Year A — The Fourth Sunday in Lent

Apologies for the tardiness of this week’s post…we’ll see if we can’t get back on schedule from now on!

Commentary for April 3, 2011

Click here for today’s readings

1 Samuel 16:1-13
It is with more than a dab of discomfort that we confront this text that has God saying, “…I have rejected [Saul] from being king over Israel.” What do we do when we face the clear displeasure of the Lord with our chosen path and plan?

(Remember, the people had gone against the express will of both God and Samuel earlier by repeatedly affirming, “We want to be like the OTHER nations…we want a king!”) Now, the king was going crazy, and it didn’t seem like such a good idea after all…and on top of all that, God was p—-d!

There is distrust that abounds everywhere, for as Samuel approached the elders in Bethlehem they asked him, “Do you come in peace?” Even faithful old Samuel must have a few questions in his mind for God, as prime candidate after prime candidate passes before him, and yet each one is passed over by God. 

Finally, when it is all said and done, God tells Samuel to anoint the “runt of the litter.” Almost funny that, when the people picked their king, they chose head-taller-than-everybody-else Saul; when God picks the king, they get the shepherd boy. 

Something here about God’s propensity to choose the “foolish” things of the world in order to demonstrate God’s power, hmmm?

Psalm 23
Okay, so what do you want me to add to the voluminous commentary on Psalm 23? Wow…what a text!

Of course, it ties us to God’s selection of David as king for Israel; the shepherd boy becomes the shepherd of Israel. And it is his family line that will produce the Great Shepherd, Jesus the Christ.

The late Richard Carlson made publishing history (and not a few shekels, I’m sure) with his blockbuster little book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…(and it’s all small stuff!) It remains an excellent resource for learning to let go of our compulsive need to manage every detail of our daily lives.

David, the Shepherd/King, beat him to the punch by a few thousand years, though. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…”

Ephesians 5:8-14
Ephesians 5:10 makes for an excellent “life verse.” Write it down; paste it up on the fridge; carry it around on a card, or better yet, just go ahead and memorize it. You’ll never need to buy another self-help bestseller for as long as you live.

“Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.” One might add, “then do it.” 

John 9:1-41 
Dr. Chilton states in this week’s sermon that the story from John’s gospel for this week is a long one, with many twists and turns. True that, Dr. C.!

It requires a good bit of exegetical work to make this passage preach, and it is without hesitation that I commend to you the effort below to do just that.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Our Gospel lesson is a long story with many twists and turns.  It is a story that requires us to pay close attention to the double meaning of words.

It is also a story that reminds us that God looks at the world very differently than we do.

The story follows a fairly simple outline:

1) 1-7 – Jesus heals a man born blind

2)  8-12 – The neighbors are puzzled and ask questions.

3)  13–17 – The Pharisees are puzzled and ask questions.

4) 18-23 – The parents are puzzled and are asked questions and bail on their son.

5) 24-34- The Pharisees ask more questions, the man gives the best answers he can.  The Pharisees get mad.

6) 35-41- The man and Jesus talk. Jesus gives answers. Sort of.

In the midst of this simple story, lots of questions are raised, questions about the ways of God, questions about sin and punishment, questions about Good and Evil.

Mostly questions about Jesus; Who is he? Is he Good? Is he Evil? Is he the Devil? Is he the Messiah?

The story starts with Jesus seeing a man born blind and the disciples asking a, well, a stupid question.

At least it seems stupid to us, but it made perfect sense to them. They believed in a first century version of instant Karma, of direct punishment for sins. As the saying goes, “Somebody’s gotta pay!

The man was born blind, so it’s obvious his blindness is God’s punishment for some sin. But whose? Did the parents get a blind son as punishment for some sin of their own? Or is the man being punished for some cosmic sin committed in the spirit world?

This was a common belief at the time of Jesus. It is the result of a belief in a completely and totally fair and just God. And we fall victim to this sort of thinking all the time. “What did I do to deserve this?” we whine when something inconvenient happens to us; as if God sits in heaven with a sin-o-meter, keeping track of our misdeeds and meting out demerits for Sacred Honor Code violations.

But, it doesn’t work that way, which is a good thing for us; because if we really were directly punished for our sins, we’d all be a lot worse off than we are; me especially.

Jesus says that neither the man nor his parents are to blame, then he heals him; with mud and spit and a wash in the spring, all the while talking about being the light of the world and being about God’s work.

Then the cycle of questioning begins.

First the neighbors. And we have to admit; we’d be as amazed and confused and puzzled as they. He looks like the man born blind, but, but, this guy can see; how could that happen?

The Blind man kept saying. “It’s me. It’s really me.”And they kept saying, but how?  And the man told the simple unvarnished truth, without interpretation;

“This 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.”

Next it was the Pharisees turn, the religious right wing, those who were so certain they were right that they couldn’t see the forest for the trees, those who had created a strict understanding of how God works in the world, and no little miracle was going to change their understanding of God.

They were convinced that God had set up the world so that:
1) Sinners cannot do miracles.
2) Working on the Sabbath is a sin.
3) Healing is work.
4) Jesus healed/worked on the Sabbath.
5) Therefore Jesus was a sinner, and
6) Therefore, Jesus could not work a miracle.

The whole discussion with the Pharisees and his parents and the Pharisees again, from verse 13 to verse 34, revolves around these issues; and I do mean revolves.

The discussion goes around in circles as the man who once was blind sticks to his straight story about his healing; no interpretation, no elaboration. In the old TV show Dragnet style, he gives, “just the facts.”

“I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

And the Pharisees can’t take it. What has happened has broken their model for how God works.

Jesus does things that they consider sin, and sinners can’t work miracles and yet this man claims Jesus healed him. Does not compute! Does not compute!

In an article in Ministry magazine, Margaret Shuster, of Fuller Seminary in California says, “Some of us, . . .know too little about the seeming contrariness of God . . .” (Ministry, March 2008, p.11) I like that, “the seeming contrariness of God.”

We don’t like it when God gets contrary, do we? We like God to color between the lines, to follow the speed limit and stay in the right lane.

And the Bible shows us a God who likes to speed, who can sometimes barely keep it between the ditches, who not only does not color between the lines; it sometimes appears that God doesn’t even know that the lines are there.

If we try to see God and God’s activity in the world as limited by our ability to figure out how God could or should behave, we have created, in the words of bible translator JB Phillips, a “God who is too small.”

If you think you have God figured out, you are like the poster my wife used to have up over her desk when we were in college. It showed a grumpy looking Gorilla with its hands over its ears and its eyes closed. The caption read, DON’T CONFUSE ME WITH THE FACTS, I’VE ALREADY MADE UP MY MIND!

That was the Pharisees; they had already made up their minds. Though the neighbors and the parents swore that this man had been born blind, though it was obvious that he could now see, though it testified over and over that Jesus had done it, they couldn’t accept it; it did not fit their preconceived and thought out plan of how God works in the world. And so, they got mad and threw the man out.

Now we turn to the last paragraph, where John shows us the man born blind having a conversation with Jesus. Jesus reveals his identity as the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of Man. And the man born blind confesses his faith saying, “Lord, I believe!” Then John shows Jesus explaining what has just happened. Listen carefully:

I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.

John is using the two meaning of sight and blindness here. Physical sight and spiritual awareness, and is making it clear to the Pharisees that they are the truly blind people in the story.

When my boys were little, I taught myself a phrase to say when they goofed up, as kids are always going to do. Instead of yelling or fussing when they made a mess or broke something or got into a fight, I tried to always say, “Okay, what have we learned from this?”

It’s a good question to ask about this story, what have we learned from this?

1) We have learned that life is not exactly fair. We are not directly punished for our sins and we are not directly rewarded for our good deeds; which, for most of us, is a good deal; since our sins generally outweigh our good deeds.

2) We have learned that, in the words of the old Ray Stevens song, Everything Is Beautiful: “There is none so blind as he who will not see.”
The Pharisees refused to recognize that Jesus was a good man, a healer, perhaps a prophet, maybe the Messiah; because he did not fit their system. The question for us is simple: what truth about God have we failed to see because it does not fit with the way we want to see the world.

3) We have learned that the Bible teaches Jesus as more than a good man, a teacher of moral truth, an insightful interpreter of human nature. We have learned that the Bible teaches that Jesus is The Son of Man, the Christ, the Messiah, the Light of the world. That he came into this world to open our eyes to the truth about God and love and sin and forgiveness.

4) And we have learned that our calling is to be like the man born blind. We are called to tell the simple, clear unvarnished truth about how Jesus has touched and changed our lives. Nothing More and nothing Less.

We are called to say, One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.


2 thoughts on “Year A — The Fourth Sunday in Lent

  1. Pingback: Year A: The Fourth Sunday in Lent (March 30, 2014) | The Lectionary Lab

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