1 Samuel 16, 1.4.6-7.10-13
Ephesians 5, 8-14
The biblical readings of this Sunday, centred on the symbol of “light”, continue the line of baptismal catechesis began the previous Sunday with the symbol of “water”. The consecration of David as king of Israel is an expression of the gratuitous love of God who chooses and, at the same time, is a prefiguration of the consecration of the Christian in the sacrament of Baptism (first reading). Paul celebrates the works of light as opposed to those of darkness (second reading). The Johannine narration of the man blind from birth to whom Jesus gives sight (light), inviting him to wash himself in the pool of Siloam (water), has been interpreted since ancient times as symbol of the way to conversion and of baptismal regeneration.
The first reading (1 Sam 16, 1.4.6-7.10-13) narrates the first appearance of David in the Bible and coincides with the decision of God who chooses him to be the king of his people. The Lord takes the initiative; Samuel is the official executor, curiously the people do not count, unlike what happened in the election of Saul, the first king (cf. 1 Sam 8). In the Bible, the whole story of David is explained in this event of gratuitousness of God. Later, the prophet Nathan will endorse the divine election with the prophetic word that will assure David, on behalf of God, the dynastic continuity in the throne of Israel (2 Sam 7).
The whole narration moves skilfully with the Hebrew root word ra’ah, with which the verb “(to) see” or “(to) look” (vv.1.6.7) and the noun “appearance” (v. 7) are formed. The divine election is expressed with the “seeing” of the Lord: “I have chosen myself a king.” (v. 1). The seeing of God is decision, action, gratuitousness and election. Samuel goes to Bethlehem as the Lord has commanded him and starts “to look”, one after the other, at all the sons of Jesse. He looks at the first, Eliab, and thinks that he is the chosen one. However, the Lord corrects him: “Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature… Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” (v. 7) God has seen one; Samuel has seen another. God sees with gratuitous love; Samuel lets himself be taken by external appearance.
And thus, finally, by expressed indication of the Lord, the youngest is anointed, David (vv. 10-13). The horn of oil poured on him and its penetrating the skin is an external expression of the “spirit of Yahweh”, who penetrates interiorly and remains in him constantly. The same ruah, the “spirit” that in ancient times had animated, even momentarily, the liberating action of the judges, now rests on the young shepherd who will become the shepherd of his people. Thus it will be sang in Psalm 78, 70-71: “And he chose David, his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob, his people, and Israel, his inheritance.”
Gratuitous election, royal anointing, presence of the Spirit are realities that anticipate the figure of the Messiah King, who, at the end of times “will rule over the house of Jacob forever and his reign will be without end.” (Lk 1,33) At the same time, they call to mind the sacrament of Christian baptism, through which the believer is recreated and anointed in the Spirit by virtue of the Paschal mystery.
The second reading (Eph 5, 8-14) develops the symbolic traditional antagonism existing between “light” and “darkness” (vv. 8-13), culminating in the image of Christ as morning light that announces the birth of a new dawn (v. 14). In the text, the world of light, with its works of justice and of truth, is opposed to the world of darkness with its works of lies and injustice. The text offers us a clear example of Pauline moral reflection, which could be summarised in these words: “Be who you already are.” Paul always starts from a concrete data, from a situation of grace in which the Christian finds himself: “There was a time when you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (v. 8a) Starting from this data, in fact, he invites to a coherence of life: “Live as children of light.” (v. 8b) The imperative (“live as children of light”) is based on the indicative (“you are light in the Lord”). The text ends with some words that seem to come from an old hymn to Christ Light. It deals with a pressing exhortation. It is necessary to wake up from the dead (darkness) and to begin to live (light), allowing oneself to be illumined by the Risen Christ, light that illumines humanity: “Awake, O sleeper, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” (v. 14)
The gospel (Jn 9, 1-41), more than a narration of a miracle, is a story of conversion. In effect, the healed blind man culminates his itinerary of transformation prostrating himself before Jesus and saying: “I do believe, Lord.” (v. 38) The blind man in the Johannine account calls to mind the way of all those who, having encountered Jesus, pass from the darkness of incredulity to the light of faith.
The account is set by John in the feast of Booths or of the Tabernacles, a joyful memory of the stay of the Israelites in the desert (Jn 7, 2) On the occasion of the feast, the priest got water from the pool of Siloam and poured it on the altar and, at dusk, the whole holy city of Jerusalem was illuminated fantastically by stakes and torches placed on the walls of the Temple. Water and light, therefore, were the main symbols of this Jewish feast. Water and light will also be the central elements of the miracle worked by Jesus in that blind man.
The event of “opening the eyes of the blind”, in the Old Testament theology, was already a specifically Messianic element (Is 6, 9-10; 29, 9-12; 35, 4). Jesus is the true Messiah, “light of the world” (Jn 8, 12). In our text, Jesus is justly compared with “the day” (v. 4). He is the luminous truth who opens to humanity an infinite horizon of life and of hope. The waters of the pool of Siloam had already been presented by the Prophet Isaiah in symbolical key. Its waters, which run gently and quietly, are a symbol of the secret but effective action of God who saves and protects his people, in contrast to the turbulent and magnificent rivers of the military and political superpowers, as in the case of Egypt and Babylon. The Evangelist, forcing the real etymology, even interprets the noun “Siloam” in messianic key: “Siloam means ‘Sent’” (v. 7). For John, the waters of Siloam, therefore, not only evoke divine power, but also the messianic and saving work of Christ.
The Christian tradition has rightly seen in this text the itinerary of conversion, of faith and of baptismal regeneration. The blind man who passes from darkness to light is, in a certain way, the model of the faith that grows and matures. His way is a progressive recognition of the truth of Jesus, from the initial moment in which he finds himself with him until the supreme moment of the confession of faith. At first, he sees only a man in Jesus (v. 11: “That man they call Jesus”), then he confesses to the Pharisees that “he is a prophet” (v. 17), much later, he sees him as one who comes from God (v. 33: “If this man were not from God, he could never have done such a thing.”) and finally, he confesses him as “Son of God and Lord”, prostrating himself at his feet in an act of worship proper of a believer (v. 38: “I do believe, Lord.”). The text, in effect, concludes with the liturgical adoration and acclamation Kyrie, Lord!
The progressive approach towards the light by the blind man corresponds negatively to the progressive blindness of the Jews, a group that symbolises incredulity and rejection of faith. The Jews judge Jesus; the blind man is opened to a new truth. The Jews reason out from the law and from external observance. They believe they know. And for this, they do not open themselves to the light. Their arrogant knowledge does not permit them to know the truth of Jesus and they end up being blind. They end up closing themselves in the darkness of incredulity. The blind reasons out from his poverty and from his ignorance. He only knows that he has been saved and that he has been gratuitously brought to light. He will deepen progressively in his new knowledge until he reaches the fullness of faith. This comparison is, for John, central in the work of Jesus, who will say in the end: “It is for judgment that I have come into this world, so that those without sight may see and those with sight turn blind.” (v. 39)
The way of faith of the man blind from birth is a model itinerary for all believers. His passage from darkness to light coincides with a progressive growth in the true knowledge of Jesus. It is necessary that all Christians grow continuously in the knowledge of God in order that baptism and the other ritual expressions of faith will not be reduced to magical and useless acts.