giuseppe Roncalli who end up remaking the world.

For Paul, such election is a journey from darkness into the light of justice and truth.  That is the second theme of the readings.  Not by accident, from the earliest times baptism was called illumination.  God elects those who are to be saved and leads them into the saving light of Christ’s presence and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  And not only once, but at every moment in our lives when that baptismal grace acts within us.

The Gospel chosen for this Sunday of the second scrutiny is taken from the climax of St. John’s Gospel.  It is one of the longest stories in that Gospel, and even when we read the major sections of it, the drama is electrifying.  A man born blind is made whole by the gift of sight, the ability to see light.  To see in the light.  Also from the earliest days of the church, this man was seen as a paradigm, a model of the Christian believer.  His testimony is one of the most touching stories of faith in Christian scripture.  Cured on the Sabbath, an affront to the religious authorities, his faith in Jesus ultimately costs him dearly.  To be thrown out of the synagogue was to be excommunicated, cut off from community, family, and friends.  And in all honesty, his first step towards sight seems very unpromising: Jesus actually puts dirt in his eyes.  But in the end, the man cannot deny that he sees and especially what he has seen.

“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
“You have seen him.  He is speaking with you now.”
“I do believe, Lord.”

John is putting more into this story than the scrutiny of a man born blind.  The later history of the troubled relations between Jews and Christians is reflected in the commentary on the examination of the man’s parents: “anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.”  This did not happen for many years, but it did finally happen, and the two ways parted definitively.

To be chosen by God, to join the elect community, means at least running the risk of rejection, suffering exclusion and persecution even by those we love.  But there is always some cost involved.  As Jesus reminds us, “I came into this world to divide it, to make the sightless see and the seeing blind.”

If all goes well for us when we chose to follow Christ, and him crucified, we can be sure that something has very likely gone wrong.  And so we continue the old tradition of examining the candidates for baptism, making sure that they know what they are asking for, and are fully aware of what they may get as a result.

And as we scrutinize those who have asked to be elected into full membership in the church, we would all do well to ask ourselves how we have measured up to the grace of our calling.  And, as they say, good luck on your election.