Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent Year A
Theme: “Jesus spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the blind man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.’ Then he went and washed and came back able to see.” (John 9:6-7)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Homily for Sunday March 22 2020
Handed down to me by my father some years ago, Mom’s then recent death the occasion for his own reflections on mortality, the pocket watch, I knew, was one of Dad’s few material treasures, a link to his maternal grandfather who had died when Dad was very young. When he pulled the watch from his pocket and placed it in my hand that Saturday morning, both of us were awkwardly speechless. Dad just smiled and nodded as I choked out a barely audible “Thank you,” that brief, quiet moment the clarion of the passing of a generation.
In truth, it was several years before I could talk with Dad more about the watch’s history. When finally I did, I learned that his mother had offered it to him in the mid-1930’s when she was sure he’d be old enough to appreciate its significance. A Waltham with a 14-karat case dating to 1864, Dad only sported this ancestral timepiece on its gold chain when he was attired for some event of importance. Other than these occasions, the watch rested in a Moroccan leather pouch in Dad’s dresser. And now the watch does the same in my dresser. At least until a recent “Antiques Roadshow” spurred my curiosity.
The day after watching the show, in examining the watch more closely, I was struck by its weight—not so much its physical weight as the weight of its significance for generations of my family. My father had worn this watch at our baptisms and at family weddings and funerals. So, I imagined, had his father and his father before that. Of course this pocket watch was a weighty thing: I was holding in my hand my father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather.
The ability to see and value one’s heritage: that’s a theme we’re invited to reflect on as we hear today’s gospel passage. The story begins so simply. “Jesus spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the blind man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.’ Then he went and washed and came back able to see.” (John 9:6-7) And what trouble the miracle caused for that man, for Jesus, for the Pharisees and for the crowds! Accusations flew; turmoil reigned! Had a good thing been done in the healing or an evil thing, since the Sabbath law had been broken? Was this Jesus good or evil, for while he cured the sick, he defiled the Sabbath? In the end, it is the testimony of the man Jesus cured that confronts the crowd. Addressing Jesus, the man says, “I now see with my own eyes and believe with my whole heart and mind that you are the Son of God.” At the touch of Jesus, faith became his. At the touch of Jesus, faith is also ours. This is our Christian heritage.
At baptism our parents held us up that God might touch us with this new sight. The water poured upon us had the same effect as did the mud Jesus placed on the eyes of the blind man. He became sighted; so did we. Or at least the capability of sight became ours. But since that long-ago day of our baptism, some of us have become blind to our spiritual wealth.
When I opened the case of great-grandfather’s timepiece, a magnifier enabled me to read the serial number: 167,585. The Waltham pocket watch website’s listing of serial numbers dated this particular piece to 1864. There were no further engravings inside the case, just a bright gold mirror-like surface in which I could see my reflection. And as I continued to look, I swear I could see the faces of those who’d gone before me: men who’d worn this watch to family baptisms, weddings and funerals; men of faith whose graced sight enable me to see.