Lent IV, Year A
1 Samuel 16:1-13
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." 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.’ 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." 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?" 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.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord." 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." Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, "Neither has the Lord chosen this one." Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen any of these." 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." 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." 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.
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. Therefore it says,
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you."
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 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, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 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?" Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" 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." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 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." 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. 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."
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 and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 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." 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. Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."
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." He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" 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?" Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. 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." Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, `We see,’ your sin remains."
Positive mimesis will profane the sacred. This, according to the authorities (vs 16), is what Jesus did when he healed the man born blind. He profaned the sacred. Not for nothing but the number 1 charge brought against the early Christians was that they were atheists.
True Christianity is profane in the eyes of the world. It declares the sacred places, customs, practices and dogmas of religion profane. True Christianity desacralizes and deconstructs false Christianity. True Christianity is about healing, about insight and enlightenment; at least it was for the man born blind. It certainly is for the Johannine community. This is a community for whom ‘God is light’, God enlightens. This is a community for whom God is also ‘love’, a love shown in the character and person of Jesus. The Johannine God is benevolent. God loves the kosmos. There is no dualism in the FG, so it must also be said that there is no malevolence in God either. This is important for it explains the Johannine restructuring of apocalyptic which as a genre taught a vindictive God.
As we have suggested, the gospels all reflect the rejection of the benevolent, healing, life-giving God spoken of, borne witness to and acted out in Jesus. The same also occurred for the Johannine community. When it comes to our religion, we seek always to retain the ingredients of our mimetic making. In the case of the Pharisees in John 9, it is their interpretation of Torah and the Sabbath commandment. We would note that never in the New Testament is Torah thrown out; it is radically reinterpreted though. As Andre LaCocque (Ruth) has shown, Jesus and the New Testament writers engage the hermeneutic of hesed or agape when they interpret Torah. Not only can this be found in the book of Ruth but in his bible studies on Isaiah, Tony Bartlett clearly evinces this hermeneutic. (See Tony’s Bible Studies on Preaching Peace.) Girard has found proto-stages of the deconstruction of a non-hesed approach to Torah in the book of Job. Jesus also found it in the Psalter.
There is an interesting irony that happens in our text for both the man born blind and Jesus are presumed to be sinners. The disciples still retain their sacralizing mentality reflected in their belief that God rewards good and punishes sin. (Indeed, in his response to his questioners, the man born blind suggests that he too subscribes to a sacralizing understanding of God. “We know that God does not listen to sinners…” Among other things, this undermines any notion that we must be delivered of all our mimetic misconceptions before God’s power can be manifest in us.) Jesus rejects this view and transcends it. Jesus’ acts of healing went right to the heart of Torah interpretation. God was either a healing God or he was a god of “religion” (of law, ritual and myth). Like the people excoriated by the Hebrew Prophets, Jesus’ contemporaries did not want to accept the kind of God Jesus was preaching.
This is a theological battle that is occurring between Jesus (and the Johannine community) and the authorities. It has to do with the character of God. Are sinners to be defined as the ancient Pharisees and modern Christians do? Or rather, in seeing God differently do we in fact begin to see one another differently, in the light of agape instead, as Jesus did?
Can we find the Jesus of the Gospels in the Church today? Where shall we look?
We know where to look for the Jesus of the “religion” (in Girard’s sense) called Christianity. We know that we are dealing with the Jesus of religion when we hear folks say, “It doesn’t matter how much healing that person brings to her/his ministry. S/he is a sinner. It can’t be of God.” We know that we are dealing with the Jesus of religion when we hear it suggested, as we have heard recently, that there is a relationship between the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Asia and Africa from a terrible tidal wave, and the sin of child prostitution for which the West creates the most lucrative market. We know that we are dealing with the Jesus of religion when we hear it said that the obscene wealth concentrated in the United States is somehow a reward for our “Christian” heritage.
Where, then, shall we look for the Jesus of the Gospel? Where God’s work is recognized by the compassion demonstrated, not the correctness of the doctrine involved. We can find the Jesus of the Gospels where compassion drives humans to care for others whose “righteousness” is not apparent to them. We can find the Jesus of the Gospels when the Church rejects the work of “sinners” to bring the kingdom into being. We note that the blind man puts the pointed question “Do you want to become his disciples too?” which only succeeds in really angering his interrogators. The ‘Pharisees’ argue from their theological presuppositions, the blind man from his experience. It has always disturbed the religious when they find God acting outside their little boxes.
There are no significant issues that occupy us today.
Since Lent is about repentance and since repentance is changing our way of thinking, is it fair to say that now is the time for us to change our way of thinking? A lot has changed in the last four years. A new world is being born, it remains yet to be seen though, who is the birth father.
We have a chance, an opportunity, a calling and an obligation to let ourselves be healed of our darkness, our blindness, our ignorance. Jesus heals today, heals us, heals of infirmities, heals our spirits, heals even our theologies. The question is will we let him?