Sunday, March 06, 2005

Laetare Sunday (The Fourth Sunday of Lent), Year A
Readings: I Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Most of us know the unique torture that is a bad case of flu. You can feel it come on; you can feel your strength go away until you are too weak to anything more vigorous that watch TV. Then, that happy day comes, when you recognize that you are on the mend. You aren't well, but you aren't going to get sicker. That is what this Sunday of Lent is like.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is traditionally called Laetare Sunday. It is a Sunday in which to rejoice but at the same time, knowing that Lent isn't over. We haven't reached Easter, but we can see it coming. This Sunday brings us to examine our sources of joy. Joy is different from happiness, but it might be hard to see.

When we think of David, we normally put him at the end of the journey of his life, crowned as King of Israel and Uniter of the Kingdom. His Kingdom is a reflection of the Heavenly Kingdom. He gives us the first transitory taste. In today's first reading, however, the story is completely the opposite. Here, we see the runt of the litter, from a family with little or no influence, from a family with no money or power, elevated to the office of King. What's the underlying message? The only reason David is King of Israel is because God chose him to be.

When we encounter the man born blind, we deal with someone else who is also an absolute nothing, from the world's perspective. Being blind means you are as good as dead. You couldn't take care of yourself; you were unproductive. Compound this with the fact his being born blind creates the stigma that somehow a MAJOR SINNER has caused this to happen. That's the background to the behavior of both the disciples and the Pharisees. When Jesus heals this man's blindness, we see the catestrophic reversal for the goods of the world. This man is not the most forgotten by God; this man has been watched and tended by God for this hour of healing. The man born blind, and other like him, are most especially God's possession.

What do these two men have in common? Both of these men are lowly. They have no other resource to defend themselves, except for the intervention of God. The shocking fact is God spends a heck of a lot of time dealing with the lowly. The powerful don't seem to be on the radar; they probably aren't on the radar because they have used their wealth, fame, and power to cloak their movements and cloak their hearts from God.

This brings us to a question about ourselves. If I were to ask for a show of hands of those who consider themselves lowly or would want to be lowly, I don't think I would get many takers. (N.B. When I preached this, I phrased it as "Raise your hand if..." Nobody raised their hands.) We like to present ourselves and all together in charge. However, when we are alone, the truth pushes back on this facade of self-reliance. We are forced to say, "I am lowly because I am sick. I am lowly because I can't pay my bills. I am lowly because I sin." Over and over again, lowliness presents itself as the more truthful state of affairs.

Here then is the secret of Joy. Joy comes from lowliness. It comes from knowing that no matter how disregarded or discarded we are by the world, God never neglects the lowly. He sustains; therefore, we can always hold out hope, and that hope leads to joy. Happiness vanishes all too readily. Happiness from physical beauty vanishes with the first wrinkle. Happiness from a beautiful car vanishes the moment a deer bolts out into road. Happiness from wealth vanishes the moment the stock market crashes.

My pastor when I became a Catholic had a classic line, "Happiness is over rated." I agree. Only those whose blindness has been removed by the waters of baptism, can see that happiness flees, but joy endures.

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