I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will have the light of life.
The Scripture readings today present an interesting contrast. The passage we have from the Book of Maccabees describes the decline of religious belief among the people of Israel during the second century BC. As it is presented, the cause of the decline is pressure from the oppressive Seleucid empire combined with poor leadership both by the corrupt King of Israel and the religious leaders. Weak leadership combined with the desire of many of the people to be accepted by their powerful conqueror and to take on their Hellenistic values led first to a decline in traditional Judaism and then to the outright persecution of those who wanted to follow the traditional Jewish laws and practices. Our reading ends with the comment, “Terrible affliction was upon Israel.”
The Gospel for today narrates the encounter of Jesus with a blind man. When he hears that Jesus is passing by, he calls out to him asking for pity. The disciples tell the blind man to be quiet so as not to disturb Jesus. However, Jesus, upon hearing the blind man’s cry, asks him what he wants from him. The blind man asks for sight. Jesus, commenting on the blind man’s faith, heals him.
The contrast present in the readings is the darkening of Israel’s faith and the consequent affliction it brought about in the first reading and the light and vision restored in the encounter of Jesus with the blind man in the Gospel.
Most all of us want to be respected and thought well of by our friends and neighbors. We also do our best to become prosperous. The question put to us by today’s readings is “To whom do we look for guidance in achieving our good name and our prosperity?” In the Book of Maccabees so many of the people of Israel looked to outside forces and strange (Hellenistic) values to bolster themselves and their fortunes. In the Gospel account we have today, the blind man looked with faith to Jesus. One approach brought darkness, the other light. Is there something here for us to ponder?
Fr. Michael Higgins, C.P. is the director of retreats at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.