Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A



Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A

First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Response: Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14; Gospel: John 9:1-41

The first reading is a story of how David became king (circa 1,000-961 B.C.). It’s an example of how the winners write history and glorify their hero. The chopped up version of the story, which is our first reading, is not the whole story. It is patriotic literature that justifies the rise to power of a sometimes-manipulative, ruthless, conniving, natural leader who somehow became the Teflon founder of a dynasty that lasted about 500 years. God does get the credit for David’s success. Saul was the first Israelite king. The prophet Samuel, a powerful and cranky figure in the story, orders Saul to wage a holy war against the Amalekites, a neighboring tribe. They were put “under the ban.” This meant that the Israelites were empowered to kill every living Amalekite plus all their animals. Saul carried out most of the ban, but allowed the Amalekite king and the best of the livestock to live. Samuel comes to visit Saul. He discovers that Saul disobeyed the ban. Samuel accuses Saul of treachery, and in the name of the Lord rejects him as king. A new king was needed.

The Lord God sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint a son of Jesse. Samuel’s reputation as a fearsome, “Don’t tread on me” type went before him. The frightened elders of the city came out to meet him. He assured them that he came in peace to offer sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel invited Jesse and seven of his sons to the sacrifice. As Jesse introduced his seven sons one by one to Samuel, none was acceptable to the Lord God. Samuel discovers that there is another son, just a boy, in the field tending sheep. Samuel commands, “Send for him.” We see a bit of hero worship in the author’s description: “. . . a ruddy (red-complected) youth, handsome to behold, making a splendid appearance.” The adjective ruddy may be the historical source of a red-haired Jesus, i.e. son of David, by artists (Cosimo, Janssens, van Cleve, Michelangelo.) 2,500 years later in the Renaissance. The Lord God commands: “Anoint him. This is the one!” Result: “The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” Why was this story selected to accompany today’s gospel? The importance of the word anoint. Samuel created a king through anointing. Jesus created sight by anointing the blind man’s eyes. Prospective converts are reminded of their approaching anointing in their baptism. They too will receive new sight and will become royals (See 1 Peter 2:9).

The first reading mentions that David was tending sheep when chosen king. Psalm 23 responds, “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.” Shepherd is a universal symbol of kingship in ancient times. The second reading is an excerpt from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. The selection was determined by the theme of light that runs through the reading, occurring six times. Light is the antidote to darkness; as Paul writes to his converts, “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” A connection with today’s gospel is intended. The man born blind receives light in his eyes immediately after Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”

Creation of sight for a man born blind is the second of the three great instructions for prospective converts on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent. Last Sunday, we heard John’s story of Jesus’ meeting and dialogue with a Samaritan woman. Next Sunday, we shall hear John’s story of the restoration to life of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. In today’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem and vicinity. As they were walking, they see a man born blind. It was generally believed that a physical handicap was the result of a specific sin. The disciples ask Jesus who the sinner might be, the blind man or his parents? Jesus replies, “Neither.” He proclaims himself “the light of the world,” forms a paste of clay and his own saliva, and anoints the man’s eyes. The word clay is important because, in the Hebrew of Genesis 2:7, God creates the first human out of clay. What Jesus did was an act of creation, creating light/sight where there had never been any. As God the creator in Genesis required cooperation from the first human, tilling God’s garden, so Jesus requires cooperation from his new creation. He commands, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” The author explains, “Siloam means ‘sent.’” The blind man returned and now could see. The creation in Genesis and the creation by Jesus in Jerusalem are gracious gifts of God. Neither the first human nor the man born blind requested or earned their respective creation.

An argument follows about whether he is the same man. If he is, how come he now sees? He reveals what Jesus did for him. They report to the scribes – Scripture scholars, lawyers, a kind of self-appointed religious police. Important point: Jesus worked this miracle on the Sabbath. That bothered them. They take the man to the scribes. Seems the man cannot escape trouble. They ask him how he got his sight. He tells them. Response: Jesus cannot be from God because he broke the Sabbath rest. They ask his opinion of Jesus. Reply: “He is a prophet.” They doubt the whole story and grill his parents. The latter are afraid of getting involved because they could be expelled from the synagogue. They respond to the scribes, “Ask him. He is old enough.” They grill the poor man once again. They call Jesus a sinner. “He is not from God!”

The man has had enough. He lectures them for their stupidity for not recognizing that only God can give light to a man born blind. They expel him. In the author’s mind, the blind man’s parents symbolize Christians afraid to stand up and be counted as such; while the formerly blind man is a symbol of Christians who boldly profess their faith in Jesus and take the consequences. Jesus finds his defender, consoles him, and gives him opportunity for a closing act of faith, “Do you believe in the Son of man?’ Response: “I do believe.” The author adds, “And he worshipped him.” Key words in this story: blindness, light, clay, anointing, water, washing, sent, use of saliva (as in the old Latin baptismal rite). All these elements made this an ideal story for instruction of prospective converts, who are about to become new creations.