Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"...doesn't philosophy amount to the sum of all thinkable and unthinkable errors, ceaselessly repeated?"--Jean-Luc Marion

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Friday, March 07, 2008

Fourth Sunday of Lent-2008


1 Samuel 16:1-13

16:1 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."

16:2 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.'

16:3 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."

16:4 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?"

16:5 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.

16:6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the LORD."

16:7 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."

16:8 Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one."

16:9 Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the LORD chosen this one."

16:10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, "The LORD has not chosen any of these."

16:11 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."

16:12 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."

16:13 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.

Psalm 23
23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.

23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.

24:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

24:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Ephesians 5:8-14
5:8 For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light-

5:9 for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true.

5:10 Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.

5:11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

5:12 For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly;

5:13 but everything exposed by the light becomes visible,

5:14 for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

John 9:1-41
9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

9:2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

9:3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him.

9:4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

9:6 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,

9:7 saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

9:8 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?"

9:9 Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man."

9:10 But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?"

9:11 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."

9:12 They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."

9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.

9:14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

9:15 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."

9:16 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.

9:17 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."

9:18 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

9:19 and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?"

9:20 His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;

9:21 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."

9:22 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.

9:23 Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."

9:24 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."

9:25 He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see."

9:26 They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"

9:27 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?"

9:28 Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.

9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from."

9:30 The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.

9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.

9:32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.

9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."

9:34 They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out.

9:35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"

9:36 He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him."

9:37 Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he."

9:38 He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him.

9:39 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."

9:40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?"

9:41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains.


I almost dislike the use of the 23rd Psalm outside of any purpose other than funerals, because taken out of its place in the Psalms it is, I think, so easily misunderstood. (Funerals are not a place for understanding of the kind I mean here, so that is a "special" use.) It is best understood as the sequel, the follow-up, to the 22nd Psalm, a psalm better known for it's use by Matthew, and more commonly heard only before Easter. The passage from Ephesians prescribed by the Lectionary hints at the darkness of the 22nd Psalm which highlights the light and comfort of the 23rd:

For 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.
But it's worth mentioning that Psalm 22 is not about deeds done in darkness, not about a confession of personal sins and the private anguish of a tortured soul. The psalm cries out to a God who has abandoned the psalmist to the very public cruelty of his (or her) enemies:

Many bulls have compassed me:
strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.

They gaped upon me with their mouths,
as a ravening and a roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint:
my heart is like wax;
it is melted in the midst of my bowels.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd;
and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws;
and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.

For dogs have compassed me:
the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me:
they pierced my hands and my feet.

I may tell all my bones:
they look and stare upon me.

They part my garments among them,
and cast lots upon my vesture.
So Paul is not reminding the Ephesians that what they do will come to light, but about living in the light that is already present, about seeing deeds for the evil they are, and about living in deeds that don't need to be denied. It is about moral blindness.

Two points about the Johannine story: Jesus appears at the beginning, and at the end of it. But the main story is about the blind man's interrogation by the Pharisees. It is an examination worthy of a Roman Catholic inquiry into miracles attributed to candidates for sainthood, and unique in the gospels. It is also John's subtle way of underlining his theological message: you will not see, until you believe. Jesus is known in this story by his affect on people, but not by sight. His presence is a challenge, but here his presence is missing, and all that the characters have are his actions. We prefer, of course, "seeing is beleiving," but John's gospel works relentlessly to undermine that reliance. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark, and leaves in the dark, no better enlightened than when he arrived. The blind man is enlightened only by Jesus, not by his interrogators, and they leave as mystified and confused as Nicodemus. Jesus' miracles are all semeia, or "signs," in John's Greek; but what they reveal is almost more of a mystery than what they don't reveal.

Interesting that Jesus heals the blind man on the sabbath, the holy day, now the day of worship for Christians. Interesting that this is a problem for the Pharisees. Interesting, too, that Jesus appears at the beginning of this story, disappears in the middle, and reappears to identify himself, at the end.

First of all, although men [sic] have a common destiny, each individual also has to work out his [sic] own personal salvation for himself in fear and trembling. We can help one another to find out the meaning of life, no doubt. But in the last analysis the individual person is responsible for living his own life and for "finding himself." If he persists in shifting this responsibility to somebody else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence. You cannot tell me who I am, and I cannot tell you who you are. If you do not know your own identity, who is going to identify you? Others can give you a name or a number, but they can never tell you who you really are. That is something you can only discover from within.
--Thomas Merton

Identity; discovery; who are you? Is that something someone tells you, or something you discover for yourself? Partly, of course, you are who people say you are. David is chosen by God to be the king of Israel, but is that David's identity? God does not choose David because of how David appears, but because of who David is. But is David, when chosen, the King of Israel? Or does he become the King of Israel, the proper successor to Saul whom Israel needs? If David does not know who he is, how can God identify him? What David does not know at the time of this story, is who he can be. He already knows who he is; and soon the rest of Israel, along with David, discovers that.

Identity; discovery; who are you? Is the man born blind a blind man? Is he a sinner, cursed by God? The Pharisees say he is, but he doesn't know. He doesn't know who Jesus is, either. He has no concern with identities, only with what he can see, with what he knows. And what he knows was: he was blind, but now he sees. Does this violate the law? Is this against God? He doesn't understand how it can be. But he cannot identify Jesus, as holy or unholy. Jesus must do that for him. The Pharisees can't identify Jesus either. But one could say that's because they lay claim to Psalm 23, without passing through the experience of Psalm 22.

Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains.
It isn't that they are blind; it is that they are not blind. But it isn't that they see, either. Their sin remains, but it does not damn them. Jesus does not pronounce them sinner and the blind man pure. He simply says their sin remains, and this blocks them from God, from the truth. Because they are sinners? No. Because they are proud. Because they lack faith. Because they lack trust. Because they do not know who they are. Because they see as humans see, not as God sees. And so they say "We see." But they do not. The Lord is their shepherd; but they are not guided by God.

Jesus says he has come into the world for judgment; but judgment is not punishment, judgment is simply truth. Judgment judges against a standard, weighs and finds what is whole, and what is wanting. The Lord is a shepherd who guides the one who is guided by God, the one who has not relied on others to identify themselves. The Pharisees in John's story are models, examples, representatives, of those who are defined by others, and so fear the definition the judgment of the world brings. There are two judgments represented here, really: the judgment of the world, which looks to the Pharisees and says: "How can this be, and the man who did this not be with God?" And the judgment of the world which brings the light into the world, so that all things stand visible. Exposed in that light, the Pharisees of this story find their identities have come from those who identify them, as scholars and experts and authorities: and they fear the loss of that authority. They are not historical figures, but representatives of a type: of those who claim access to the truth, but whose identification of themselves is as those with access to the truth. That identity comes from others, not from within. And so they say "We see," but their sin remains. Because they do not yet see who they are.

As I write this I am listening to two former military commanders decry the torture and brutality being promoted and defended by the Bush Administration. This brutality, these policies, are a result of moral blindness. But even brought into the light, the judgment of the world is not unanimous. Some still say "We see," and their sin remains. What is their identity? Where is our identity, now? These realities challenge us, today, as citizens of this democracy, and make us ask: are we the blind man? Or the Pharisees? Do we claim to see? Or do we admit we are blind? Do we see as humans see? Or do we live as children of the light? It is not an easy thing to live as children of the light. Even the blind man's parents are afraid, and put the burden of identity back on him. Not his identity, but the identity of the one who healed him. No one can provide that identity except the one who has that identity, but when he provides it to us, when we ask to know, we have a decision to make: to follow that one, to become his disciple, to believe; or to remain a prisoner of our sin.

Do we live as we see, finding our identity within ourselves, with the light of the judgment of the world? Or do we live by the judgment of the world, the world's judgment, and say only that "We see"? Well, which is our shepherd? The Lord? Or the world? Consider carefully. Because the world brings the bulls, the dogs, the challenge to the identity we claim that is not given by the world. But the world does not bring the light; the world does not bring the peace of green pastures and still waters. Those things are provided by the Lord. Who brings us to them; who provides those things; who knows who we are, and wants us to know, too.

Amen.

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