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4th Sunday in Lent – March 26, 2017

1 Samuel 16:1-13; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
Lent 4A

What do you see? Whom do you notice or dismiss?

Jill Duffield’s lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook’s email list every Monday.

Are you wide-awake as you move about the world or wandering around in a Daylight Saving time haze? I confess that lately I am fighting numbness. The urge to avoid reading the news, emails and comment sections tugs at me like a toddler in a toy store. I can almost hear the horror movie admonishment: Don’t go to the light (of your screen). You will get sucked into oblivion, never to be seen or heard from again. The shiny objects equivalent of an enticing headline on my newsfeed takes me to the next one and the next one and the next one until I feel more informed, yes, but exponentially more helpless, too. I feel bombarded, berated and desperately in need of refuge that often takes the form of numbness, the very opposite of an eager wakefulness that anticipates Jesus’ presence and passion.

Maybe I am still grieving Saul. I am grieving the loss of an imagined future in the church and in our world. Let me be clear: This isn’t about politics, not really. It isn’t about who won the election or who is setting the agenda. This grief is about a recognition of my privileged naiveté that lulled me into a sleepy haze of optimism. I inadvertently loved the darkness of unknowing that allowed me to believe in meritocracy and basic fairness. Recognizing my love of darkness and the longevity of that affair grieves me. I failed to see the pain of others. I dismissed pervasive systematic sin and its devastating effects because I was so much a part of it. I benefited so much from it that I didn’t recognize it. Or I didn’t want to recognize it. I was asleep and like a teenager on Sunday morning, I didn’t want to wake up and get out of bed. Why would I? I was exceedingly comfortable.

I liked Saul and, if not Saul, then any one of Jesse’s older sons seemed a likely choice for next in line to lead. Status quo was working for me, after all. Almost always, I’d prefer to go with what I know, but apparently God has (and almost always has) other plans. God sees in ways we don’t and the only chance we have of getting a glimpse of that heavenly vision is to wake up and pay close attention, capitulate to God’s choices instead of our own and listen to those often dismissed by the people around them: youngest sons, Samaritan women, beggars blind from birth. What they say may well wake us from our stupor, challenge our assumptions and cause us to be more than a little uncomfortable. Such light may hurt our eyes, but if we are willing to stay in it a while our vision will adjust and we will see much we’d never noticed before. We may even come to recognize Jesus.

The interesting thing about all three of these appointed texts is the emphasis on seeing, in the broadest sense of the word. All three lessons call on us to question what we see and don’t, what we notice or don’t, what we understand or don’t. Samuel’s assumptions are all wrong about Saul, about Jesse’s sons, about God’s requirements for leadership. What are some of our deepest assumptions and how might God be calling them into question? The epistle reading nudges us to question our practices of daily living. Discernment is at the heart of these verses, intentional seeking for what is fruitful and light and life giving. Are we awake enough to seek to discover what is pleasing to the Lord? Are we open to the scrutiny of being exposed by the light? The long Gospel story demands that we wrestle with how we understand the relationship between sin and suffering and who we deem worthy of our attention and trust. Who do we write off as deserving of their fate? When have we dismissed someone’s experience? Failed to value and believe another’s experience of faith? Driven out someone who disturbed the norms of our community?

This late in Lent, Scripture is pushing us to an honest self-examination that is painful if we truly attempt to undertake it. No wonder we might rather choose to stay asleep or numb or in the dark.

I am taken aback by how the healing of this man born blind alienates him from everyone, even those closest to him. Neighbors, religious leaders, Jews and his parents – no one rejoices in his new sight, stands by him in the repeated questioning or gives him the benefit of the doubt. No one. They drove him out. Why? Perhaps precisely because his transformation upends all of their cherished assumptions and they – like so often we – have built our lives around these assumptions, no matter how false they may be. Therefore, we can’t tolerate to have evidence to the contrary in our midst, even if that means Jesus is driven out of our lives along with his truth-telling witness.

The painful reality that our assumptions often trump the gospel truth is what these texts call upon us to see, in the broadest sense of the word. People get what they deserve (so I am not accountable for their well-being). People don’t really change (so I’d be naïve to risk giving someone a second chance). Certain people are worthy to be heard (so I can ignore those I deem unworthy). We know who the worst sinners are (and we aren’t them). God helps those who help themselves. If you work hard enough anyone can make it. God is on my side. Everything happens for a reason. Charity begins at home, etc., etc., etc. What are the bedrock assumptions upon which we construct our lives and are we prepared to have them overturned by the One who is the chief cornerstone?

Near the end of this story in John, the formerly blind beggar is fully sighted but utterly alone because of what he’s recognized. Encounters with Jesus often have that life-upending impact. But Jesus heard what happened and does not settle for curing the man’s blindness. Jesus comes to him and offers healing wholeness, giving the man the greatest vision imaginable: seeing God face to face.

If we are to have such a vision, we may have to be willing to have our lives upended, our assumptions overturned and our sleepy comfort disturbed by the light of Christ that exposes all we’d hope to hide even as it illumines all we could ever hope to see.

This week:

  1. How do we wake up this Lenten season to that which pleases the Lord? Why do we prefer to stay asleep?
  2. Take note of all the characters in John 9. Who do you think you are most like in this story? The blind man? Disciples? Parents? Neighbors? Pharisees?
  3. Have you ever had an experience where someone went through a radical change? Have you ever experience a major transformation? How did others respond?
  4. Pay attention to your assumptions: about others, yourself, work, politics, church, money, etc. How do you act out of these assumptions? Do they align with the gospel or not? How do you know?
  5. What do you imagine Samuel was taking into account when he looked at Jesse’s various sons and thought, “Surely, the Lord’s anointed is before me”? What do you think he failed to see or notice?
  6. Consider God’s question to Samuel: “How long will you grieve over Saul?” What does this mean? Are there things you grieve that you might need to release in order to be open to God’s future?

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