Opening the Word: Call the unexpected

Most of us are very familiar with Jesus’ healing of the man born blind in the Gospel of John. Perhaps, we have heard many times that this sign is an image of the Christian life. The man born blind, wrapped in sin, is given light by Jesus to see anew.

But the Gospel of John supports another reading, one not related to the “sin” of the blind man. Jesus is asked by his disciples, “‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” (9:2). Jesus answers, “Neither he nor his parents sinned” (9:3).

In today’s Old Testament lesson from 1 Samuel, we receive a suitable formation to see anew the sign of Jesus’ healing of blindness.

Samuel has come to Jesse of Bethlehem looking to anoint a king. Jesse’s seven sons are brought forward, all who would have more properly been the king.

They are the elder ones. They are the stronger ones. They are the rightful heirs of the throne.

But none of these qualified candidates are chosen. Instead, the spirit of the Lord is to descend upon David, who is “ruddy, a youth handsome to behold …” (1 Sam 16:12).

He is the youngest son. It is the youngest son who is preferred by God throughout the Old Testament. This preference upsets the standards of the world, because God alone is the source of power, of kingship, of the divine Spirit. God alone chooses.

The man born blind is chosen by Jesus Christ as David was. As a blind man, he would have been an outcast, someone who begged each day for a morsel of bread. As a blind man, many would have imagined that he was being punished for the sins of his parents, for his own sins.

But, Jesus will have no part of this. He chooses the man born blind.

And unlike the other characters in today’s Gospel, this man alone can see who Jesus is.

The Pharisees cannot see, seeking to turn this “sign” into an occasion of testing Jesus, refusing to rejoice in the good news that the man who could not see can now see.

The parents of the man born blind cannot see, seeking to remove themselves from the situation.

It is only the man born blind who encounters Jesus and proclaims, “‘I do believe, Lord,’ and he worshiped him” (Jn 9:38).

As we continue to observe Lent, it is important to remember as the Church that those of us baptized into Christ are not the only ones whom God has chosen.

Our God is the one who calls the youngest, who sends his Spirit upon the one whom no one notices.

The foster child, who goes from home to home, unaware of the depths of love possible in the world. The refugee, unwanted in any land, seeking a place where he can feed his family. The poor and lowly of the world, who long for redemption.

Every person is to become a sign of the power of God working within the world. For, the man born blind, the one who no one cared about, is the one who testifies to the identity of Jesus: “he worshiped him.”

So let us go forth and choose, like our Lord, the unexpected ones. Let us announce the Gospel to every corner of the world. Let us feed the hungry, spend time with the prisoner and comfort the lonely.

And let us discover there the power of Jesus, who still works signs of wonder in our midst this day.

And let us worship the Lord.

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.