WALK IN THE LIGHT – Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A

March 19, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6 (1)
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1 (2-5) 6-9 (10-12) 13:17 (18-33) 34-38 (39-41)

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus proclaims, “I am the light of the world,” (Jn 9:5). Significantly, many early Christians looked to this story and to this powerful image of Christ for a deeper understanding of baptism, which they often referred to as enlightenment or illumination.

In the water, the eyes of our hearts and minds are opened to see as God sees. Our understanding is transformed by the Christ-light that shines into every corner of our lives and of the world around us. The baptized believer relies not merely on appearances but on the wisdom that comes from faith in Christ.

Although it is often said that “seeing is believing,” the story we hear today demonstrates just how deceptive our ordinary vision can be. This Sunday’s Gospel passage begins with an act of healing. Significantly, however, the greatest healing that takes place in this story is not the restoration of the blind man’s physical sight, but his growing appreciation that Jesus is the one sent by God and the faith that he comes to place in him. The man was able to see what the religious leaders could not. They thought that they could see clearly, and yet Jesus shows that they were quite blind. Seeing is not always believing.

All too often human beings view others and judge them based on outward appearances. At the beginning of the story, the man is known to everyone simply as the guy who was blind from birth. Because of his disability, he was pigeonholed, regarded with suspicion, and viewed as someone tainted with sin. He is portrayed in the story as the object of discrimination, someone held in low regard—a victim of flawed assumptions.

The healing of Jesus exposes this discrimination that is based on appearances. Did you notice that many people in the community didn’t even recognize the man when he is able to see; that his parents distance themselves from him out of fear; that the religious leaders taunt him as one born in sin?

The light of faith can unmask the ugliness of discrimination. Christ’s healing can open our eyes and our hearts to let go of false judgments based on disability, race, economic status, age, or any kind of outward appearance that inhibits accepting and loving people as they really are. We can instead look upon others, ourselves, and the world around us as God does, “for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).

At Easter—in just three weeks—some of us will be plunged into the waters of rebirth as together the whole community of believers recalls and renews the baptismal covenant. As we continue our journey toward Easter, today’s Gospel reading invites us to be cured of our spiritual blindness—to let go of our old ways of seeing and allow our vision to be guided by the light of Christ.

“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph 5:14)

A Hymn for Today: “See Whose Glory Fills the Skies / Jesus, the Light of the World”

The Gospel tune WE’LL WALK IN THE LIGHT, published by George D. Elderkin in 1890, is built on a refrain that invites the singing community to “walk in the light, . . . Jesus, the light of the world.” The refrain is usually paired with selected verses from Charles Wesley’s Christmas hymn, “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” Elderkin’s tune is crafted in a musical style that was popular at the time, often referred to as “gospel waltz.” To learn more about the complex history of this hymn, click here for a very informative article by C. Michael Hawn, FHS.

The editors of Voices Together, the newest hymnal of the Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada, have adapted verses from Wesley’s hymn, “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies” and used them in place of the Christmas text. In doing so, they have shifted the focus of this hymn from the light of Christ’s birth to the light of Christ’s risen glory that shines in the world and in our hearts today. See below for the version that appears in Voices Together in an arrangement by African American composer Evelyn Simpson-Curenton (b. 1953).

Though it originates from the white Gospel tradition, this hymn has been widely embraced and musically adapted by African American churches. Click here for a recording by the choir of Alfred Street Baptist Church, Alexandria, Virginia, singing this hymn with Wesley’s familiar Christmas text.

See whose glory fills the skies:
Jesus, the light of the world!
Sun of righteousness, arise:
Jesus, the light of the world! Refrain

We’ll walk in the light! Beautiful light!
Shine where the dewdrops of mercy shine bright.
Oh, shine all around us by day and by night,
Jesus, the light of the world.

Pierce the gloom of sin and grief,
Jesus, the light of the world!
Scatter all my unbelief,
Jesus, the light of the world! Refrain

More and more thyself display,
Jesus, the light of the world!
Shining to the perfect day,
Jesus, the light of the world! Refrain

Visit, then, this soul of mine,
Jesus, the light of the world!
Fill me, Radiancy divine!
Jesus, the light of the world! Refrain

Text: adapt. from Charles Wesley, 1707-1788, “Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies”; additional text and refrain George D. Elderkin, 1845-1928
Tune: WE’LL WALK IN THE LIGHT, George D. Elderkin

Image Credit: Colored light bathes the interior of Saint-Julien in Brioude, France

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

To receive these weekly reflections by email, please send a message to office@thehymnsociety.org and type “Lectionary” in the subject line.