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Fourth Sunday in Lent, Cycle A

In the Older Testament texts of Psalm 23 and of 1 Samuel 16:1-13 the Lord God overcomes the darkness of the “valley of the shadow of death” and provides hope for all of our days. In the Newer Testament texts of Ephesians 5:8-14 and John 9:1-42 the Lord Jesus overcomes basically the same “darkness” and provides the same “hope.”

Psalm 23
Psalm 23 is certainly for us an effective psalm of hope. When we are confronted by the death of loved ones or by the reality of our own impending death, we turn individually and as the Church corporately to this Israelite song of trust. It may even be accurate to state that Psalm 23 is one of the few texts within the Israelite Scriptures that has greater use among Christians than it has among Jews. For us, of course, the Lord is not only the Lord God as perceived by the ancient Israelites, but also the Lord Jesus, who for us is the “Good Shepherd,” and “all the days of our life” are perceived to include not only life in this time and space, but also eternal life beyond the limits of this time and space.

1 Samuel 16:1-13
According to this text, “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily over David” from the moment Samuel anointed him. The shepherd boy became the chosen one of the shepherd God, the designated king over Israel, the People of God. From grief and despair over the old, disappointing king Saul, the prophet Samuel turns with hope and gladness to the new destined-to-be king, the shepherd lad David. Even so, we also are called to turn from grief and despair to hope and gladness repeatedly during this Lenten season and always.

Ephesians 5:8-14
The non-Jewish background followers of Jesus addressed by the Pauline writer of Ephesians 5:8-14 are told that although they were once blind and in darkness, they now can see with the light of their Lord Jesus the Christ. A source that probably came from some gnosticizing Christian document unknown to us is quoted in Ephesians 5:14 as an indication of how the Christ will shine on these non-Jewish followers of Jesus. They, and we, are admonished to honorable conduct, as is appropriate for children of light.

John 9:1-41
When we are not so heavily distracted by the unnecessary anti-Jewish polemic of this Johannine mini-drama, we see also how we who are “blind” from the day of our birth are to be led by stages into full sight. Like the man in this text, we also are expected to look up, to recognize in Jesus first a prophet, then the Son of man, and finally in the Johannine Jesus fully revealed to us, the divine figure of the Risen Christ to be worshiped. There is no necessity, however, for Jews or for anyone else to be blinded while we do this.

For additional comments on this most elaborate success story of all of the Four Gospel accounts, see Norman A. Beck. Mature Christianity in the 21st Century: The Recognition and Repudiation of the Anti-Jewish Polemic of the New Testament (Expanded and revised edition, New York: Crossroad, 1994), pp. 302-303.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen