Quinquagesima Sunday – February 22nd, 2009 – Luke 18:31-43
+ In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
So here we are, the last Sunday of Epiphany, the Last Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the Last Sunday before our observation of Lent begins. By next Sunday, we will be into a season of penitence – of solemn repentance where we ponder the struggles that Christ faces in His contest to win us from the power of sin, death, and the Devil by His crucifixion. And so, it is no surprise that we would have for our Gospel lesson today, Christ our Lord telling the Disciples precisely what He would be facing in His own Lent, in the first Lent.
“And taking the twelve, He 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.’” Christ pulls the disciples aside – tells them bluntly, “I will be crucified, and then I will rise.” Things that we are quite familiar with. In fact, Jesus just basically spoke the 2nd Article of the Creed which we just confessed ourselves. Jesus lays out the Christian faith – this is what the people of God believe – that Christ Jesus suffers, dies, and rises for our sake. This is true of those in the Old Testament, those who hearkened to the Words of the Messiah who was to come to deliver His people – this is true of us in the End of Days, who listen to the Words both of the Prophets and the Apostles – the Holy Scriptures inspired by the Holy Spirit, which all point to this truth – which all point to this faith – God Almighty dies for me, a sinner: God Almighty rises for me. Our faith is that God intervenes in our life, and that simply out of His great love for us, He has mercy upon us and wins for us salvation. Old or New, from Adam till now, that has been the faith of the people of God, that has been what we believe.
“But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Before that first Lent, before that first Easter – the disciples really didn’t get it, they didn’t understand that Christ Jesus would truly take His place among sinful men, that He would take up the death that man deserved in man’s place. They didn’t understand the depths to which God would go to show them mercy. They didn’t see it – they were blind. They couldn’t grasp it, they couldn’t get their hands around it. It didn’t make sense to them. God is God – God is Almighty and Powerful and Wonderful and Glorious. The Messiah is Almighty and Powerful and Wonderful and Glorious. How could this almighty Christ be delivered over to the Romans – how could this powerful Christ be mocked when He can end it – how could this wonderful Christ be flogged like a criminal – how could this glorious Christ be put to death? None of this made sense to the disciples at that time – they saw only our Lord’s Power and Glory – and thus they were blinded to who Christ Jesus truly is.
“As He drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired of them what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’” Now we see a man who is physically blind, who cannot see – who doesn’t know that Jesus is coming. Rather, he just hears the crowds, the commotion, and asks what is going on. What follows in our Gospel lesson, dear friends, is not planned, is not staged. It simply happens. “And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ This blind man simply calls out for mercy. He doesn’t have visions of Christ’s power or might or glory – rather this blind man knows that there is one chief way that he can relate to Jesus – on the basis of Mercy.
“And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” This man calling for mercy is told to be silent. Doesn’t that seem odd? You would at least think that this crowd might have sensed an opportunity to see a healing, to see something wondrous. Instead, they try to drown out this man’s call for mercy. They don’t want mercy here, they don’t want this interaction with Christ to be a “mercy” thing. Dear friends, this is nothing new. Think for a moment on the word mercy. We say it all the time in service – we sing it, we pray it, it is the central theme of how we approach God here in the Church. But what about in life in general? Out in the world we don’t mind being the ones that show mercy – but how many times when you walk out those doors do you like being the one asking for mercy? How many times in this past week did you like seeking another’s mercy? We in general don’t, for when we need mercy, it means we are in the wrong. When we need mercy, it means things are outside of our control. The world never likes needing mercy – it might like tossing out cash to the poor sops – that can make us feel good, but the world never likes needing mercy.
And sadly, this is seeping into American Christianity. It’s easy to find people who will talk at length about how God is Awesome and Powerful. We like that. But what about this – that God is merciful to me, a sinner? That has become less and less a focus of American Christianity across the board. Check the billboards – how many of them invite you to receive mercy for your sin? Check the book stores – how many of the books are about the wonders of God’s mercy in loving you, the sinner? That’s not what popular, that’s not what sells. It doesn’t now, and it didn’t in Christ’s day either. The crowds wish to drown out that poor blind man and his cry for mercy.
But our Lord, Christ Jesus, hears. “And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he came near, He asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?” He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.’” Jesus hears the cry for mercy, and Jesus is merciful. Why? Because that is who He is. Jesus shows mercy – He had just told the disciples that He is the Merciful One, the God who will bear up our infirmities, the one who will bear the scorn of sin and die and then rise so that we know that we too will rise again – that even if in this lifetime here our eyes, or aches and pains are not healed, we know that they will on the Last Day – and it has to happen this way because God is merciful to us – He is merciful and must show mercy to us – that is who He is.
And this, dear friends, is our faith. This is what we believe. Jesus says to this man, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” Attend to the words of Christ. He doesn’t say the “size of your faith” or the “strength of your faith” has made you well. We tend to think of faith immediately as my faith, the fact that I believe. That’s not the point that Christ is making – rather this – what the man believed IN is right – he believed in Christ, he trusted in Christ’s mercy – and that faith proved true. The man didn’t heal himself – Jesus did. And we know that the formerly blind man knew that Jesus was responsible completely and totally for his healing because we are told, “And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him, glorifying God.” The man believed throughout – but he is healed only when Christ speaks, when Christ acts. And he understands that he is healed at Christ’s action because when he sees again, what does he do? He glorifies not the strength of his faith, but rather glorifies God.
This is the Christian faith – that we look to God for mercy and give thanks for that mercy, glorifying His Name. This is the faith that you are a part of, that you are baptized into. This is what we do here in this place in worship – same thing as this man here. We cry out to God for mercy – and He gives us mercy. We confess, we receive forgiveness. We sing Lord have Mercy, and then we hear His Word of Mercy read from the lectern and preached from the pulpit. When we have communion, we call out “Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us” – and then He does have mercy and feed us His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. Everything in the Church, everything in the Christian faith – the faith of those who receive mercy and everlasting life, everlasting healing of both body and soul, is nothing less than the truth that God is merciful to us, that we poor sinners receive mercy from Christ, to which we respond with renewed hearts that cry out thanks and praise.
So, it is with remembering this that we prepare to enter the ancient Christian season of Lent. God’s mercy is freely given to us – but we will see what it cost our Lord – for we were purchased not with gold or silver, but with our Lord’s precious Blood. Our sin held us in bondage, and Christ fights to free us. In the weeks to come, we will see our Lord Christ Jesus fight off all the power of sin, death, and the devil in order to free us. And seeing all that Christ does, we will know why He does it – because God desires to be merciful to you, and He will shower His mercy upon you. In fact, this is how we know that Christ Jesus is God, it is how He reveals His Divinity to us most fully – He is love, so He’s determined to show us love, so He is determined to have mercy upon us – for which we give Him thanks. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world. Amen.