Monday, March 20, 2017

Light in the Darkness –– 4th Sunday in Lent, Year A –– 26 March 2017

Today we hear of Jesus healing a man born blind and Samuel choosing a king from an unlikely source. Both stories confront conventional belief. A blind man must be at fault for his disability and a king cannot come from a lowly position.

John 9:1-41

Biblical scholars see this situation. . . as a radical outrage to religious authorities. The claim that Jesus heals is deeply offensive. Why? What is the real problem here? Was it the Sabbath? No, not when only three verses mention this. Is it Jesus' status as outsider, whose origin and credentials are unknown? Maybe. Is it in the argument, shared by both sides, that “God does not listen to sinners” (v 31)? Therefore, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (v 33) So, a miraculous healing proves Jesus' credentials. Since the opponents accept this argument, they have no recourse but to attack the facts of the healing and the credibility of the witness.

To the best of my knowledge, the church down through the ages accepted this logic, as do most Christians today. Heretics can't do genuine miracles, the orthodox can. False or deceptive miracles are fakes by definition, because the people who are behind them are “sinners” to whom God does not listen. I have read this argument in stories from the eighth century, and have heard it in the church in the twenty-first. . . .

One response to this is to discount and shun miracles altogether, and insist that the real power of the Gospel is entirely independent of these. Unfortunately, this snobbish disdain for what was indeed a real part of Jesus' ministry leads to a diminished and rationalized moral/ethical reduction of his person and his message. A better alternative is to say that miracles are not proof, but signs. –– Lucy Bregman

1 Samuel 16:1-13

God's choice is unexpected because there were so many other possibilities, but it's not all that unexpected based on God's track record. God always picks unlikely or unworthy heroes: second-born Jacob rather than first-born Esau; the slaves of Egypt rather than the mighty Pharaoh and his powerful kingdom; a dresser of sycamore trees rather than a priest of the temple establishment. I could go on for pages, including of course, the illegitimate son of an unwed teenager whose life showed to the entire world God's plan for salvation. All of this is part of God's pattern of calling the world's ratings systems into question.–– Jennifer Copeland

Ephesians 5:8-14

This passage contrasts existence prior to acceptance of Christ and present Christian existence. It identifies the past as darkness and the present as light in the Lord. It calls Christians to live as children of light so that their behavior would be characterized as good, righteous, true and pleasing to God. It calls Christians to take no part in fruitless works of darkness, but to expose them, and it claims that shameful deeds done in secret should not even be mentioned. However, this passage follows a vice list that emphasized fornication and impurity, which would indicate that what the Pauline author suggests should not be mentioned consists of sexual deviance. The selection seeks to foster mature discernment that recognizes what is to be condemned as sinfulness. The passage concludes with a verse considered an early Christian baptismal hymn. (See Rom. 6:4–13.) –– Regina Boisclair

Regina Boisclair, a Roman Catholic biblical scholar, teaches at Alaska Pacific University, Anchorage, Alaska.

Lucy Bregman, professor of religion at Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, is the author of several books including Beyond Silence and Denial: Death and Dying Reconsidered (WJK, 1999) and Preaching Death (Baylor Univ., 2011).

Jennifer Copeland, a United Methodist ordained minister, served for 16 years as chaplain at Duke University and as director of the Duke Wesley Fellowship. She is currently executive director at North Carolina Council of Churches in Raleigh-Durham.

Homily Service 41, no. 2 (2007): 42-53.

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