Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate

Weekly Reflections

Weekly Reflection

Gospel Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Lent - March 19th

Gospel Reflection Sunday March 19th 2023, Fourth Sunday of Lent

This man cannot be from God: he does not keep the sabbath.”

Thus spoke the Pharisees in today’s Gospel. They used these words to condemn Jesus for restoring sight to a blind man on the sabbath. Imagine! Because he spat on the ground, made a paste of spittle and dust, daubed it on the man’s eyes and told him to wash it off in the pool of Siloam, he was considered to be ‘working’ on the Sabbath, and therefore he had to be condemned. “He could not…” as they said, “…be of God.”  For doing good, giving a blind man sight and hope and a new life, he could not be “of God.”

What kind of a God did they believe in? How impossibly cruel is a God who would judge so harshly, and what unbelievable pride and arrogance to imagine that they could dictate to God who he must reject and why. Could the God, who the Pharisees believed created us in his own “image and likeness” actually want one of his cherished creatures to remain blind because Jesus happened to come across him on the wrong day?

Yes, we shake our heads in disbelief and amazement at this narrow-mindedness and petty jealousy, for that is what it was. Our God, we say, “holds us in the palms of his hands”. The psalmist wrote, “As a child lies quietly in its mother’s arms, so my soul is quiet within me.”  How could the Pharisees not see this? Would this God – this loving mother/father – condemn their child for doing a good and compassionate act? The God the Pharisees knew about, and the God I believe in, would never…ever…condemn an action which is so obviously good.

Almost exactly ten years ago (November 2013) Pope Francis issued his first proclamation to the Church and the world. The “Joy of the Gospel” set out his vision for a missionary Church, active in the modern world. In it he wrote: “My hope is that we will be moved by a fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: ‘Give them something to eat’ (Mk 6:37).” (EG 49)

Now ten years later I find myself asking how far have we come in making this Church a reality? How many of us – and I include myself here – still hold on to “structures which give us a false sense of security.” If our experience of Covid-19 taught us anything, it has to be an awareness of our fragility and vulnerability as humans. Has it taught us to be more compassionate and open? How much more aware are we of the fragility and vulnerability of the homeless, the lonely, those who risk their lives and drown in our seas trying only to escape tyranny and look after their families? How loudly do we shout that structures which allow these things to exist are wrong? Surely we have to see that structures which allow this cannot be, as the Gospel says, “of God”?

How many of us try to hear the words of Pope Francis and become aware of the rules which make us “harsh judges” How easily do we say, or even think, “X,Y, or Z cannot be of God or go to Heaven, because they do not attend Sunday Mass?” And what of the divorced who remarry? How harshly do we judge them? How many of us say, “these people cannot be of God, because they are divorced, remarried, part of the LGBTQ community, are sinners?

Ten years on from the proclamation of Pope Francis, the poor and “starving are still at our doors,” and Jesus is still saying to us, “give them something to eat.”

None of this is intended in any way to instill a sense of guilt or doubt. Nor am I encouraging a kind of communal examination of conscience. That would be to do exactly what I warn against: judging harshly!

My questions are only to suggest that we pause and tread carefully.

The Pharisees who said in our Gospel, “This man cannot be from God: he does not keep the sabbath.” thought that they were doing what was right by protecting the Law of Moses and ensuring that exceptions were not made as to what constituted ‘work’ and what did not. The very fact that some Pharisees disagreed and there was disagreement among them indicates that those who condemned Jesus felt they could justify their opinion.

The reality is that they were wrong. The image of God they were using was a harsh one – judgmental, punishing, vengeful, demanding. Their views were based on individual texts from the Old Testament, but they were forgetting the overall portrayal of the ‘God of Israel’ as a loving, gentle, tender mother/father who cares deeply for his people. If I could quote Pope Francis again, “Whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realise that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms.” (EG 3). If we present this God to the world, then we avoid any possibility of becoming like the Pharisees because we too are “waiting with open arms” to welcome those who are most fragile and vulnerable among us.

Jesus challenged those who heard him to be open, tolerant, forgiving and compassionate. The Pharisees rejected his message and crucified him. Ten years ago Pope Francis challenged us to create a Church based on that same “Joy of the Gospel” – openness, tolerance, forgiveness and compassion. It is a challenge still before us, waiting to be heard.

Challenge can sometimes be perceived as a negative word, accusing us of failing or not trying hard enough. However it can, if we choose, also be seen as an invitation and that is the way Pope Francis asks us to see it: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary key must abandon the complacent attitude that says, ‘We have always done it this way’. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their communities.”    (EG 33)

We are ‘invited’ to be bold and creative in creating a society and a Church which is based on the ‘joy’ which is the Gospel. When Jesus restored sight to the blind man in today’s Gospel he was being bold and creative, refusing to be constrained by narrow rules which prevented good being done. As we see he was criticized and condemned for it.

Pope Francis called us in 2013 to be equally ‘bold and creative’ in our own world and in our own time. Sometimes it will mean standing against popular culture but maybe that is the cost of discipleship. Who knows, maybe Gary Lineker* has something to say to us! It’s worth thinking about.  

Many thanks,


* Readers outside Britain may have to Google reference to Gary Lineker!

If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at b.maher@oblates.ie

Gospel John 9:1-41 ©

The blind man went off and washed himself, and came away with his sight restored

As Jesus went along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind?’ ‘Neither he nor his parents sinned,’ Jesus answered ‘he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
‘As long as the day lasts
I must carry out the work of the one who sent me;
the night will soon be here when no one can work.
As long as I am in the world
I am the light of the world.’
Having said this, he spat on the ground, made a paste with the spittle, put this over the eyes of the blind man, and said to him, ‘Go and wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (a name that means ‘sent’). So the blind man went off and washed himself, and came away with his sight restored.
  His neighbours and people who earlier had seen him begging said, ‘Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some said, ‘Yes, it is the same one.’ Others said, ‘No, he only looks like him.’ The man himself said, ‘I am the man.’ So they said to him, ‘Then how do your eyes come to be open?’ ‘The man called Jesus’ he answered ‘made a paste, daubed my eyes with it and said to me, “Go and wash at Siloam”; so I went, and when I washed I could see.’ They asked, ‘Where is he?’ ‘I don’t know’ he answered.
  They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees. It had been a sabbath day when Jesus made the paste and opened the man’s eyes, so when the Pharisees asked him how he had come to see, he said, ‘He put a paste on my eyes, and I washed, and I can see.’ Then some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man cannot be from God: he does not keep the sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How could a sinner produce signs like this?’ And there was disagreement among them. So they spoke to the blind man again, ‘What have you to say about him yourself, now that he has opened your eyes?’ ‘He is a prophet’ replied the man. However, the Jews would not believe that the man had been blind and had gained his sight, without first sending for his parents and asking them, ‘Is this man really your son who you say was born blind? If so, how is it that he is now able to see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know he is our son and we know he was born blind, but we do not know how it is that he can see now, or who opened his eyes. He is old enough: let him speak for himself.’ His parents spoke like this out of fear of the Jews, who had already agreed to expel from the synagogue anyone who should acknowledge Jesus as the Christ. This was why his parents said, ‘He is old enough; ask him.’
  So the Jews again sent for the man and said to him, ‘Give glory to God! For our part, we know that this man is a sinner.’ The man answered, ‘I don’t know if he is a sinner; I only know that I was blind and now I can see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ He replied, ‘I have told you once and you wouldn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it all again? Do you want to become his disciples too?’ At this they hurled abuse at him: ‘You can be his disciple,’ they said ‘we are disciples of Moses: we know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man replied, ‘Now here is an astonishing thing! He has opened my eyes, and you don’t know where he comes from! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but God does listen to men who are devout and do his will. Ever since the world began it is unheard of for anyone to open the eyes of a man who was born blind; if this man were not from God, he couldn’t do a thing.’ ‘Are you trying to teach us,’ they replied ‘and you a sinner through and through, since you were born!’ And they drove him away.
  Jesus heard they had driven him away, and when he found him he said to him, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied ‘tell me who he is so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said, ‘You are looking at him; he is speaking to you.’ The man said, ‘Lord, I believe’, and worshipped him.
  Jesus said:
‘It is for judgement
that I have come into this world,
so that those without sight may see
and those with sight turn blind.’
Hearing this, some Pharisees who were present said to him, ‘We are not blind, surely?’ Jesus replied:
‘Blind? If you were,
you would not be guilty,
but since you say, “We see,”
your guilt remains.’
Sign up to receive these reflections direct to your email inbox: