All of us need help or healing at some stage in our lives. Photograph: Getty Images

Gordon Linney

Sat Mar 18 2023 – 10:00

It’s nice to be on the winning side. I felt that recently when my long-struggling soccer team, Manchester United, beat Newcastle to claim the Carabao Cup – their first piece of silverware since 2017. (Since then they have not done so well.) Their star player Marcus Rashford has been an inspiration not only on the football field but off it with his campaigns for deprived children in the UK. He attributes this work to his Christian faith: “The faith we have in God is shown by the people that we are. For me and my family, that’s definitely the case.”

I imagine I will not be alone in hoping to be on the winning side again for todays’ rugby match between Ireland and England. We cannot, however, always be winners, something the author Neville Ward was aware of when he wrote: “Failure is as much a part of life as success and by no means something in front of which one sits down and howls as though it is a scandal and a shame.”

Tomorrow’s reading from First Samuel tells how David came to be leader of his people. He would go on to capture Jerusalem circa 1,000 BC – an event that has consequences to this day. But the reading also records the failure of Saul, his predecessor, first king of Israel and described as “a man of personal courage … generous to his foes.” The day David won, Saul was the loser.

The gospel reading introduces another loser, a blind man, living in poverty and depending on charity to survive. His disability is judged to be the result of sin and therefore grounds for exclusion according to those who thought they knew better. (Mother and Baby Homes come to mind.) This poor man, disabled from birth, is doomed to be a loser, until he meets Jesus.

This is not just a story about one man’s blindness but rather about society and what it chooses to see and not see. Some scholars say that the Greek translated “a man born blind” could also mean “humanity, blind from birth”. The people judging the man did not see him even though they regularly passed by him. This is an unsettling message for anyone travelling the streets of our towns and cities, streets that are home to so many “losers”, unwanted and therefore unseen. Jesus left us in no doubt as to where he stood: “For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” The Christian gospel is a charter for the rights of this world’s losers.

Human weakness is the raw material of God’s restorative work, but modern society, obsessed with appearances, is uncomfortable with suggestions of personal weakness or loss, that any of us might need help or healing. St Patrick, who we honoured yesterday, had no such difficulties: “‘I am Patrick, a sinner, most uncultivated and least of all the faithful and despised in the eyes of many.” To some extent all of us live in a false world of success and achievement even though buried deep within us there may well be memories of failures and losses, things we have said or done that we wish we hadn’t said or done. An old saying reminds us that “denial is not a river in Egypt”; it’s a negative force that can burden any of us with guilt and remorse because we are or have been losers at some stage in our lives but find it difficult to acknowledge.

But Fr Richard Rohr offers this reassurance: “The great thing about God’s love is that it’s not determined by the object. God doesn’t love us because we are good. God loves us because God is good.” Something to hold on to.

The Irish Times

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