4th Sunday of Lent (using Year A Readings)
18 March 2012
Today is celebrated as Laetare Sunday – Laetare means ‘rejoice’ and the Sunday takes its name from the entrance antiphon “Rejoice,Jerusalem! You, who love her, rejoice!” We’ve now passed the half way mark on this year’s Lenten journey to Easter and today we see some gentle joy in the liturgy – the most obvious being the rose coloured vestments and the flowers on the altar. And the music in the liturgy should express a subtle difference from the other Sundays in Lent.
The readings all have references to light, sight and darkness.
The first reading opens with the Lord telling Samuel that it’s time to choose a new king forIsraeland he is to go and find a man called Jesse living inBethlehem. Saul, the first king ofIsrael, was on the throne at the time and while he had done well in the early years of his sovereignty, in the more recent times, he had become increasingly disobedient to God and lost his moral compass. Corruption, bribery, arrogance and greed had become the rule of the day and Samuel is commissioned by God to find and anoint a new king.
When Samuel arrives inBethlehemhe catches sight of the tall and handsome young man Eliab who is Jesse’s eldest son and Samuel is certain that he is the one that God wants him to anoint as the new king. But the Lord said “Take no notice of his appearance and height, for I have rejected him; God does not see as man sees ; man looks at appearances but God looks at the heart.”
Seven of Jesse’s sons are presented to Samuel but none are deemed suitable and Samuel, perhaps by now beginning to think that he’s come to the wrong family, asks Jesse “Are these all your sons?” And of course that’s when David, the youngest son, comes into the picture and is anointed by Samuel – although it would yet be a few very bloody years before David would be crowned king ofIsrael.
What does God see in our hearts this day? He doesn’t see our appearance; our clothes, shoes, hair, jewellery, youth, wrinkles – he only sees what’s in our hearts.
In the second reading Paul tells us what God is hoping to see in our hearts. Paul is addressing the Gentiles who, before they were baptised – before they had Christ in their lives, were in his words “darkness” itself. But now being ‘in Christ’, they have become the light and are required to live as children of the light. That’s what God hpes to see in our hearts – goodness, morality, love and truth.
And what a sad shortage of these virtues we see in the Pharisees in the Gospel reading. They who should be the leading lights, who in outward appearance and behaviour are meticulous in their attention to the religious law, are shown to be blinded by their religious pride; their hearts are dark and unclean.
The story of the man born blind and the torrid time that he had and his family had at the hands of the Pharisees when Jesus gave him the gift of sight is well known and beautifully told in John’s Gospel and I’ll not repeat it. The lesson from Jesus is clear. The more knowledge we have, the more responsibility we carry. If the Pharisees had been uneducated and ignorant, they could not be blamed. They were condemned because they claimed to be knowledgably about God but were blinded by their own arrogance. They couldn’t recognise God even when he was standing right in front of them.
I thought I’d comment of this lesson using as a frame of reference, the controversial Red Bull TV ad featuring Jesus that was flighted earlier this last week.
For those who haven’t seen the ad, it shows Jesus stepping out of a fishing boat and walking on the water much to the surprise of the two disciples with him who wonder if Jesus has had a Red Bull. Jesus says it has nothing to do with Red Bull and that it’s not a miracle; you just need to know where the stepping stones are. He walks off across the water and as he slips a little on one of the stones, he curses using his own name. Jesus is presented as being little more than a clown showing off his party trick.
I have great difficulty trying to imagine what got into the minds of the creative team who conceived this ad and then decided to flight it during this holy time of Lent as we prepare for Easter. Whatever they were smoking, it reeks of evil.
The management of the company and their advertising agency can hardly be excused because they are uneducated. They know exactly who Jesus is to me and to you. They can’t plead ignorance. They consider themselves experts, as did the Pharisees – but they are blind. They cannot see in Jesus anything to admire, anything to desire, anything to love and they have condemned themselves to darkness.
How do we respond to this malicious and obviously intentional degradation of Our Lord and of our faith?
We could discuss and argue the merits of the advert not unlike the neighbours of the man born blind who questioned whether what they saw in front of them was in fact true or whether perhaps there had been a misunderstanding.
Or we could respond like the blind man’s cautious parents and remain politically correct and neutral. His parents had much to lose; their status, the respect of the community and even their property. I doubt that any of us stand to risk anything like that but we’re perhaps afraid of rejection or embarrassment.
Do we have the conviction of the man born blind to be able to speak openly about what we believe to be true about Jesus Christ?
We are the hands, the feet, the mouth of our Lord and if we roll over and play dead, then our faith will continue to be mocked and ridiculed and the light will be overshadowed by the darkness.
The intention of all advertising is to increase sales of products. It would be really appalling if following this ad, Red Bull sales increased. The most effective way we can show our rejection of Red Bull’s ridicule of our faith is to reject their products. Cardinal Napier has suggested that in the spirit of observing Lent, we fast from all products associated with Red Bull until Easter.
Surely that’s the very least we can do?