Lent 4A

March 24, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    John 9:1-41

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary

    1 Samuel 16:1-13

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    One of the things I savor about I Samuel 16 and its well-known story of the anointing of David is the irony within the text.  I am not even sure if it is intended irony or just a happenstance.   Yet the whole point of the shank of this narrative is summed up in the famous line “People look at the outward appearance but God sees the heart.”   God had to convey that idea to Samuel because he was being so wowed by the big, strapping lads from the household of Jesse who were strutting their stuff in front of the prophet.  I picture them throwing out their chests and jutting out their nicely sculpted chins as though they were posing for a photo shoot with a GQ photographer.

    Samuel is duly impressed but God says, “Don’t be.   I am looking for a beautiful inside.”   And, of course, hovering in the background is the specter of Saul, the taller-than-average fellow who looked so impressive but who had proven to be a singular failure as king of Israel.   “Let’s not repeat that mistake, Samuel” God as much as says.

    But then, once the man with (we presume) the right heart and the beautiful inside steps forward at long last (and as almost a kind of afterthought), nevertheless the narrator of the text goes out of his way to tell us how good-looking this youngest boy was!   Ruddy, fine-looking,  handsome features, chiseled good looks.    Cue the GQ photog!

    Now, maybe this detailed description of his outward appearance would be less striking in this chapter were it not for the fact that once young David shows up and gets anointed, the text whispers not a word, nary a syllable, about whatever it was God was seeing on the inside, in his heart.   You’d expect a verse in there to say something to the effect, “Samuel, arise, anoint!   For this one has a faithful spirit and a loving heart.  I can see his soul and know it to be sound.”

    But no.    He’s just a physical knockout.  Or at least that’s all we’re told.  We presume the rest, and we’re not wrong to do so.   Still, the text is almost humorous in its own inability to focus on anything other than what the eyes can see (over against what one could perceive about a person’s “inside”).

    Since in the Year A Common Lectionary this passage is paired with the incident in John 9 of Jesus’ healing a blind man, it’s probably fair to say that what we are thinking about at this point in Lent is the whole matter of spiritual vision.   John 9 is one of the many classic stories in Scripture and from the ancient world generally in which we read the irony of the blind man (or the once-blind man in this case) who sees better than those who never had ocular deficiencies.  And then, of course, there is Jesus’ exchange with the Pharisees on precisely the topic of who sees what.   The Pharisees ask Jesus at one point, “What?  Do you think that we are blind?”   Jesus replies, “If you have not claimed to see so clearly, you might be OK but having claimed to know everything—and yet having missed seeing the truth when it stands right in front of your noses—it turns out that you are blind indeed and your guilt for that remains.”

    How do we see things in this world?   How is our spiritual eyesight?   Do we know how to relativize what comes through our eyeballs in order to embrace far more important spiritual realities, the things that sometimes lie just below the surfaces of life (past which most people cannot see and do not even try to see)?   Probably all through history this has been a valid question and, for believers, a perennial struggle.   But seldom in history have we been so trained to stick to the surfaces of life as in our 21st century world.

    We are taught to be enamored by the beautiful, the spectacular.  Videos, photographs, and talking heads on TV train us to look no farther than the outward appearances of life and of people.  In fact, at times there seems to be a conspiracy to keep us from making too much out of what may be inside a person’s heart.

    We see this so often in the world of celebrities, and sometimes of politicians.   Newt Gingrich was carrying on an affair with a much younger woman at the same time he was prosecuting Bill Clinton for the fling with Monica Lewinsky.  Gingrich also left his wife on her sick bed to pursue the younger woman.  But both he and Clinton survived their dalliances and indiscretions and retain high levels of respect.   Lindsay Lohan has made a spectacle of herself again and again and has been arrested repeatedly.  But she keeps finding work, keeps getting booked onto late night talk shows.   Arnold Schwarzenegger cheated on his wife and deceived both her and the entire state of California while serving as governor.   But he then went on to write a book about it all in 2013 (with the cheeky title Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story) and is still starring in movies.

    There are people in this world who feel like they have a connection to celebrities and political figures.  But as relationships go, that’s a sham.  It’s false.   In truth, we have almost zero chance to get to know the heart and soul of famous folks—to discern if they have “a beautiful inside” that matches their voluptuous or handsome outsides.  And every day, in a thousand ways, we are also told that neither does such knowledge matter.

    Lent is a time that reminds us that the deepest and dearest truths of the universe require a spiritual vision that looks past outward appearances and even apparent contradictions.  We have to believe that a mild-mannered carpenter’s son from the backwaters of the Roman Empire was and is the Son of God in skin.  We have to believe that humility equals the truest form of strength.  We have to believe that the dead-end of a public execution is secretly the gateway to eternal life and that an instrument of raw, bloody death—the cross—is now properly seen as a symbol of profound hope.

    You will not come to see or understand any of that if you focus only on outward appearances.  As even the text of I Samuel 16 makes clear, however, even when we try to focus on the internal, it’s tough to get past the external.   Even so, Lent is a time to adjust our spiritual eyesight, to visit the heavenly optometrist and make sure our corrective lenses are still adequate to help us perceive and see the Light of the World.

    Illustration Idea

    Near the end of C. S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia” Aslan the Lion takes Lucy, Edmund, Peter and everyone to the New Narnia–to what we would call “heaven” or the New Creation. It is a place of astonishing light and beauty; a place where every blade of grass seems to mean more and where every creature sings for the sheer joy of the Creator. It is a place where everything is just so real in depth and color that the mere sight of a daisy takes your breath away and makes you weep for the sheer beauty of the thing.

    But then, in the midst of all this splendor, the children see a group of dwarves huddled together convinced that they are sitting in the rank stench of a barn–a place so dark that they cannot see their hands in front of their faces. Lucy is so upset that the dwarves are not enjoying the New Narnia that she begs Aslan to help them to see. Aslan replies, “Dearest Lucy, I will show you what I can do and what I cannot do.” Aslan then shakes his golden mane and a sumptuous banquet instantly appears in front of the dwarves. Each dwarf is given a plate heaped with juicy meats, glistening vegetables, plump grains of rice. Each also receives a goblet brimming with the finest wine anyone could ever imagine.

    But when the dwarves dive in and begin eating, they start gagging and complaining.

    “Doesn’t this beat all,” they lament. “Not only are we in this stinking stable but now we’ve got to eat hay and dried cow dung as well!” When they sip the wine, they sputter, “And look at this now! Dirty water out of a donkey’s trough!” The dwarves, Aslan goes on to say, had chosen suspicion instead of trust and love. They were prisoners of their own minds. They could not see Aslan’s gift of the New Narnia for they would not see it. Aslan can but leave them alone to the hell of their own devising.

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 23

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Ephesians 5:8-14

    Author: Stan Mast