Browsing Homilies

Fourth Sunday of Lent (Laetare Sunday); (Second Scrutiny, Year A)

1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a | Ps 23 | Eph 5:8-14 | Jn 9:1-41

It’s a common theme, not just in Scripture, but in literature generally: someone unexpected to do great things is lifted out of the normalcy of their lives in order to, in fact, do great things. We recognize this “Cinderella” story everywhere from fairy tales to science fiction—and even in biblical literature.

Who would have expected little Frodo Baggins to defeat the mighty Sauron? Or, who would have thought an orphaned moisture farmer from an ignored desert planet would destroy the mighty Death Star? And what did the Wicked Witch lament as she melted: “Who would’ve thought a good, little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?”

So, who could have picked David to defeat Goliath—or, as in our first reading, to become king?

As common as such stories are, however, we would be missing the larger point were we to read such biblical stories through this lens alone. To unpack the word of God in any piece of biblical literature, it’s important to look beyond that individual passage. As the Bible contains a collection of voices, we cannot reduce the word of God to any one of those voices. So, we look to other passages, other narratives, to read this story in light of that teaching, this wisdom in light of that psalm, and this prophecy in light of that fulfillment. We read across the canon of Scripture to hear God’s word for us today.

Today we read of David’s anointing alongside a miracle in which Jesus healed a blind man by smearing clay, made from his saliva, over his eyes. But a closer look at the Greek text of John reveals that Jesus does not just “smear” or “spread” this clay, as so many translations have it. In the blind man’s own telling, in verse 11, Jesus “anointed” his eyes. So, there is one clue to reading these two stories in light of one another—they are both stories of anointing.

But what is this anointing of which our readings speak, exactly? Generally speaking, one would be anointed with oil for a particular task or role. This time, two years ago, I had just binge-watched “The Crown,” and came to learn that at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953, the moment of her anointing, which takes place under a canopy to ensure a “deeply personal experience between the Queen and God,” was not part of the broadcast, when cameras set up for the first televised coronation deliberately turned away.

The Hebrew word for anointed one, is messiah, and the Greek translation of that term is Christos, or Christ. David was considered a messiah by virtue of his being anointed as king of Israel. His selection as king was not hereditary, but rather the prophet Samuel was led to him by the Lord. Samuel was led, first, to the tribe of Judah; then, to the town of Bethlehem; next, to the family of Jesse; and, finally, beyond the sons of Jesse standing before him to the shepherd boy still out in the fields. This is more than just another Cinderella story. It is the story of someone appointed by God to fulfill a particular—and powerful—role in the ongoing saga of the people of God.

And the story of the man born blind? He, too, is anointed by a combination of earth and Jesus’ own spit. It’s important to remember that this particular healing story is told from the perspective of the Gospel of John, which begins, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And that Word…became flesh.” John’s gospel identifies Jesus with the very word of God. Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, by virtue of Word becoming flesh. And this man is, in turn, anointed by virtue of Christ’s holy spit mixing with the earth. The divine and the mundane come together in service of the word of God.

The man born blind could not see, but the Word of God anointed his eyes so that he could see, proclaim, and worship his savior. The moment after we are baptized, we are anointed with holy oil, sacred Chrism, and are told: “…so that you may remain as a member of Christ, Priest, Prophet, and King, unto eternal life.” This is the common priesthood our baptism calls us to. It means we were anointed to offer sacrifice, tell the Good News, and recognize within Jesus, the gift of our Christian dignity.

This Sunday has the traditional name of Laetare, Rejoice Sunday, a day of joy because Lent has reached the half-way point, a day to foreshadow the joy and splendor of Easter.

This is also the day for the second scrutiny. The Gospel focuses on the cure of the man born blind, and the first reading invites us to see as God sees and not as human beings see. The second reading also fits this focus, stressing the importance of living in the light rather than in darkness.

While every Sunday is an occasion for rejoicing, especially so on this Laetare Sunday, the Church is pleased to celebrate the Second Scrutiny for the Elect, for own Keira, she who is to be baptized at the Easter Vigil.


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