Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Homily at Parish Mass and Baptism, Lent 4 2017

Ephesians 5.8-14
John 9.1-41

There are four gospels in the Bible, and we have just read a chapter of one of them. The gospels are accounts of the life of Christ, written around the last quarter of the first century, so that the living witnesses of the life and teaching of Jesus could pass them on to the following generations.
Books were rare things in those days and copies of the sacred writings were kept by the community of faith, to be read aloud at the meetings of the faithful. They were not primarily meant for private study. The Bible belongs with the people of God, assembled to worship. It comes alive in the gathering of the faithful. And the faithful gathered, in the first century as today, to worship and celebrate the sacraments together.
The meaning of passages like the feeding of the five thousand comes alive in a new way when it is read at the Eucharist, the meal at which Jesus feeds us with himself without ever being diminished. And today’s gospel reading has particular resonances with what we are also doing today, celebrating baptism.
An ancient name for the sacrament of Holy Baptism was “Illumination”. It is the means by which we receive the spiritual light of God in our souls. Our eyes give us the light of nature, but we also are in need of God’s grace, which we have to receive as a gift from God. As well as being born “from below”, in our earthly lives, we need to be “born from above” and receive the life of God’s spirit, as John’s gospel says in an earlier chapter.
So, spiritually, we are all in a sense “born blind”. The light of God is something we need to receive in addition to the light of nature. Holy Baptism unites us with Christ in his death and resurrection, raising us to the life of God, giving us the light of his Spirit.
Notice what the man born blind does in this gospel reading – he goes and washes, and then he sees. And those who are washed in the waters of baptism also then see, but in a new sense, the light of Christ, given to them, lighting up their souls.
But washing and seeing is just the start of today’s story. The man born blind is a marginal figure at the start. People talk about him, not to him, and in a dismissive way – “who sinned, this man or his parents?” The group assumes that God doesn’t like this person for some reason, and so has afflicted him with blindness. In their view he is an outcast.
But they’ve got it all wrong. The man born blind is simply awaiting the work of God, just as nature awaits the grace of God. And when God works in him, giving him his sight, he comes in from the margins to the centre of the action. He finds his own voice, and breaks in on the dialogue of those who were talking about him but not to him. He bears witness to Jesus.
And that upsets everyone. The religious elite, the people in power, are disturbed and unsettled by Jesus, who they think is a sinner, who heals a figure on the margins whom they had disregarded. They were divided, says the Gospel. Their power base is taken away from them. Whereas the one who had no power before suddenly is the person in the centre who is changing everything.
This too is an image of what happens in Baptism. All who are baptised are adopted in Christ, and in him, says St Paul, there is no longer any distinction of sex or race or class, but all are one in Christ Jesus. Baptism brings everyone into the centre which is Christ. 
The old divisions and hatreds, by which people are marginalised and cast out, are no more. There is no place for them in Christ. They are washed away in the water of baptism.
So what we are doing today, brothers and sisters, is revolutionary stuff. Baptism is an act of radical inclusion. The waters of the font remove all barriers and distinctions, uniting us all in Christ. It is no longer possible to talk about “us” and “them”.
Baptism makes us all disciples of Jesus, and sends us, like the man born blind, to upset and destabilise the powers of this world, to put down the mighty from their thrones, to break open all the barriers and divisions by which people cast each other out.
There are many such divisions in our world. The forces of hate, the fear of the other, haunt our news headlines. Baptism calls us to challenge that, to proclaim instead the new reality in Christ to which all people are called without any distinction whatsoever.
Aaliyah, Henry and William, what an adventure you have before you. To live the new life you receive today, to live changed lives in Christ, and to change the world. That is the task of all the baptised. The newly baptised will today be given a candle as a sign of the light of Christ they have received, the spiritual illumination of baptism.
And Aaliyah’s family have brought with them a beautiful Romanian custom, that the godparents also stand with lit candles during the baptism, a symbol of the light of Christ that they received in their baptism, and that they in turn are now going to share with the newly baptised as they take on that special responsibility of helping them to live and grow as disciples of Christ.

We won’t have a discussion today, but I would like you all to think about two questions as you reflect on the story of the man born blind, and the call and gift of holy baptism. Those questions are, how can we change, and what change are we called to make in the world. And those changes begin with Christ in the waters of the font, to which we now turn.

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