Sunday, March 6, 2011

Quiquagesima Sunday

Quiquagesima Sunday – March 6th, 2011 – Luke 18:31-43

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
We have two stories in our Gospel, two events, and they shed light on each other. In the first, we have the disciples acting like blind men, like deaf men, not understanding what our Lord says to them about His upcoming passion. In the second we have a blind man whose vision is healed by the mercy of Christ. These two stories highlight, contrast with each other, and thus they bring into focus what our own thoughts and preparations should be as we begin Lent this Wednesday. So, let us begin.

“And taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.’ But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Jesus lays it all out on the line. In Jerusalem I will be beaten, tortured, and killed, yet I will rise again on the third day. And Jesus had told this to the disciples before – but still, they just don’t get it. They don’t understand – they can’t grasp it, get their minds around it. Well, why not? It’s straightforward enough – suffer, die, rise.

The problem is that this didn’t fit the disciples’ expectation of what life with the Christ was supposed to be. They all knew Jesus was mighty and powerful – He heals, He casts out demons, creation itself is at His command. Since this is true, since Jesus is so, so powerful, how could it ever happen that He’d be caught by the Romans and killed? No, surely, if it came to that He’s simply slip out of their fingers – or maybe even better – Jesus would finally lead the holy war, the holy revolution where the children of Israel are restored to their rightful independence. This is the way the disciples, even after following Christ for so long, are still leaning. There’s a reason Peter is wearing a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. They all, at this moment, view Jesus primarily as merely a fixer, a future earthly leader, the guy who is going to run things on earth – a power broker. He’s on the way up, and when He hits the apex of His earthly power, we’ll be along for the ride. And as such, what Jesus says here is completely beyond their ability to understand. Suffer? Tortured? Die? No, no, Jesus, you are too powerful and strong for that to happen to you. I’m sure You’ll find a way out of it, You’re tougher than those lousy old Romans.

That is the disciples’ view of Christ at this moment. He’s simply a Being of earthly power and might, approved by God to smack bad people around, maybe to give them some sweet blessings too. They don’t understand. But there is one who does. “As He drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’” Here is a different view, a different understanding of who Jesus is. The disciples understand that Jesus is powerful, but they are His followers, they’ll ride His coat tails, they too expect to be the powerful ones in the kingdom to come – remember, James and John want to sit at His right and left. They’ve been thinking in terms of power – both Christ’s power and the payback they will get for following Jesus. But this blind man – he’s not thinking about power. He’s not thinking about some mythical future kingdom where he’ll get to boss some gentiles around – no, he wants something else. He wants mercy.

There this blind man sits, and ironically, he sees his life perfectly well. He has no delusions about how wonderful he is, how much He has given to Jesus, how much he deserves. He knows what he is – simply a poor blind man – nothing to give, nothing to offer, no position to bargain from. He’s simply there on the side of the road, suffering, blind, in need. So he does that which makes perfect sense – He cries out to Jesus for mercy. Mercy. He doesn’t ask for power, He doesn’t ask for might, He doesn’t demand blessings because he’s been such a good little boy – he simply wants mercy. He simply begs of Jesus underserved blessing. I am poor and miserable Jesus – You can see how pathetic I am, how great my need is, have mercy upon me.

“And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” This is understandable. The crowds were getting their chance to see this mighty Man Jesus, and they too were wondering if He was going to come and finally kick out the Romans. Jericho was on the road to Jerusalem, the glorious revolution could be at hand… and then you have the screaming blind beggar. What a downer. When you have power and pomp, you don’t want whining beggars. So they try to shush him, be quiet you. All the more he cries out for mercy. Even though the world despises him, tells him to be quiet, to just shut up and die, this blind man still calls out to Christ for mercy. “And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him.” And suddenly the big procession, the noisy parade stops, and this blind man is brought to Jesus. “And when he came near, He asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And he said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” And Jesus heals him. Again, no surprise – we understand that Jesus is all about restoration, about healing. Indeed, even us here who have bad vision, who do not see so well, we know that we will receive healing from Jesus – it may not be until the last day, but when Christ returns, I know I’m not going to need these contacts that I wear anymore. This is what Christ does – this is His work, restoring fallen man.

The blind man understood this. For him, there were no thoughts of earthly power and might, no hopes of glorious victory in battle or wealth unimaginable. Why? Because this blind man knew his need, his lack. He couldn’t see. The fact that he was a sinner in a sinful, fallen world, where things fall apart, where things don’t work right – that was obvious to him. Every time he opened his eyes and saw nothing, it was clear that he was in a messed up, fallen place. It was clear that he lacked, that he was short of what he should be. And so, he knew to call for mercy.

Compare this with the disciples. They didn’t understand when they are told that Jesus will suffer, die, and rise in order to fulfill the Scriptures. They don’t get it. And do you know why? Because they didn’t see their own lack. They didn’t see that they needed Christ Jesus, True God and True Man to suffer and die for them, they didn’t get that they needed Christ Jesus to rise from the dead for them. They thought they were good people, they were the nice people, the heroes – all they thought they needed was power, was a share in the rewards to come. They didn’t think that they needed mercy – and because of that, they didn’t understand. Thoughts of power and glory and might consumed their thoughts, and mercy and confession and repentance was far from them. And so they did not understand.

Lent approaches. This Wednesday we begin with Ash Wednesday. We will watch both during the midweek services and the Sunday services our Lord begin His march towards Good Friday and the cross. And if you would understand this, if this would make sense to you, you need believe what the Scriptures say of you and your sin. You are a poor, miserable sinner. That is how you need to think – not just for a minute on Sunday morning when we read the words of the Confession, but all through the week. Abandon the thoughts of how good you are, of how it’s not really your fault, how you aren’t as bad as that person. That’s the reason the disciple didn’t understand yet in our Gospel; that’s the way of spiritual blindness and arrogance and pride, and ultimately, damnation. Hell is filled with people who were just sure that they were pretty good. We are not. We are sinners. We do not do what we ought to do, we do not show love like we ought to show love, we do not care for our neighbor and put their needs above our own. We are selfish, petty, easily angered, easily upset, quick to disdain, greedy, lustful, hateful, defiant, self-righteous sinners. And when we see this, when we confess this, when we understand our own lack and call out to God, not for the blessings that we think we deserve, not for Him to pat us on the back because gosh darn-it we’re such nice Christian folk, but when like this blind man we call out to Christ Jesus for mercy – we receive it in full from Christ, who willingly goes to the Cross, carrying our sin. When we see the death that our sin merits, the death that our sin actually is, and call out to Christ for mercy, we see Him rise from the tomb, and give His own unending and eternal life to us, so that even should we die, yet we shall live. When we enter the season of Lent with hearts that are repentant, we see and understand the wonder of the ages, we see that which the Moses and the Prophets proclaimed, we see what Paul preached with such vigor – we see Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, having mercy upon us. We see Him taking the battle to Satan and crushing Him. We see the Lord overthrowing the powers of hell. We see Him showing mercy and forgiveness to all, even the lowest and most despised. We see Him give to His Church His Supper, in which He gives us His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sin. We see that Body crucified, that Blood shed so that forgiveness is won, and we see life restored on the third day.

My dear friends in Christ, may God give you wisdom and humility this Lenten season, so that with repentant hearts you might behold the mercy and love that God has for you, and the salvation that is yours in Christ Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

WOW, Father , that i think is the best sermon i have ever read! Thank you so much.It has opened up so much for me in just these brief few minutes it took to read-just think what it will do for the next 40 days! God Bless you Father, joan, a miserable sinner