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Lent reflections (4)

March 11th, 2008 by isaac · No Comments

Lent 4: I Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41.

The miraculous healing of the blind beggar shocks the people who knew him. They want to know more about what kind of power, and what kind of person, can work such incredible feats. They come to the beggar and ask, “Where is he?” And the man with new eyes responds, “I do not know” (Jn. 9:12). Where is he?... I do not know?

Jesus shows up out of nowhere, heals a blind beggar, then disappears. And now a baffling event challenges the perplexed people: a man born blind can now see. For the rest of the story the characters try to figure out what has happened. The regular people turn to the religious leaders for an explanation. And they end up completely confused. In a brilliant literary twist, John shows how the people who are supposed to know how to see God (i.e., the Pharisees) are the ones who come to suffer blindness: they can’t see a miracle of Jesus when it’s shoved right in front of their face. “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?’” (v39). Surely we are not blind, are we? The Pharisees’ question becomes ours: can we see God’s wondrous presence?

The story of Samuel anointing David is also about how well we can see God’s presence. God doesn’t choose the oldest and most important people in Jesse’s family. No. God chooses the youngest, the least of these. And we, like Samuel, are challenged to learn how to see as God sees: “the Lord does not see as humans see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (I Sam. 6:7). Our trouble is that we are content to look at the surface of things, mere appearances. But God calls us to a way of seeing that is characterized by patience, to have patient eyes—to wait for the least of these, when so many others seem like great options. Rowan Williams talks about how important it is to cultivate patient eyes so we can come to see the Kingdom of God: “Here we are daily, not necessarily attractive and saintly people, along with other not very attractive and saintly people, managing the plain prose of our everyday service, deciding daily to recognize the prose of ourselves and each other as material for something unimaginably greater—the Kingdom of God” (Where God Happens, 119)
While Psalm 23 is usually read to comfort those in the midst of death and despair, in this context it looks like verse 5 makes a demanding claim about the sort of patience to which God calls us—waiting with our enemies for God’s presence! “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Seeking after God’s presence is not about running away from the threatening darkness of our enemies. Not at all. For the Psalmist, God prepares a table for us right in the middle of our darkness, right in front of our enemies. This isn’t a call to embrace death; rather, it’s a call to take seriously how God wants to save our enemies too. We are patient in the midst of death because we believe in the power of resurrection. It’s the reality of Christ’s resurrection that guides the apostle Paul’s call to shine the light of Christ in the midst of darkness: “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!” (Eph. 5:8-14).

To wait. To be patient. To grow dissatisfied with our vision, and give God a chance to show us something new. At the end of the story of the blind beggar who Jesus makes see, everyone tries to makes sense of this incredible event, but they can’t find what they are looking for: the healed beggar says to the Pharisees, “You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes” (Jn. 9:30). But the good news is that Jesus comes to those who are cast out: “Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and he found him” (v35).

Tags: theology