Fourth Sunday in Lent
Readings – I Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
The prophet Samuel anointed the first king of Israel, King Saul, and Saul’s reign did not go well. In fact, Saul was still the monarch when Samuel was instructed by God to anoint another. Samuel was sent to Jesse, the Bethlehemite. In the Gospel, according to St. Matthew, we learn that among Jesse’s ancestors were Tamar, who played the harlot (Genesis 38), Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute of Jericho (Joshua 2), and Ruth, the Moabite immigrant. This was not a distinguished ancestry, yet to Bethlehem, Samuel went. The sons of Jesse prepared for the feast by bathing and clothing in their finest. Samuel prepared to anoint the future king of Israel as each one of the seven sons presented themselves. Yet with each the Lord God, who “looks on the heart” rather than outward appearance, rejected them. You can imagine Samuel’s dilemma, all seven sons were rejected. So, he asked, “Are all your sons here?” One was not. David, the youngest, was out in the field minding the sheep. Immediately he was summoned, and the Lord God declared, “Rise and anoint him, for this is the one!” David was the eighth son, the overlooked son, unprepared, fresh from the field.
You may recall that the number 8 has special significance in our faith tradition. God created in six days and rested on the seventh day, so the eighth day is a new beginning. Also, Jesus was raised on the eighth day, Sunday, the day following the Hebrew sabbath. And most baptismal fonts are eight-sided; we are baptized into a new life. David was the eighth son of Jesse, a new start for the People of Israel, from an unexpected lineage, and from out in the field where he had been overlooked as he watched the sheep.
To be appropriately prepared for a feast in ancient times was to be washed clean and to be covered with fragrant oils. And that practice continues into our day. When going out for special occasions we shower or bathe, and especially in the winter months, we apply lotion to our dry skin.
It is therefore no surprise that in our baptismal rite, we ceremonially do the same thing. The word, “to baptize” means “to be dipped”. We are dipped, we are bathed, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We are anointed, we are lotioned, we are “sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever”. (BCP, p. 307 and 308) We are dipped; we are anointed into the community of faith. There is more, and this is sometimes overlooked or even ignored. We are dipped, and we are anointed, like David was anointed, for the mission. David was anointed to be the next king of Israel, and we are anointed to be on a mission, too.
The rite of baptism goes beyond the incorporation into the community of faith; it is the Way of Jesus. As David had to grow into his mission of kingship, so we have to grow into our mission. On page 308 of the Book of Common Prayer, we hear these most important words proclaimed by the gathered congregation –
We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.
We receive you into this motley crew we call the Church.
We invite you to use your voice to confess and proclaim your membership
We challenge you to use your hands and your feet to walk with us in the way of Jesus, to act out your faith.
We are to remember the proverb, “Actions speak louder than words”.
Martin Luther got it right; we are all members of the priesthood. We are all anointed to be the hands and the feet of Jesus in this world.
In this world, we shall not want for anything because
God leads us to green pastures and still waters.
God guides us along paths, even through the valley of the shadow of death.
God protects us, and invites us to feast, even with those who make us uncomfortable.
God anoints us with oil as daughters and sons so that we share goodness and mercy wherever our missions take us, until at last, we come to our final resting place in the eternal heavens. We are God’s anointed. We are on a mission. Thanks be to God.