On this Fourth Sunday of Lent, we gather in a peculiar way. But then we’re living through peculiar times. This past week has been harrowing for all of us. Not only did we have to contend with our collective efforts to slow down and limit the spread of the coronavirus known as COVID-19, we also experienced a fairly large earthquake and a series of unsettling aftershocks.
But, as Elijah learned, the voice of God is not in the earthquake. Rather, the voice of God is a barely discernible whisper.1 Therefore, you have to be quiet to hear it. Silence is utterly essential for the spiritual life. Each year Lent is what might be called a “time-gift.”2 This Lent, due to these unforeseen circumstances, many of us been granted more time. Therefore, it is important to use some of this time for silence.
Because here in Utah, while we have been asked to curtail unnecessary activities, to avoid public gatherings, to keep a safe distance from others, we have not been restricted to our homes, we have the opportunity not only to pray and fast but to help those in need. There are plenty of people in need, people for whom this coronavirus may be lethal, who could use help purchasing life’s necessities that can be safely left on their doorsteps. People who have lost or experienced a significant drop in their income could use your financial assistance. Even people who live alone and who are wisely self-isolating can perhaps use a daily phone call.
Today’s readings are about overcoming spiritual blindness. Samuel, ordered by God to go to the house of Jesse to anoint a new king for Israel due to the disobedience of Israel’s first king, Saul, demonstrated spiritual vision. In holding out until he was certain he found the LORD’s anointed, the prophet exercised great discernment. "Discernment" is just another word for spiritual sight.
Significantly, David was Jesse’s eighth son, the youngest, the least among his brethren, who was off tending the flocks. While seven is the biblical number of perfection, the number 8, at least for Christians, is the number of completion or maybe transcendence. From ancient times Christians have considered Sunday as the “Eighth Day,” the day beyond time, the eternal day. This is just one of the many ways to demonstrate that David is a messianic prototype.
Our responsorial Psalm, Psalm 23, is not about happiness in the by-and-by but in the here-and-now.3 Because it is about the here-and-now it points to the need to see with “true eyes.” To truly see is to see that God is good all the time, especially in dark, uncertain, or frightening times. In times like these, it is not enough- it should not be enough- to merely know that God is with you in some indiscernible sense, that is, in a way that makes no real difference. Circumstances like the ones we're now living invite each one of us to see just how it is that God accompanies us through the dark vale.
The blind man whom Jesus heals in today's Gospel, when pressed- he is more than pressed, he is raked over the coals, can only say, “I was blind and now I see.”4 To truly see is to grasp reality according to all the factors that together constitute it. For example, it is not intuitively obvious to the casual observer that the bread and wine, when consecrated, become Christ’s body and blood. But what someone can see is the difference participating in the Eucharist makes in the lives of those of us who do so.
In fact, our lives are the only empirical evidence, the only way to show that what we believe is really true. As Friedrich Nietzsche once quipped about Christians: “Better songs would they have to sing, for me to believe in their Saviour: more like saved ones would his disciples have to appear unto me!”5 Especially in these times, it is important for us to “look redeemed.” So, we must sing better songs, redemption songs. Optimism is not a redemption song and neither is pessimism. The song of hope, which can only be sung by the redeemed, is as beautiful and alluring as the song of a mythic Sirens. Instead of luring you into a trap, the redemption song seeks to bring the rattled traveler to safety.
If there is one lesson God teaches us in and through Christ, it is that hope lies on the far side optimism. Optimism will not save you now or in the long run. This is a difficult reality to face squarely. Sadly, a lot of what flies under the banner of "spirituality" is really just religious avoidance mechanisms, means of denial. Hope, which is the flower of faith, is not another form of denial. Rather, hope is what enables the Christian to face reality head-on.
Realism is not synonymous with cynicism just as optimism is not synonymous with hope. It was Nietzsche who also wrote: “And only where there are graves are there resurrections.”6 So, take heart. Spring is here. God's grace given us in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit is amazing. Good Friday means Easter is close.
1 1 Kings 19:11-12.↩
2 Trevor Hudson, Pauses for Lent: 40 Words for 40 Days, Kindle Edition, Location 76 of 703.↩
3 Footnote 6 to Psalm 23 in The Hebrew Bible, “The Writings,” trans. Robert Alter, 71.↩
4 John 9:15.↩
5 Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, XXVI “The Priests,” trans. Thomas Common. ↩
6 Ibid., XXXIII Grave Song.↩