The Fourth Sunday of Lent marks the midpoint of this liturgical observance. Yesterday’s texts summoned us to consider how oil, spit, and mud are ingredients of restoration and healing—of a nation with the anointing of David (1 Samuel 16:1-13), and of a man born blind who sees better than all the naysayers (John 9:1-41). God works with such finite elements—and persons—to accomplish divine purposes in the world.
We love the story of the anointing of David: he is the youngest, probably the shortest, and he has to do the chores no one else wants—tending the flocks. He is alive with potentiality, yet to be fulfilled. And God chooses him, not because he is particularly qualified—yet. Every kid loves this story; “little brother” is not chosen last, but first! Samuel anoints him (with oil and Spirit) because God sees in this adolescent promise for the future. God makes an unconditional commitment to the Davidic king because, in the words of Terrence Fretheim, God “learned something from the experience (and experiment) with Saul…and determines that only a new tack will have a chance of succeeding.” This speaks of a remarkable vulnerability in God, One who is responsive to humanity’s weakness and sin as we make our slow way across the earth.
The healing of a man born blind is Johannine irony at its best. Neighbors, Pharisees, and parents all try to determine what has actually transpired after he was smeared with spit and dirt and told to wash in the pool of Siloam. He sees, truly. In the fourth Gospel, seeing has to do with recognizing the very presence of God in their midst as Word made flesh. As Christians, we “see” according to the measure of our responsiveness to Jesus the Christ.
These lectionary texts remind us that God’s creative and redemptive work is always collaborative, and followers of Jesus ought to receive the oil of the Spirit and “keep making mud,” as Larry Greenfield wrote in his Friday blog for EthicsDaily. God does not impose the future, but crafts it with receptive persons. Ultimately, it is God’s faithful commitment to us that provides healing and hope. At the midpoint of Lent, let us remember the one whom we follow and not shrink back from the places he will take us. As frail children of dust, we are being made new through being chosen and healed—with oil, spit, and mud.
Molly T. Marshall
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