Saturday, May 7, 2011

11-04-03: 4th Sunday of Lent

Fourth Sunday of Lent

Samuel 16:1,6-7,10-13 /Psalm 23 /Ephesians 5:8-14 /John 9:1-41

Choosing kings seems never an easy procedure, as today’s first reading about the prophet Samuel anointing the young David makes clear. That’s no doubt why the crown was passed according to bloodline in most cultures, so as to avoid the mess involved in choosing an outsider. When the prophet Samuel is sent to anoint King Saul’s successor no one expected he’d end up anointing the youngest of Jesse’s sons, whose main claim to fame (according to the passage) was that he was young and handsome – so much for experience.

The British must have been just as shocked when Edward VIII abdicated the throne “for the woman he loved,” leaving his brother Albert, shy and heavily burdened by a pronounced stammer, to take his place. The recent Oscar-winning film, The King’s Speech, beautifully captures how an obvious deficit can surprisingly be transformed into unexpected inspiration.

I have a feeling those of us who’ll be watching The Borgias (beginning this Sunday on Showtime) might not walk away with as much admiration for the Church’s choice of St. Peter’s successor at the turn of the sixteenth century. The papacy, the oldest monarchy in history, is not dependent on bloodline for right of succession, though Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI) may have indeed wanted to pass on the papal tiara to Cesare - one of his several illegitimate children.

There are some fascinating parallels in the lives of these three men, not the least being that George VI can trace his lineage back to one of Alexander VI’s illegitimate children. And, in each case, the underlying belief was that king and pope were ultimately chosen by God. Such a belief is not that hard to swallow when someone like John Paul II emerges from conclave as elected successor to St. Peter, but we tend to think there must have been a fly in the ointment when a cunning thug like Rodrigo Borgia emerges as a pope; or a lustful King David risks everything to sleep with a married woman, having her husband murdered in the process; or when a nation on the brink of war looking for a strong leader capable of rallying the nation by sheer force of words, hears over the air waves a shy, retiring man with a pronounced stammer. If we say we believe God is running the show, some things just don’t seem to make sense.

It may prove interesting to see how an exposé on “the worst pope in history” will pan out. Will it simply reconfirm some in their disdain for Catholicism? Or might it suggest, albeit unwittingly, the possibility that there’s always hope for redemption - even for the most corrupt and disreputable?

One theologian recently remarked that in our age of skepticism and doubt regarding matters of faith, surprise is virtually the only remaining “proof” for the existence of God. Surprise, the experience of the completely unexpected, the affirmation of something there that wasn’t there before, can shock even the most hardened materialist. That God chooses the weak both in body (like George VI) or in morals (like both Rodrigo Borgia and the handsome David) might be obvious to those who see a repeating pattern in revelation, but it’s nevertheless nothing less than scandalous to think God chose the one least expected, the one least capable or worthy from our point of view. God’s unforeseen choice catches us off-guard, throwing us off kilter. And that, perhaps more than anything else, is a reason to believe that God is somehow still in charge, still holding the pen and nudging us toward heaven as he writes our human history with crooked – indeed, sometimes, very crooked – lines.

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