The Fourth Sunday in Lent, 23 March 2020

I Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
St. John 9:1-41

During this Lententide, I shall devote this segment of the blog to quotations that might give depth and a reflective quality for the readings for this day.


 “’Blindness’ is Julian’s favorite characterization of our failings and our sins—and it is an important one for a modern Christian. We have a hard time thinking of God as a Being whom we simply do not generally experience. Instead, we seem to demand God’s manifestation to us on our terms, and have forgotten that for at least 1500 years of Christian history, the experience of the “Absence of God” (or the lack of experience of the Presence) would be attributed not to a failure on God’s part, but to a failure on the part of humankind. It is that “failure,” from Julian’s point of view, that is our blindness. God surrounds and encloses us—and most of the time we do not know it because we are not looking or seeing the Divine Reality on whom we are grounded. There has been no wrathful withdrawing on God’s part; there is only sinful myopia on our parts. God is not dead and not “gone” for Julian: for her God is utterly present in our nature and soul, but often invisible because of our own inadequate sight. Julian would have a word for the Death-of-God theorists, and it would be that it is only the shadow of our own mortality with its present shallowness and ridiculous pride that “requires” that God prove himself to us on nonspiritual terms. We, on the one hand, are concerned by what we think about God; on the other hand, Julian knows what God thinks about us, and that far outshines our self-centered presumption.[1]

First Reading: I Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, 

“The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Our pericope begins with a dialogue between Samuel and God and then continues with acts invited by God, and pursued in a halting manner by Samuel. The important verb is revealed in the first verse, “I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” The “I have provided”, may also be translated “I have seen”, which becomes a primary note in the readings for today. God sees, but Samuel does not necessarily see. What follows is a plan to enact God’s will but hidden from Saul and his party. A sacrifice is planned, and Samuel is seen in the role of priest. 

The precariousness of the situation is not hidden from the townspeople – they tremble at the presence of the Seer and in light of the politics of the situation. Samuel greets them with peace and the review of the sons of David continues. Each of the sons pass before Samuel who sees in them something that God does not see. Something or someone is lacking. Samuel is aware that his sight as a Seer is lacking, and he announces that the Lord has not chosen any of these. Is there not one more?

The text rejoices in what we see in David, “Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome.” God is attracted as well, “This is the one”. There is anointment and even more importantly the coming of the Spirit. Saul in the meanwhile is living with a different spirit – one of depression and despair.

Breaking open I Samuel:

1.        What evades you in your life?
2.        What does God ask of you that you can’t quite see?
3.        What is the beauty in leadership?

Psalm 23 Dominus regit me

     The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
     He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
     Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
     You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
     Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

This is the perfect psalm to accompany the first reading, although we shall sing it again in the Sundays of Easter. The shepherd is a reflection of the King David, and such a comparison of the king and the shepherd is common in the ancient near east. The actions are the actions of a leader and protector. The king acts as God would act. There is protection in dire circumstances, even in the face of death. There is provision in the face of need and hunger, and such is the desire of any people of their king and their God. Thus the last verse looks forward to a pilgrimage and dwelling in the Temple of YHWH. 

Breaking open Psalm 23:
  1. Who shepherds you?
  2. For whom are you a shepherd?
  3. How is God a shepherd to you?

Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14

Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

Again the theme is repeated for us, “Once you were in darkness.” Paul uses the ideas of blindness and sight to speak about the Ephesians as children of light. The whole of the larger pericope (4:17-5:20) has been characterized as “The Sons of Disobedience and the Children of Light”. This rings bells – a seeming influence of Qumran and the Essenes. Paul, however, strikes a different tone – later he will espouse not the separation of peoples, but rather the community in Christ. Paul does not desire that we sleep through the troubles of our time, but that they be exposed for what they are, as we shine the light of our lives in Christ upon them.

Breaking open Ephesians:
  1. What in the world are you blind to?
  2. How does your faith help you to see?
  3. To whom do you need to show light?

The Gospel: St. John 9:1-41

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus revealed himself as the Light of the World (John 8:12). Indeed it was one of his revelations made at the well in Samaria (see Lent III Lectionary). Now, in this pericope he encounters the blindness of a man, and the misunderstanding of his disciples. They come by it honestly for it was the tradition of their fathers and mothers (see Deuteronomy 28:28). Such was the punishment of God on those who did not follow the provisions of the covenant. However in this encounter Jesus introduces us to a new understanding of covenant and sin. What Jesus does for the blind man is the stuff of the incarnation – it is very fleshy. Spit, mud, water – this is the stuff of our humanity. The blind man does see, however. He has a spiritual sight much like that of the Virgin Mary. He listens and then does.

Unlike Mary, who ponders, this man testifies and relates what he has heard and seen. For such a witness he is driven out. The witness, however, is made more complete in the following passages. Jesus questions him about what he believes, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man says something that we all should hear, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” The bland man encourages us to hear and to tell. The conundrums that close the pericope, the observations that define the Pharisees, sight and blindness, are a startling testimony to who Jesus has turned the world upside down. The blind man sees, and the sighted remain in their sin.

Breaking open Gospel:
1.        What are your thoughts about sin?
2.        What do you choose not to see?
3.        What do you need to see?

General Idea:              On Seeing

First Lesson:               Samuel sees but does not see (First Reading)

Second Lesson:           Seeing God’s gifts (Psalm)

Third Lesson:             How to live in the light (Second Reading)

Fourth Lesson:           How to not make assumptions (Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

All questions and commentary copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     John-Julian, (2009), The Complete Julian of Norwich, Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, Kindle Edition, pp. 11-12.


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