The word anoint shows up in our first reading, our psalm, and our Gospel. The blind man testifies that Jesus "anointed" him. This word choice is rather interesting for what really happened: mud was smeared on his eyes. Not nearly as attractive and easily-received as the traditional pouring of oil upon the head of the priest or king, as David is anointed today in the first reading.
King David himself wrote psalm 23, the most famous psalm of all, where God is seen as a shepherd. I can only wonder if David came up with this song during those countless hours of solitude in the fields and deserted places tending his own flocks, and realizing how much he felt like a little sheep being led and protected by God. Not very long, this psalm deserves to be read aloud:
The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.
You set a table before me
in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD
for endless days.
Near the end of the psalm, David has clearly not forgotten his anointing, perhaps awaiting for the day it will find its fulfillment as king, and then for his years as king, remembering the promise of his "heavenly shepherd."
ANOINTING is a prominent symbol of the Holy Spirit, and this passage is one of the most clear accounts for why that is so: "and from that day on, the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David."
We all have an anointing in our lives, too. At Baptism, we were anointed on the crown of our head with Sacred Chrism, right where David's head would have first received the oil from Samuel's horn. At Confirmation, that same sacred chrism is placed on our foreheads as we are told: "be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit." When I was ordained, the chrism was placed on the palms of my hands.
At all these moments, the Spirit of the Lord rushes upon us, and he enlightens the eyes of our minds.
Thus we, like the blind man, are able to see by the power of the Spirit rushing upon us. Spiritual sight is more important than physical. Thus the theme of sight and blindness, as you read the Gospel, goes much further and deeper than the physical reality.
That is the trick with John's Gospel - it sounds so simple and basic that it may be hard to see the fulness of what lies beneath the surface.
So when the man is "anointed" with mud, it was not just a medical procedure, but really a symbol or foreshadowing of the sacraments of initiation (baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist) wherein the new believer has the power to see for the first time! In Jesus, when we let Him anoint us in the sacraments, we can see reality more fully, not less fully. Spiritual sight is true sight, truer than this world's shadows and deceptions.
The grace of baptism and Confirmation which we all received, perhaps years and years ago, is still waiting to be unpacked for us during these especially unique days of our "super-Lent". We must ask Jesus to open our eyes to see for the first time what life is really about. Pray for the anointing once again.
O Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore You. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me Your orders. I promise to submit myself to all that You desire of me and to accept all that You permit to happen to me. Let me only know Your Will.