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Wrestling with the Word, episode 108: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A (April 3, 2011) March 22, 2011

Posted by fostermccurley in Wrestling With The Word podcast.
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Fourth Sunday in Lent

No wonder we mortals have difficulty grasping the word of God and applying the divine address to our lives here and now. God does not fit any of the categories by which we manage our lives and the affairs of the world. The Bible makes no qualms about the differences between God and us. In the words of God,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).

Even the future Davidic ruler that God promises to send will exercise justice and judgment not by what his eyes and ears detect (the ways a human judge would act), but—as a result of the Spirit of the Lord—righteousness, equity, and faithfulness will serve as the foundations of his reign (Isaiah 11:3b-5).

As we discuss the lessons for the day, we necessarily use our human eyes and ears. These and our other senses are the ways we perceive the world. Yet they are insufficient to grasp the vision and word of God.  Maybe it’s just because “My light is not your light, says the Lord.”

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 108: Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A.


Psalm 23
This psalm of trust is based on the development of the image of YHWH as the Shepherd of Israel (Psalm 80; Ezekiel 34) to the intimate relationship of YHWH and the individual worshiper.  The imagery speaks of the Lord’s guidance, presence, and protection through the valley of darkness.  (The traditional translation “the valley of the shadow of death” was based on reading Hebrew tsalmût = “darkness” as tsalmāwet = “valley of death”; however, there are no compound nouns in biblical Hebrew.)  The scene switches in verses 5-6 to a festive meal in the temple (perhaps a thanksgiving meal that seems to celebrate divine rescue from a lamentable situation). The exhilaration even includes the worshiper’s awareness that the Lord has anointed his head with oil. Through it all, the psalmist exults in the ongoing joy at participating in this different kind of intimacy with the Lord.  The worshiper has confidence for the future because of the constancy of God’s care past and present.


Psalm 142
The psalm is a lament in which the psalmist is suffering persecution from enemies who lie in wait along pathways. The cries for help to YHWH result from the psalmist’s confidence in the Lord as “my refuge” (v. 5) and his promise to give thanks to the name of the Lord. The psalm concludes with the hope that “the righteous will surround me” on the basis on the Lord’s bountiful action (v. 7).


1 Samuel 16:1-13
Having sent Samuel to the family of Jesse in order to anoint a king to succeed Saul, God selects the anointed one not on the basis of what people see, even the prophet, but on the basis of God sees in the heart.

In the latter part of chapter 9 the Lord commanded the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul to become king over the people of Israel.  In the following chapter the anointing took place in private, and Samuel assured Saul of his new role by giving him a sign.  By the time we reach our pericope, the ability of Saul to reign faithfully has been brought into question. The Lord regretted the selection of Saul, and so the Lord sends Samuel to Bethlehem in order to anoint a new king, one of the sons of Jesse.

Key Words
V. 3.  ûmāšaktî lî = “you shall anoint for me”:  At 10:1 Samuel anointed Saul to be ruler of the people, and that man was so identified as “the Lord’s anointed” on several occasions, even by David.  Following the anointing of David in our pericope, only Davidic kings were anointed and called “the Lord’s Messiah.”  The concept changed drastically in the preaching of Second Isaiah who used the title of Cyrus, king of Persia (Isa. 45:1).  The title is not used in the OT prophecies about a future ideal Davidic king.

V. 7.  kî lō’ ’ašer yir’eh hā’ādām kî hā’ādām yir’eh la‘ênayim waYHWH yir’eh lallēbāb = “for not as a human sees, because a human sees with (lit. “to”) the eyes, but Yahweh sees with (lit. “to”) the heart”:  In the immediate context the reference is to the selection of which son of Jesse is to be anointed:  Samuel would have picked on the basis of appearance.  Yahweh, however, makes the selection on the basis of something humans cannot discern.  Similar differences between the Lord and humans can be seen at Isa. 55:8-9 in terms of thoughts, and differences between the future ideal Davidic king and other humans appear at Isa. 11:3 in terms of judgment on the basis of sight or hearsay.  The issue of divine sight appears to be the reason for the selection of this passage in connection with John 9.

V. 13.  wattitslach rûach-YHWH ’el-dāwid mēhayyôm wāmā‘lâ = “and the Spirit of the Lord rushed to/upon David from that day and onward”:  The Spirit rushes similarly on Samson, giving him strength to kill an onrushing lion (Judg. 14:6), anger to slay 30 men of Ashkelon (14:19), and power to break his bonds to kill a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass (15:14).  In a lighter vein, when the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon Saul he prophesied along with a band of prophets (1 Sam. 10:6, 10), but on another occasion such a rush aroused Saul’s anger to the point of killing a yoke of oxen.  At 1 Sam. 18:10 “an evil spirit from God” rushed upon Saul and he raved like a lunatic over the music David played.  All of these references sound like an adrenalin rush rather than divine inspiration. Strikingly, in the Gospels, Mark writes that “The Spirit immediately drove him (Jesus) out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). The Temptation story in Matthew and Luke, quite different from Mark’s, talks about the role of the Spirit but not with such urgency.


Isaiah 42:14-21
Confirming the lament of the people in exile, the Lord announces that the time has come for him to turn darkness into light and to make glorious his torah.

In the preaching of the prophet in Isaiah 40—55, the context of lamentation looms large. The people express their exilic suffering at 40:27: “My way is hid from the Lord, and my justice is disregarded by my God.” The theme is repeated in different words at 49:14: “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.”  In our passage the Lord admits to silence and inactivity, but now is prepared to end the silence with a shout of transformation.


Ephesians 5:8-14
Having been called to imitate God, Christians are called also to be and act what we are:  light in the Lord who is and who gives light.


John 9:1-41
Against the notion that people who suffer are being punished for their sin, Jesus heals the man born blind so that his identity as the light of the world and God’s eschatological works accomplished in him might be known.

In many cultures of the ancient world people believed that one suffered according to one’s misdeeds.  So automatic was the sentence that often the same word was used for the crime and its punishment.  This philosophy was particularly popular among the wisdom teachers and can be gleaned from the Book of Proverbs and especially from the friends of Job.

As for the context in the Gospel, Jesus had been teaching in the precincts of the Temple.  He had been present in Jerusalem for the Feast of the Tabernacles (7:2, 10, 37).  Having placed himself in jeopardy by his “I am” speech, Jesus left the Temple as the Jews picked up stones.

Key Words
V. 3.  all’ hina phanerōthē ta erga tou theou en autō = “but that the works of God might be manifest in him”:  while the disciples asked the cause of the man’s blindness, Jesus answers in terms of what good can come out of it.  That good, the glorification of God, is a well-known theme throughout the Bible:  it is the reason for the plagues against the Egyptians in the days of Moses (Exod. 9:16; 10:2) and for the Reed Sea event itself (Exod. 14:17-18).  The glory of God is also the reason for the new exodus, the return from Babylonian exile (Isa. 43:21; Ezek. 37:14 and often in Ezekiel).  In the NT see the conclusion of the hymn at Phil. 2:6-11; Rom. 9:17.

V. 5.  hotan en tō kosmō ō, phōs eimi tou kosmou = “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world”:  That Jesus is the light of the world is seen by the quotation of Isa. 9:2 at Matt. 4:16 and at John 1:4, 7, 9.  Beginning already at Gen. 1, God is the light of the world, and at Isa. 10:17, YHWH is the light of Israel.  In Rev. 21:23 and 22:5 God will be the light of the new Jerusalem and Christ will be the lamp.  Jesus’ condition stated here, “as long as I am in the world,” paves the way for his disciples to be the light after he has gone (see Isa. 49:6; Matt. 5:14; Eph. 5:8-14; and cf. 1 John 1:5-7).