In this week’s readings for the fourth Sunday of Lent, we encounter Samuel, sent by God to the house of Jesse to anoint David king, the good shepherd leading his flock in Psalm 23, Paul telling the Ephesians to be light, and Jesus healing a blind man by putting mud on his eyes and sending him to wash in the pool of Siloam.
The Lord speaks to Samuel (just before today’s readings), and tells him not to grieve over Saul, but to go and anoint the one the Lord had already selected as king. Samuel arrives at the house of Jesse, and is ready to anoint the oldest son. “Surely, this is the one,” he thinks. Saul was notable for his tall stature, as is this young man, and Samuel reasonably assumes that the Lord is looking for a replacement just like Saul. It is interesting to me that Samuel has a clear message from the Lord to go to the house of Jesse and anoint the one already selected, but, when Samuel arrives, he seems to assume that it’s up to him to discern which to anoint. God has to point out that he shouldn’t judge as a man, but rather allow God, who sees the heart, to make the judgment. Samuel is obedient to his mission, but starts trying to figure out God’s plan, rather than simply waiting to hear what God has to say.
I see this same pattern in the Psalm. The shepherd doesn’t give his sheep directions, he walks before them to lead them to places of repose and refreshment, and walks beside them through dark and difficult times.
Paul’s message to the Ephesians? Again, “try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord” – not “Try to reason your way through this” or “Try to apply principles from scripture and teaching” – but “learn what is pleasing to the Lord.”
And then Jesus… He doesn’t give the man sight right away, or even tell him that’s what’s going on. Jesus shoves mud in his eyes, and tells him to go wash in the pool called Siloam (“Sent”). Obedience preceded any explanation, and the gift of sight.
Jesus announces himself to be the light of the world, but that light is not simply so that we can see to make our own way – it is a light that we can follow through the darkness.
Now, I’m not suggesting that discernment, reason, and initiative have no role in our Christian walk, but I do wonder if we have forgotten how to follow. There’s a balance here somewhere between the Lord desiring to make us more like him, so that we love and choose as he loves and chooses, and the reality that his thoughts really are different from our thoughts, and his ways, from our ways. There are certainly things that we can and must discern, but others he must reveal.
I am going to make a fresh effort to listen, and to make “listen and obey” my first and default response, rather than defaulting to reason and discernment, without ever giving the Lord a chance to reveal himself, and his will.
- St Gregory the Great on Lent as a tithe of time
- The Walking Dead – Fifth Sunday of Lent (A)