lent The Sánchez Archives


Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

Obstacles and Triumphs

1 SAMUEL 16:1,6-7,10-13
JOHN 9:1-41

History is replete with stories of people who triumphed over seemingly insurmountable disadvantages and challenges. Homer was blind, as was John Milton, but both men achieved unparalleled status as poets. Beethoven was deaf when he composed his Ninth Symphony, so deaf that when his work was first performed, he could not hear a note of the magnificent ode, “Joy, thou heavenly spark of Godhead with which the symphony concludes. Thomas Edison, who lost his hearing at the age of eight went on to invent over 100 useful inventions, including the phonograph and moving pictures. Alexander the Great and Alexander Pope suffered skeletal deformities as did Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Epictetus and Franklin Roosevelt. Francis Mouthelon, a man with no hands was awarded first prize by the French society of artists for the most excellent painting of 1875. Helen Keller, one of the world’s most renowned women, was blind, deaf and mute from early childhood yet she became a teacher, author and educator. Anne Sullivan, Keller’s teacher and companion for 49 years was half-blind at birth, orphaned and institutionalized as a young girl. Nevertheless, she devoted her life to the care of the blind; when Sullivan became totally blind as an adult, Keller took on the role of teacher, helping her devoted friend to overcome her inability to see. George Frederick Handel, the great musician suffered several set-backs. He lost his health and his right side was paralyzed. When he lost his money, his creditors threatened to imprison him. In the throes of his darkest days, Handel composed his finest work, The Hallelujah Chorus, which is part of his Messiah, citing his faith in God as the only thing which sustained him. Triumphs such as these bolster the human spirit with the knowledge that handicaps and hardships need not be incapacitating; indeed such experiences can prove to be the impetus for achieving greatness.

During these weeks of Lenten preparation for Easter, each of us has ample cause to reflect on those challenges and obstacles which tend to handicap or even stunt our spiritual development. With the rest of humankind, we are subject to the hindrances of sin and its consequences. But, like the people mentioned above, we are also capable of overcoming whatever stands between us and the wholeness to which God calls us. At every moment of our existence, we are afforded the grace necessary to grow as committed, faithful disciples.

Each of the three readings for today offers an instruction for all who struggle against handicaps to holiness. The author of Samuel reminds his readers that those whom God involves in his saving plans are not necessarily those whom the world perceives as great. David, as the youngest of Jesse’s sons would probably have been last in line for a position of authority. But God, who judges by other standards, chose him to be king and graced him for his task with the gift of his spirit.

In the second reading, the author of Ephesians reminds his readers that before baptism, they had been prey to the darkness but through Christ, they had become citizens of light whose deeds were to reflect the privileges of their calling.

In the reading from John’s gospel, believers are invited to consider the spiritual odyssey of the unnamed blind man. Healed by Jesus, he was able to overcome his physical handicap. Moved to faith by this saving sign, he also gained his spiritual sight and went on to refute those who chose to remain in the darkness of their sin and disbelief.

During these last weeks of Lent, we who have been called to enjoy the triumph of Jesus’ resurrection are to confront whatever obstacles may hinder us from it.

1 SAMUEL 16:1,6-7,10-13

In his insightful and entertaining book, Illustrissimi, Albino Luciani (Pope John Paul I), penned a series of letters to such fictional and historical persons as mark Twain, Pinocchio, Figaro the Barber, Hippocrates, Guglielmo Marconi and Jesus. Luciani’s correspondence with these famous figures reflected the fact that he was first and foremost a pastor. Taking to heart the ancient Christian maxim, “per verbum and verbum, he believed that a believer could reach word of God through the study of the literary word. Within the familiar, conversant style of each letter, Luciani taught some aspect of the Christian ideal. The pope who died within five weeks of his 26 August, 1978 election, wrote in his letter to David, king of Israel, “The Bible presents the various components of your personality: poet and musician, brilliant officer, a shrewd king, sometimes involved--alas! not always happily--with women and in harem intrigues with the consequent family tragedies; and, nevertheless, a friend of God, thanks to your noble piety, which kept you aware of your insignificance in the face of God.” (Illustrissimi, Letters from Pope John Paul I, Little, Brown and Co., Boston: 1978).

David’s insignificance is also acknowledged in this excerpted reading from 1 Samuel. Youngest son of Jesse, left at home to tend the family’s flocks, David was nevertheless, the one who was chosen by God to be king because the “Lord who looks into the heart” (vs 7) judges people according to a different standard. David’s youthful inexperience which appeared to his father, brothers and even to Samuel to be an obstacle which would have prevented his accession to the throne did not deter the saving plan of God.

By his anointing, David was consecrated or set apart by God for special service. In Jewish tradition, the anointing signified the presence of the Lord’s spirit with his anointed or messiah. There are two other instances of David being anointed at Hebron, first by the tribes of Judah (2 Samuel 2:4) and then by those of Israel (2 Samuel 5:4). These later anointings signified the veneration and allegiance of the tribes for their new king.

At baptism, human insignificance is anointed and set apart by God for special service. Endowed with the presence of his Spirit, the faithful are also empowered to overcome the obstacles inherent in Christian living.


Conversion is described in a number of ways in scripture, e.g. as a change of mind, a change of heart, a change in one’s direction in life, a change of clothes, as putting on a new person (Galatians 3:27), as putting on armor (Romans 13:14), as the return of an errant spouse to a faithful partner (Hosea), as the homecoming of exiles from a foreign enslavement, etc. In this short pericope from Ephesians, conversion has been portrayed in terms of darkness and light.

Prior to their coming to faith, believers were in the darkness of sin, but through their baptismal initiation they have been ushered into the light. Those who have been reborn through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus are thereby children of light whose lives must thereafter be consonant with their parentage. As Max Zerwick once explained, children (vs. 8) is a Semitic manner of expressing a very intimate relationship and it may be helpful to recall its origin: “Like Father, like son. Habits of thought and particular life-styles are transmitted along with life and existence. The child is the father of the man. So also here: to be born of light obligates one to be like the light -- this is the obligation” (The Epistle to the Ephesians, Herder and Herder, new York: 1969).

Thus reborn and obligated, believers’ lives are to be characterized by goodness, justice and truth (vs. 9). Goodness (agathosune in Greek) means a benevolent generosity which is manifest in a loving, kindness toward others. Justice (dikaiosune in Greek) or righteousness means giving to God and to others what is their due. Truth (aletheia in Greek) is not an abstract entity to be grasped by the intellect; “it is moral truth, not only something to be known but something to be done” (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible, St. Andrews Press, Edinburgh: 1976).

Many scholars regard this text as a fragment from an ancient hymn (vs. 14) and part of an early baptismal liturgy. Waking from the sleep of death and sin, believers celebrated the sacrament of their baptism as the gift of a new day of life and light. With the coming of each morning’s dawning, we are reminded that our commitment to Christ should produce light in the world and with the coming of each evening’s darkness, we are warned of the consequences of our failure to do so.

JOHN 9:1-41

A hero of disciples and a model for catechumens since the first Christian century, the unnamed protagonist of today’s gospel was depicted no less than seven times in the art of the catacombs. The man born blind, who was gifted with physical and spiritual sight by Jesus, also found mention in the writings of Tertullian, Justin Martyr and Augustine. After being consecrated as bishop of Hippo, Augustine wrote, “This blind man stands for the human race; if his blindness is infidelity, then his illumination is faith. He washed his eyes in the pool (Siloam) which is interpreted, ‘one who has been sent’; he was baptized in Christ” (In Jo. 44:1-2). Tertullian also regarded the experience of the man born blind as having baptismal significance. In his tractate on the sacrament he explained, “The present work will treat of our sacrament of water which washes away the sins of our original blindness and sets us free unto eternal life” (Sources Chrétiennes 35:64, Cerf, Paris).

An astounding event, Jesus’ healing of the blind man has been nevertheless described simply and briefly, in only two verses. Rather than concentrate on the wondrous nature of Jesus act of power (called a sign in the fourth gospel) the evangelist focused on its theological impact. The healing of the blind man and the discourse which accompanied it served as evidence in support of Jesus’ earlier proclamation, “I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark; he will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus repeated this self-identification in John 9:5 and thereby challenged those in darkness to open their eyes in faith to the healing and salvation he had to offer.

Reminiscent of the role of the Isaiah servant (49:6), Jesus’ cure of the blind man declared to his contemporaries that his was a mission of revelation and illumination. Rejecting the popular but misguided notion that physical ills or handicaps were a punishment for sin, Jesus invited his contemporaries to recognize the man’s condition as an opportunity for God to manifest this saving power as a challenge to faith to all who witnessed it.

Notice that the healing of the blind man was described by the evangelist as a process involving clay, spittle, smearing or anointing of the eyes with the “salve” and a washing in water. Although these activities were considered to be work and therefore a breach of the Sabbath rest, Jesus (who had previously claimed for himself God’s prerogative to work on the Sabbath, John 5:15-20) proceeded to manifest his saving power over the darkness by curing the man. Early baptismal rituals incorporated similar gestures and the sacrament of baptism was referred to as enlightenment (Hebrews 6:4, 10:32; Justin Martyr, Apologia 1.61-12, 65:1)).

With increasing drama the narrative relates the blind man’s emergence from the darkness of ignorance and unbelief to a true and deepening knowledge of Jesus as the light of the world. In vivid contrast to the man’s climactic profession, “I do believe, Lord” (John 9:38) are the man’s parents who feared to speak their minds and the Pharisees, whose willful blindness to Jesus person and mission made them liable to judgment (John 9:23, 39-41).

A careful reading of this gospel with its references to expulsion from the synagogue (John 9:22, 33-35) reveals the fact that the evangelist infused his work with issues pertinent to his contemporaries. By the time the fourth gospel appeared (ca. 90s C.E.), conflict between official Judaism and Jewish Christians had increased dramatically. Wishing to rid themselves of what they perceived as heretical element, Jewish authorities officially banned Jewish Christians from synagogue worship. In the experience of the man born-blind, subjected to the cowardice of his parents and the scorn of the Pharisees but sought out by Jesus (John 9:35), the early Christians found a source of strength and courage. He remains so for all preparing for the renewal of baptism’s cleansing and healing which will come at Easter.

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Illustration prepared by Julie Lonneman.

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