The Fourth Sunday of Lent [A]

First Reading 1 Samuel 16:1,6-7,10-13
Second Reading Ephesians 5:8-14
Gospel John 9:1-41

"He guides me in right paths for His Name’s sake.”

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is popularly called “Good Shepherd Sunday”. Every year on that Sunday the Gospel passage is taken from the tenth chapter of St. John’s Gospel account, where Jesus describes Himself at length as “the good shepherd” and even as “the gate for the sheep”. But today, on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, we also hear about the Good Shepherd, though from the Old Testament rather than the New. Today’s Responsorial Psalm is the most beloved song of the Psalter: the 23rd Psalm.

At first hearing, it might not seem that this psalm connects with the other three Scripture passages proclaimed today. True, in today’s First Reading, the young man David is described as “tending the sheep”, and is plucked from this role to be anointed the king—that is, the shepherd—of God’s People. But for the most part, today’s Scripture passages focus on another theme: blindness.

Nonetheless, we should never underestimate the depth of Sacred Scripture. If we look closely, we might be able to see a connection between these two Lenten themes. Today’s First Reading is a good place to start looking for a connection between these themes of Our Lord as Shepherd, and ourselves as blind sinners. In fact, the First Reading focuses on both themes. Yet the conclusion of this passage is the anointing of young David as the king of Israel, so surely this theme of the shepherd/king is the passage’s chief point?

Well, consider something that happens earlier in the passage. Samuel seeks the Lord’s anointed from among the sons of Jesse, and he does find him, but it takes eight tries to do so. What is it that hinders Samuel’s search? It is his faulty sight.

Samuel judges wrongly because he is blind to the truth of what God’s shepherd looks like. The Lord explains this to Samuel as plainly as possible, saying: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” This blindness that the Lord exposes lies at the root of all our sins. This blindness can take many forms. But the Lord here is not just condemning the shallow outlook so common today, which believes that beauty is only skin deep and that only what our senses perceive truly exists.

The Lord here in our First Reading is condemning something more specific: the blindness that keeps us from seeing our shepherd. Samuel judges wrongly because he sees only the appearance, and looks for a man’s lofty stature instead of looking into his heart. But this blindness takes on an even more tragic form in today’s Gospel passage.

The Pharisees bear a double blindness. Not only are they spiritually blind, but they are also blind to the fact of their blindness. At least the man born blind knew he was blind! Yet the Pharisees, blind to their blindness, attempt to lead others spiritually in their zeal for the Jewish Law. In Matthew’s Gospel account, Jesus is direct in calling the Pharisees “blind guides”, and notes that “if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” [Mt 15:14].

The Pharisees’ double blindness is spiritually a “dark valley”. They walk through it without a capable guide. Their zeal for the Law stems from the blindness that the Lord pointed out to Samuel: they look at the appearances of legal observance. Their blindness prevents them from seeing Jesus as Lord and Shepherd: as one who “looks into the heart”.

But as you and I reflect on these blind guides, we each need to ask two questions. First, am I blind like the Pharisees? Second, what hope is there for someone suffering from such a double blindness? The answer to the second can help us honestly answer the first.

The spiritually blind person has no reason for hope in himself. Hope for the spiritually blind rests in God alone. Their hope—our hope—rests in the truth that our Lord is a Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd “looks into the heart”, and sees only darkness there. But He wills to lead the blind from darkness into light.

The Pharisees can see into neither their own blind hearts nor the heart of Jesus. But Jesus sees into the Pharisees’ hearts, and seeing their blindness, will on Good Friday pour forth from His Sacred Heart the light of Divine Mercy. But will the Pharisees turn toward His light, or avert their gaze from Him?