One of the reasons this Sunday’s Gospel reading is my favorite is all the little quirks you find in the original Greek text. This passage is full of them (John chapter 9).
Now people tend to get intimidated and annoyed when I start doing Greek on them, so I’m going to spare you that this time. I’ll just explain a couple of those issues without getting philological (i.e., getting geeky over nitty-gritty language details).
The first quirky Greek thing that strikes me when I read this passage is the repetition of the verb “open.” John uses the verb “open” 7 times, but it is the way he uses the word, not just the fact that he repeats it. The word is always in the same tense form (passive voice is used only once), but he spells the exact same word 3 different ways.
This is odd, because although the spelling is correct (example: spelled and spelt are both acceptable spellings for the simple past tense of the verb “spell” in English), why would anyone use 3 different spellings of the same word in one chapter? Do you think he just wanted to vary things up a bit?
I think he’s being emphatic. John wants to drive home a point by calling the reader’s attention to a key word; changing it up (unnecessarily) is his way of doing that. He wants to stress the dire need to open our eyes, or rather, for Jesus to open them for us. Here are the parts, in English, which use the verb open. Pay attention to what else is going on when this verb appears:
- “How were your eyes opened?” He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes …”… “Where is he?” He said, “I don’t know.”
- Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath.
- “What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
- “We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes.”
- “How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
- “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.”
- “It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”
A quick analysis reveals there are three elements at play in this passage: The repetition of the verb open; this verb always has some reference to Jesus, and more importantly, who he is; now, here’s the interesting thing, the references to Jesus entail or reveal the degree to which the speaker or listener knows Jesus.
The dialogue in this passage is all about knowing Christ, or in some cases, not knowing him. While the pharisees persist in stubborn ignorance, the man whose eyes Jesus opened grows in his knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is. Incidentally, the verb “know” is used 11 times in this Gospel (same tense, same spelling, but it really is a cool Greek verb! “oida” — sorry, had to throw that in). Now, this is where it starts to get very interesting.
It is ironic, while the pharisees are trying to get down to the bottom of the nitty-gritty details — who opened whose eyes, and why, and how, and when, and why he did it when he did — they just keep showing off how little they are able to know, precisely because their minds and hearts are closed. And obviously their ears too.
These pharisees are unable to experience Joy. They are closed to the Holy Spirit, therefore, they cannot see God and cannot know him.
Is this Gospel all about pharisee bashing? No. That’s never what it’s all about. So we must ask, what’s in this Gospel for us? Very subtly, we are being urged to examine ourselves.
Here is one way to examine ourselves, which can be helpful, if we are open to it. During the confiteor at Mass (when we pray: “I confess to Almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters…), we have an opportunity to scrutinize ourselves and we should take advantage of it. When we say the words, “I have sinned… in my thoughts, and in my words, in what I have done, and what I have failed to do…” Are we thinking about these things as we are saying them? If not, what are we confessing? Actually, what we should be asking is if not, why not?
I don’t mean to be a kill joy. Today is, after all, Laetare Sunday! What I’m asking is to consider what could be an impediment to the JOY God wants us to have. This actually is the reason we have a penitential rite at the very beginning of Mass. It isn’t to scourge ourselves and feel like bad, awful, undeserving little creatures — No! It’s for just the opposite reason. We need to open up to see more clearly the things we need to see, to ask for the healing and forgiveness we need, and then we will be disposed for God’s Joy.
We need this Joy. The Church strategically places these “Joy Feasts” — Gaudete and Laetare Sunday — during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent for a very good reason. We need to experience God’s Joy as a fruit of his grace, along with our humble effort and desire to do his will. What’s more, God wants us to have this Joy as a fruit of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.
Perhaps, all this talking about joy does not tell you what joy is, because joy (or JOY) is not the type of thing we can convey by merely explaining it (kind of like explaining the taste of bacon, you have to taste it to enjoy it). So I decided to throw in a little something extra — just a gratuitous gimmick — to give you an small taste of joy.
I could not help smiling when I watched this video and I bet you can’t either.
Alright, that was just one guy playing 5 plastic trombones. If you got some joy out of that, you get the idea. You don’t have to work for joy. It’s a gratuitous benefit that comes from allowing yourself to have the right experience. There’s a greater Joy God wants you to have today. Enjoy Laetare Sunday!