Following the Light – Fourth Sunday of Lent (A)

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

Greg., Hom. in Ev., 16, 5:

Or, as by the Law we offer the tenth of our goods, so we strive to offer the tenth of our time. And from the first Sunday of Lent to the rejoicing of the paschal festival is a space of six weeks, or forty-two days, subtracting from which the six Sundays which are not kept there remain thirty-six. Now as the year consists of three hundred and sixty-five, by the affliction of these thirty-six we give the tenth of our year to God.

His math is a little off for the current calendar, but let’s not quibble over feast dates.

Sufficient evil – Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

I enjoy my life. I’ve made my share of mistakes, but it’s a good one. I’ve been the beneficiary of God’s merciful and bountiful provision, and have the luxury of deciding when to pay off more debt, or to help someone in greater need, rather than choosing which of my children get to eat today. I haven’t had to bury a child. I’ve never starved. I’ve never even been involuntarily unemployed. I’m not excessively burdened by worry.


Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

I recently saw a picture I can’t un-see. A couple of young men cut the ears off a dog, just because.

And one of a mother holding her child, snatched from her by sickness.

And another, of the remains of hundreds of aborted babies stored in what were essentially plastic butter tubs.

Do you know there have been well over 54,000,000 abortions in the USA since 1973? If each of these children were put into a small 8oz butter tub, and we assume the tubs all fit together with no wasted space, we’d need room for 432,000,000 oz. There are about 1.8 cubic inches per oz of liquid. That’s 777,600,000 cubic inches, or 450,000 cubic feet. Piled into a cone, that’s a cone approximately 120 feet tall and 120 feet across. You know that statue in Brazil? The statue of Christ the Redeemer? It’s 120 feet tall. A mountain of tiny infant coffins 120 feet tall.

You don’t have to go far on the internet or any history book worthy of the name to be confronted by evil.

Leibniz proposes that we live in the best of all possible worlds:

“I do not believe that a world without evil, preferable in order to ours, is possible; otherwise it would have been preferred. It is necessary to believe that the mixture of evil has produced the greatest possible good: otherwise the evil would not have been permitted”

Plantinga argues that there are possible worlds that even an omnipotent being cannot create, and one of those is a world where persons have free will, but never choose evil. He proposes:

“A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.”

There are substantial disagreements between their positions, I think primarily arising from Leibniz’s more classical understanding of God as being itself, versus Plantinga’s understanding of God as the greatest creature having being, and the difference between Leibniz’s “possible” and Plantinga’s “possible to actualize.” But, the point is…

God loves us.

And he wants us to love him

And the value he places upon our love, freely given, is so powerful that even horrific evils pale in comparison.

He loves us more than moral good, as we understand it.

He loves us more than a mother her child.

He loves us more than life itself, even his own.

And he allows us to suffer, and to cause suffering, because that is the only way we can also freely receive and give love.

It’s mind boggling.

What about the 55 million corpses? Did he love them? What about the critters (human and otherwise) in the world that are tortured and killed? What about the starving? The sick? The abused and molested?

I think my brain, and my faith, and my understanding of his love is just too small. I’m thankful for the gift of faith, however small, that I know I’ve received by the fact that when my soul is crushed, I find myself having to choose whether to bless or curse God, rather than wondering if he exists at all.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Milquetoast – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary time (A)

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary time (A)

Christians have become so reasonable and moderate in the past century or so. We’ve succumbed to the lie that it is the broad and even road paved with good intentions that leads to heaven. We’ve exchanged God’s economy for a pathetic socialism, content to aim for the lowest common denominator.

The world calls us too moderation in the pursuit of holiness, justice, and absolute truths, but extremism in the pursuit of our own rights and of acceptance of relativism.

  • Forget mercy in exchange for repentance, let’s instead deny sin exists, and that repentance is necessary.
  • Forget that knowing the truth will set you free, let’s instead be free to create our own truth.
  • Forget being holy, as God is holy, that’s unreasonable, and leads to extremism.
  • Forget perfection, God never called you to perfection, just be content with doing your best.
  • Turn the other cheek isn’t about meekness, it’s about peaceful resistance; stand up for yourself.
  • Forget Jesus, the path to salvation is good will, defined as “I meant well.”
  • It’s admirable to hate the haters, to label those who label others, to stereotype those who stereotype others, to reject those who reject others. And to define the second party to suit our whim.

What does scripture say?

  • Be holy, for I am holy.
  • You are the temple of God.
  • No one comes to the Father except through Christ
  • Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.
  • Turn the other cheek when assaulted and insulted.
  • Go the extra mile when unfairly burdened.
  • Offer no resistance to evil against yourself.
  • Do good to those who are spiteful towards you.
  • Love your enemies.

God calls us to extremism (put out your eye… cut off your hand) in pursuit of holiness, justice, and he who is absolute truth. He even calls us to extremism in rejecting our own rights. I struggle to accept this, or to apply it in the “real” world, but he’s very, very clear.

I catch myself on perhaps a daily basis making some accommodation or excuse. I moderate my opinions, lest they offend. I accept milquetoast platitudes from the hierarchy as if they are serious theological and philosophical proposals. I allow linguistic gymnastics to excuse me from confronting the plain truth of the gospel.

As Yeats (“Second Coming”) puts it..

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I’m part of the problem.

But I don’t want to be.

Lord, help me to aim higher, never forgetting to put charity first, but not using charity as an excuse for cowardice.