Preached March 6, 2011
1 Corinthian 13:1–13
St. Luke 18:31–43
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Today is Quinquagesima, approximately fifty days before Easter, and the Sunday last before the beginning of Lent, thus the last Sunday in the Pre–Lenten Season. Our preparation for the Lenten journey is nearing completion at this time. Our trip is announced by Jesus Himself in today’s Gospel reading when He says, Luke 18:31 Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. Indeed, in this single statement, Jesus has just described our whole Lenten journey, as we will travel with Him up to Jerusalem, sharing in all the events along the way, that we may be healed and transformed by His divine love in the process.
Let us pause to think far back into the Old Testament, to a time during the Exodus, when the children of Israel sinned against God and His servant Moses and they were punished by having snakes sent among them to bite them. When they recognized their sin, they asked Moses to get relief for them from God, and Moses did so. Following the instructions of God, Numbers 21:9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. Thus those that looked upon the brass serpent were saved from the sting of the actual snakes. Jesus takes this image to Himself in John 3:14-15 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. Thus Jesus Christ, the Son of Man, is to be lifted up on the Cross to give eternal life to those who see and know Him, in the same manner as the ancient brass serpent saved those bitten by the snakes during the Exodus. This is an image of sacrificial love in which our wounded souls are healed and given eternal life by Jesus Christ lifted up on the Cross.
The opening words of the Gospel lesson for today are Luke 18:31-34 Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. We had previously discussed the first part of the first verse, but then we come to the rest of it in which Jesus describes all of the things that have been written that are now about to happen. From our vantage point of hindsight, we can look at this list and say, yes, yes, it is all true. But to the disciples, hearing this list before the events occurred, it is not surprising that we have the final statement, And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. They simply could not envision what was about to happen in the days ahead; it was just too much to grasp. They, like we, were called to make this journey in faith and hope, because they simply could not possibly imagine the end.
On the road near Jericho, they encounter a blind man and we have one of Jesus great healing miracles. It should be noted that this miracle is recorded in all the synoptic Gospels (St. Matthew 20:29–34, St. Mark 10:46–52, St. Luke 18:35–43), although with some variation in the details. St. Mark’s Gospel names the man who was healed in this case as Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, but prior to the healing he seems to have been simply one of many disabled people by the roadside. He was by the roadside, begging, and when he heard the commotion he ask what it was about. When told that it was Jesus, the blind man began to call out to him, Luke 18:38 And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. We may assume that the blind man already knew something about Jesus by reputation as he does not hesitate to call out to Him using the messianic title Son of David, saying have mercy on me. As happens so often in cases like this, those traveling with Jesus and others in the crowd try to hush the man, either because they think he will disturb Jesus, or because they are displeased with the application of the messianic titles to Jesus whom they may not acknowledge as the Messiah. Either way, they try to put the man down, but he cries out all the louder and is heard by Jesus who calls him forward, Luke 18:40-41 And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him: and when he was come near, he asked him, Saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight.
Two things happen in the last Scripture quote above: (1) Jesus offers whatever cure the man asks to receive, and (2) the blind man immediately expresses the dearest desire of his heart, namely that he might receive his sight. The first of these reflects the love of God for man, expressed in Jesus’ healing power extended to so many during His years on earth. The second is the desire that weighs most heavily on the heart of the blind man, the concern that he thinks about daily. We might wax theological and say, “why did he not ask for forgiveness of his sins?” but the burning desire of his heart was clearly for his sight.
As we undertake our Lenten journey with Christ, we too go seeking sight, seeking healing that we might see God. We are in the same position as blind Bartimaeus, sitting by the side of the road in Jericho as Jesus passes near. We call out to Him, but there are many distractions that attempt to silence us, to put us down. We are going to make this journey with Him, a journey in which we will continue to call out to Him, asking Him to heal our blinded sight. We know that He will do it if we can ever get ourselves close enough to Him, so that is the problem we face.
Our Epistle lesson for the day deals with this problem in terms of the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity (love). Faith is steadfast belief, so that our Christian faith is a fixed belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour and all of the associated doctrines of the Church. The constancy of that belief is a very important part of faith; it does not change from day to day, or year to year. Our Christian Hope is the expectation of eternal life with Jesus Christ for those who remain steadfast to the end, without despairing or giving up.
The words Charity and Love (not romantic love) are used interchangeably. To love is not so much an emotion as it is an act of the will or a value judgment. Thus we are first and foremost to love God, that is we are to value God most highly, above all else.
We are also bidden to love not only God but our neighbor as ourselves. This means to love him as a rational creature, made in the image of God, and capable of loving God. We love our neighbor because he is the object of God’s love, God dwells within him, and God gave Himself for him. The good that this causes us to wish for our neighbor is that he too may truly love God.
In the same manner, we are to love ourselves, because we too are made in the image of God, God dwells in us, and God gave Himself for us. To love ourselves is to wish that we may most sincerely truly love God, that God may be glorified in us.
All of this leads to countless questions about how love — charity — is to be worked out in the world, what are to be the priorities and what claims must be put secondary, etc. One of our great difficulties today as a nation is our inability to prioritize, in part, because of our inability to agree on the basis for which priorities should be made. There are countless disagreements over what is the proper role of government, what should be left to private enterprise, what are simply private concerns, etc. As Christians, we have a concern in how all of these things are being done in our public life.
In this world we must have faith as we travel our journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. This sustains us along the way, carrying over rough places in the road where we are challenged by doubts and seeming contradictions. As we travel, we should experience our faith growing along the way as greater insight is developed and new mysteries are shown to us. We also need to have hope because the object of hope is the motivation for this trip. If there is no reason to make the trip, we certainly will not put much effort into it, nor will we get much out of it. Without hope, the whole trip is pointless. Then there is charity, the perfect love we seek between ourselves and God, and between ourselves and all other people. We work to develop this here, but most of us realize that we have far to go in establishing in ourselves complete charity. Nevertheless, that is the goal. When we arrive at the end of the trip, in the New Jerusalem, there will no longer be faith because faith will be fulfilled. There will no longer be hope because hope will be fully realized. But what will remain is charity (or love), the perfect relation between ourselves and God and all others in the Communion of Saints. For the present time, we have 1 Corinthians 13:13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
As we move forward into Lent, it is time to consider the disciplines of Lent. This is a trip from spiritual childhood into adulthood, a time to mature in our Christian faith. It is time for us to put away childish things, and to come to faith as grownups. The disciplines of Lent are a way to nourish our childish souls and give them spiritual growth toward maturity. We need to wean ourselves away from the toxic brew of television, talk radio, and computer blogs, to spend more time with the Bible and other truly spiritual reading, to find more time for prayer and daily meditation. These are the things that promote spiritual growth, increasing faith, hope, and charity, all three. The habits that lead to heaven are formed by discipline, not by self–indulgence. Let us prepare for a truly holy Lent this year, that we may indeed go with Jesus when He says, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem.
May we be ready to go with Him and to find our treasure there. May he open our blinded eyes and give us grace to do just that.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.