In last week’s gospel account, Jesus encounters a woman sitting at a well. When he asks for a drink of water, she says, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” When he offers to give her living water, she responds with similar incomprehension: “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep.” The woman soon comes to believe that Jesus is some sort of “prophet.” Following her encounter, she returns to the village, asking the others whether Jesus could “possibly be the Messiah.” At the end of the story, what Jesus has been trying to convey all along is finally declared by the townspeople: He is “truly the savior of the world.”
The shifting names for Jesus in this story, from “Jew,” “Sir,” “Prophet,” and “Messiah,” to “Savior of the World,” are signs that a lack of faith eventually can give way to genuine belief. In a similar way, the story of the man born blind, who was given sight by Jesus in the gospel account this week, evinces the truth that faith can develop over time.
Jesus has gone up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, one of three obligatory annual pilgrimages to the Temple at that time. During a key moment, most likely after the ceremony of light that ended at dawn when the Jews would face away from the rising sun to repudiate pagan worship of the elements, Jesus announces that he alone is the true “light of the world.” He is faced with immediate rejection and an extended argument with “the Jews” erupts.
Soon thereafter, Jesus heals the man and again faces controversy from the Pharisees, who take exception to the healing because it occurred on the Sabbath. Over the course of a lengthy inquisition, the Jewish religious leaders increasingly demonstrate their blindness to Jesus’ identity, while the once blind man begins to see more clearly, first referring to Jesus as a “man,” then as a “prophet,” as one who is “from God,” and finally as the “Son of Man,” to whom he offers worship that is fitting only for God. Over time, the man healed of blindness comes to realize that Jesus is the light of the world.
The fifth century Christian writer, Prosper of Aquitaine, penned the now famous saying in Church theology: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, which is translated as “the law of prayer is the law of belief.” In other words, the Church has always acknowledged that what we believe comes out of how we worship, not the other way around. Because the true vocation of all human beings is the right worship of God, all faith first arises within liturgical ritual.
People come to church for many reasons, and not everyone sitting in the pews believes everything the Church teaches. But it is good that they are with us because, ultimately, spiritual growth and enlightenment are rooted in the practice of our communal prayer and worship. To grow in our faith through the liturgy should be our hope, as we continue to explore the various parts of the liturgy and what they say about our faith in our current message series, Mass Communication.
Father Roger Gustafson