MARCH 26TH, 2017, FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT
The LORD said to Samuel:
"Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way.
I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem,
for I have chosen my king from among his sons."
As Jesse and his sons came to the sacrifice,
Samuel looked at Eliab and thought,
"Surely the LORD's anointed is here before him."
But the LORD said to Samuel:
"Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature,
because I have rejected him.
Not as man sees does God see,
because man sees the appearance
but the LORD looks into the heart."
In the same way Jesse presented seven sons before Samuel,
but Samuel said to Jesse,
"The LORD has not chosen any one of these."
Then Samuel asked Jesse,
"Are these all the sons you have?"
"There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep."
Samuel said to Jesse,
"Send for him;
we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here."
Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them.
He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold
and making a splendid appearance.
The LORD said,
"There—anoint him, for this is the one!"
Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand,
anointed David in the presence of his brothers;
and from that day on, the spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.
Brothers and sisters:
You were once darkness,
but now you are light in the Lord.
Live as children of light,
for light produces every kind of goodness
and righteousness and truth.
Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness;
rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention
the things done by them in secret;
but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
for everything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore, it says:
"Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light."
As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him,
"Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,
that he was born blind?"
"Neither he nor his parents sinned;
it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.
We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day.
Night is coming when no one can work.
While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
When he had said this, he spat on the ground
and made clay with the saliva,
and smeared the clay on his eyes,
and said to him,
"Go wash in the Pool of Siloam" —which means Sent—.
So he went and washed, and came back able to see.
His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said,
"Isn't this the one who used to sit and beg?"
Some said, "It is, "
but others said, "No, he just looks like him."
He said, "I am."
So they said to him, "How were your eyes opened?"
"The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes
and told me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.'
So I went there and washed and was able to see."
And they said to him, "Where is he?"
He said, "I don't know."
They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.
Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath.
So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
He said to them,
"He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see."
So some of the Pharisees said,
"This man is not from God,
because he does not keep the sabbath."
But others said,
"How can a sinful man do such signs?"
And there was a division among them.
So they said to the blind man again,
"What do you have to say about him,
since he opened your eyes?"
He said, "He is a prophet."
Now the Jews did not believe
that he had been blind and gained his sight
until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight.
They asked them,
"Is this your son, who you say was born blind?
How does he now see?"
His parents answered and said,
"We know that this is our son and that he was born blind.
We do not know how he sees now,
nor do we know who opened his eyes.
Ask him, he is of age;
he can speak for himself."
His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews,
for the Jews had already agreed
that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ,
he would be expelled from the synagogue.
For this reason his parents said,
"He is of age; question him."
So a second time they called the man who had been blind
and said to him, "Give God the praise!
We know that this man is a sinner."
"If he is a sinner, I do not know.
One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see."
So they said to him,
"What did he do to you?
How did he open your eyes?"
He answered them,
"I told you already and you did not listen.
Why do you want to hear it again?
Do you want to become his disciples, too?"
They ridiculed him and said,
"You are that man's disciple;
we are disciples of Moses!
We know that God spoke to Moses,
but we do not know where this one is from."
The man answered and said to them,
"This is what is so amazing,
that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.
We know that God does not listen to sinners,
but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him.
It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.
If this man were not from God,
he would not be able to do anything."
They answered and said to him,
"You were born totally in sin,
and are you trying to teach us?"
Then they threw him out.
When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out,
he found him and said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
He answered and said,
"Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?"
Jesus said to him,
"You have seen him,
the one speaking with you is he."
"I do believe, Lord," and he worshiped him.
Then Jesus said,
"I came into this world for judgment,
so that those who do not see might see,
and those who do see might become blind."
Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this
and said to him, "Surely we are not also blind, are we?"
Jesus said to them,
"If you were blind, you would have no sin;
but now you are saying, 'We see,' so your sin remains.
One really must know the background of today’s I Samuel reading to appreciate what the sacred author is trying to tell us.
This event takes place in the late 11th century BCE while Saul, a rather unstable king, is on the Jewish throne. When Samuel, the last of the judges, complains to Yahweh about the situation, Yahweh tells him to commit high treason: to anoint another king – one of Jesse’s sons. Samuel wisely camouflages his visit to Bethlehem by announcing he’s going to conduct a communion sacrifice at Jesse’s house, not anoint a new king. That’s where today’s narrative kicks in.
One of the reasons Samuel originally anointed Saul as Israel’s first king was because he “stood head and shoulders” above all the country’s warriors. As the late Frank Cleary once observed, “He could knock heads better than anyone else.” So we presume Samuel is simply looking to replace Saul with another – more stable - head-knocker.
When none of Jesse’s seven sons proves to be the king Yahweh wants, Samuel bribes the protesting father to bring in the runt of the litter who’s out watching the family flock: “We will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.” Hearing peoples’ stomachs growling, Jesse has no choice. When David finally comes into the house and is anointed, we find the truth in Yahweh’s remark, “Not as humans see does God see, because humans see the appearance, but Yahweh looks into the heart.”
The sacred author is telling us not to trust our eyes. We only see correctly what God’s Spirit leads us to see; a Spirit which always expects us to go deeper than appearances.
That seems to be why the Pauline disciple responsible for the letter to the Ephesians creates a powerful contrast between light and darkness. “You were once in darkness,” he reminds his community, “but now you are light in the Lord.” Then quoting from what seems to have been an early Christian baptismal hymn, he pens the memorable words, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” Only through the risen Jesus’ Spirit are we able to see what others never seem to notice.
This is the same theme behind John’s well-known narrative of the blind beggar. Unlike the Jesus we find in the Synoptics, John’s Jesus doesn’t demand faith as a condition for working miracles. For the fourth evangelist, faith only comes after the miracle, not before. In this case his blind beggar doesn’t ask Jesus for sight. He simply rubs mud in his eyes, tells him to wash it out, and suddenly the man sees. At that point he also begins to see Jesus with the light of faith – gradually.
When he initially talks to his neighbors and friends about his unexpected sight, he simply refers to his benefactor as “the man called Jesus.” Later, when Jewish leaders interrogate him about the event, he dares go one step further: “He is a prophet,” he proclaims. Finally, toward the end of the pericope, “he worshipped him.” His new-found sight eventually enables him to see this Galilean carpenter as God.
No one who’s heard the entire chapter can miss the meaning in Jesus’ final condemnation of the Pharisees: “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.”
We really have to be careful when we claim we can see what the risen Jesus wants us to do in our everyday lives. Not only were Samuel and the blind beggar expected to look at people and situations with new eyes, so are we. It always takes ever-new, Spirit-filled eyes to actually “learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”