The Fourth Sunday in Lent - 3 April 2011


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

                                                                                       



















BACKGROUND: Samuel

The books attributed to this prophet, judge, military leader, and kingmaker in the Hebrew Scriptures were most likely not written by him.  There is the evidence to too many hands, and with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, there are significant variants.  The book, however, is important in our understanding Israel as it moves from a loose federation of tribes into a monarchy following the patterns of its Canaanite neighbors.  On the cusp of this change, Samuel becomes both the apologist and the critic of the monarchy.  Two great sagas, that of Samuel himself, and that of David are both set forth in the book(s) (The book was divided into two sections with its translation into Greek under the patronage of the Ptolomies in Egypt).  Other theological points in the text, which is rather disjointed and hardly homogenous, are the cult of early Israel, the beginning of the prophets and the priesthood, and the theology that surrounded the monarchy itself.

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.

Samuel anoints David
The prophet Samuel functions on several levels as we read about him in the book(s) ascribed to him.  What we are really seeing are the two distinct strands, each with a different political point of view, that are wound together to create what we know as I and II Samuel.  The writer sets a theme of fear and anxiety as the story of David’s anointing is told.  Here we see the prophet in roles not usually ascribed to the prophets.  His  role as a spokesperson for YHWH is consistent with the prophetic call.  That he invites and presides over a sacrifice for Jesse, his sons, and the leaders of Bethlehem, is most unusual, since only priests (Levites) could officiate over such ceremonies.  However, we are dealing with a figure that is being led and directed by God – so all the rules are broken.  This is a clandestine meeting, treasonable, if you wish.  Thus all are anxious.  Samuel reviews all of Jesse’s sons, but God finds none of them acceptable.  One is missing, David, the shepherd.  This is the one that God directs Samuel to anoint.  With this act the stories of Saul and David overlap.  Why this reading on this particular Sunday?  Perhaps it is that some choices are God’s choices.  David and the man-born-blind (Gospel) are the outliers, sitting at the edge of the perception of society.  The people who surround these characters have bound them in with their own perceptions and opinions.  God, however, has a different idea.

Breaking open Samuel:
  1. Do you see God’s hand in the choices you’ve made in your life?
  2. If so, where and when?
  3. Have you ever countered when God was moving you in a certain direction.

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.



The good shepherd


There is not much to expound in this popular psalm.  The image of God as shepherd is so completely concrete in its comparison, and so utterly simple in its allusions that there is not much left to say.  There are some details, however, that can help us know the psalm better.  In the “he restoreth my soul” passage, there is a deeper sense in the Hebrew vocabulary.  The phrase actually means that someone has stopped breathing, and that God breathes new breath into the one whose life is in jeopardy.  In verse five, there is mention of an anointing with oil, but the verb used here makes reference to a sensual use rather than a medicinal or sacramental use.  What follow is also a luxury of things: oil, a table of foods, and a cup filled to the brim with good wine.  Such it is to live in God’s house.

Breaking open Psalm 23:
1.     How has God been your shepherd?
2.     Do you fear death?
3.     With what good things has God gifted you?

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."




This passage may have roots in the theology of Qumran and the Essenes, where darkness and light are contrasted and represent different aspects of the righteous and the unrighteous.  The Gnostics had similar distinctions, but here the author (perhaps not Paul) aligns the followers of Christ with light.  Thus he can talk about their former life, before Christ, as a life in darkness.  This is a powerful metaphor for a people who did live a significant portion of their lives without artificial light.  We who live in an electronic era do not understand the profundity of darkness, or the relief and freedom of light. 

The passage quotes what is perhaps an ancient baptismal him, in which Christ is seen as the true light, and the rites of Baptism as a rising (like Christ) not only from sleep, but from the dead as well.

Breaking open Romans:
  1. What is darkness in your life and what is light?
  2. How do you deal with the darkness?
  3. What does the light in your life enable?

Saint John 9:1-41

As he 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."


St. James Cathedral, Seattle
Jesus heals the man born blind
In this reading we have two progressions.  The first is the “trial” of the man born blind, and the second is the growth of this man’s faith.  There are several characters in this story: the disciples, who question Jesus’ about the man born blind; the Jews and Pharisees who witness the healing or who pass judgment on the man and on Jesus; the man’s parents, the man born blind; and Jesus.  The parallel progressions each teach two different lesions.  The trial section begins with the disciples’ question about the man’s life.  “What was his sin?” they ask.  From then on, various persons condemn the man for his following of Jesus, for being healed on the last day, and for his sins.  The purpose of this progression is to point out that the disciples’ initial question was out of order, and to prefigure the trial of Jesus himself in the trial and questioning of the man born blind. 

The second progression details the man’s coming to faith in Jesus.  It is gradual and contained.  He first acknowledges his interaction with “the man called Jesus,” and then progresses to “He is a prophet.”  At another questioning he acknowledges Jesus through the efficacy of Jesus’ action, “I can now see.” but this does not astonish him.  He is astonished about the lack of faith of the Pharisees.  Finally, after he has been put out of the Synagogue, Jesus seeks him out, and the man completes his journey of faith, with the words, “Lord, I believe”.  Implicit in this story is John’s insistence that the Pharisees would have been blessed with blindness for in that state they could have realized with their spiritual status really was.  Another point: usually it is the first lesson that comments on the Gospel on any given Sunday.  Here it is the second lesson, and its commentary on the light that underscores the teaching in the Gospel

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What was (is) your journey of faith like?
  2. If there is blindness in your life, what is it about?
  3. Have you ever suddenly “seen the light”?  Where? When?

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.

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