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Fourth Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

 

1. First Book of Samuel 16, 1-13

  • I should note that all three readings have to do with blindness and vision, appearance and reality, from ignorance to awareness and understanding. 
  • The liturgical commission excised several verses that set the scene for this passage.  In so doing it followed the ancient Christian practice of applying the Hebrew scriptures to Jesus.  But then we lose an appreciation of the general fear that gripped Samuel and the people, and of the deception that they had to practice to avoid King Saul’s secret agents.  I will do what I can to address the tension that surrounded Samuel’s visit to Bethlehem and to the home of Jesse.
  • I am reading one of the legends of the origins of David, and I will use my best narrative voice.  The moral is one common to the history of Israel: that those who deliver the nation are of humble origin: the youngest who is ending the sheep. 
  • I want the assembly to remember above all the counsel that God gave to Samuel: Not as man sees does God see … the Lord looks into the heart. 
  • I will pass from one son to the other, saying their names confidently as if I were their first cousin.  Although my Samuel is old and wise in the ways of God, I want him to learn a new lesson today.  When he sees the first son he says almost automatically: Surely the Lord’s anointed is here, but when he reaches the last he has become more cautious, more sensitive to God’s way of looking into hearts.
  • And so when we get to David, I convey the impression that I was not all that much surprised, that if he had been in the room I would have picked him out!
  • Samuel is hiding his true intentions under the pretext of a liturgy!  Let me remind the assembly that we are being called back to that ancient liturgy of Israel.
  • Finally I am reminding the church, and especially the candidates for confirmation, that David is being anointed as they will soon be.  The anointing is crucial to the reading, and I will tie it directly to the spirit of the Lord that rushed upon David.  I make it clear that this entire event is God’s doing, that God is caring for the people, and that we share in that same Spirit that David received.
  • My challenge today: to project in my voice the people’s fear of a jealous King.

 

2. Ephesians 5, 8-14

  • I hear an admonition by the apostle and a verse from an old baptismal song, an echo of our Christian beginnings.  How can I take us back there as I read?
  • I could direct this passage right to our candidates for the sacraments of initiation, reminding them that they have changed their lives and become light in the Lord.
  • I am reading an exhortation from the first century, an appeal to honorable conduct.  I present a stark contrast between darkness and light: no middle ground here.  Though the apostle does not identify the works of darkness, we all have our own ideas of them.  We have all listened to sermons on this topic. 
  • On the one hand he denounces misguided actions by people who have no aim in life.  This kind of darkness is opposed by the light of goodness, righteousness and truth, and these are basic attributes of God who is good, just and faithful. 
  • At the same time he warns against a life of secrets and deception that is countered by total transparency in the light.
  • My guide is Christ.  For me the high point of the reading comes at the very end.  I go lyrical as I almost entone the hymn: Awake!  Christ will give you light.
  • I speak with an upbeat voice, calling the church to take pride in its calling to openness and light in its dealings with each other and the world outside.
  • My challenge today: to bring to life the baptismal hymn that climaxes the reading.

 

Gospel.  John 9, 1-41

  • This Gospel is filled with tension because of a good thing Jesus did.  A blind man can see.  His neighbors doubt him, the teachers accuse him and his parents, his parents disown him, then he challenges the teachers, and finally the teachers expel him from the synagogue.  I want to maintain the sharp edge of all these encounters, because John intended them, especially because Jesus provoked them.
  • I also see a subtle transition here.  After he recovers his sight, the man merely reports what happened to him.  He thinks he knows what happened, but then it dawns on him that something else is at work in his life.  From reporter he shifts to witness and finally to believer.  My tone of voice will show this transition.
  • Jesus said that the works of God are made visible through him.  He could have said that they become visible in him also, because the man himself underwent a complete transformation from objective sinner to subjective believer.
  • I can emphasize other key themes as I read:

o       Jesus begins the good work as an object lesson for his disciples: As long as I am in the world I am the light of the world.  When he finishes, there is a lesson for everyone.

o       The man who was born blind seems to understand, and much better than anyone else, the truth in what is happening: He is a prophet.  And: When did such a thing ever happen before?  The contrast between vision and blindness echoes in all the world’s literature (King Oedipus, King Lear).  I want our candidates, and the entire assembly, to reflect on the way Jesus has brought true sight to this man and to all of us.

o       Finally, when Jesus seeks him out the second time, he finds a truly changed man ready to confess his faith: I do believe, Lord.

  • Every time I say Now I see!  I exude pure enjoyment and wonder at what is happening to this man.  It’s a little like outgrowing my clothes or acquiring a new stronger voice.  I can answer them-- let them throw me out for all I care!  When I fall down before Jesus I do it not from weakness but from profound gratitude. 
  • I won’t treat the “Jews” as the heavies of the reading, but as the establishment of the time who have all the answers and leave no room for the miraculous.  There will always be an establishment, and we have traces of it in ourselves.  When I say: We know that this man is a sinner, I should remember that their way of knowing comes from folklore and literal reading of the Bible, and not from experience of God’s ways or prayerful reflection of the inner meaning of the Bible.  I must also remember, and make clear in my words, that Jesus did not judge them until they refused to accept him and his divine mission: Now you are saying: We see, so your sin remains.
  • My challenge today: to reflect in my voice the spiritual growth and joy of the man born blind.

Word to Eucharist: Aren't we all in need of Jesus's touch in order to see?  Or can we see each other with his eyes as we approach the table?

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