Preached February 19, 2012
1 Corinthians 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, the last of the three Sundays of the season of Pre–Lent, coming approximately 50 days before Easter. The great penitential season of Lent begins this next Wednesday with the imposition of Ashes on Ash Wednesday. Thus we are completely re–oriented from the buoyant mood of the Christmass Cycle to the much more somber mood of the Easter Cycle, but as always, our focus remains fixed upon Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The opening verse of our Gospel lesson for today sets our course: 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. There are the title words, we go up to Jerusalem, and this does indeed describe the road that Jesus invites us to travel with Him through this Lent that lies before us.
It is hard to be entirely certain just where these words of Christ were spoken. The next event that is recorded mentions that Jesus and the disciples were approaching Jericho, so we may reasonably assume that the foregoing words were spoken somewhere in the vicinity of Jericho, although we cannot identify a precise location. Now Jericho is in the Jordan river valley, some 1200 feet below sea level. Jesus has announced that the group is going to travel to Jerusalem, which is on a mountain rising above the coastal plain to an elevation of 2550 feet above sea level. Thus when Jesus says we will go UP to Jerusalem, He is speaking of a climb of 3750 feet, spread over the relatively short distance of what looks to be less than 20 miles as the crow flies. Even as the physical journey will be an uphill struggle, so in the same fashion the spiritual journey will likewise be an uphill struggle.
This journey is not for the faint of heart or the uncommitted. It is truly the journey of faith with Jesus as He prepares for His final agony and struggle on Calvary, bearing the sins of the world. We are not able to do it alone, but He invites us to travel with Him. We go with Him, to share in His suffering in our small way, that we may be healed and transformed by the Divine Love. We go up to Jerusalem.
After Jesus briefly summarizes the horrors that lie ahead in Holy Week, St. Luke writes: Luke 18:34 And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. There are a number of different ideas about what the disciples were expecting for their Messiah to be; it is often suggested that He was expected to be a sort of warrior prince along the lines of David, one who would lead Israel in a military revolt against the Romans and restore the Davidic Kingdom. It has also been suggested that the Messiah would be a new Moses who would lead His people in a new Exodus to the new promised land in the Kingdom of Heaven. In either of these expectations, it does not appear that the Messiah can be allowed to die, so the words that Jesus is speaking about His approaching death simply do not fit the ideas that the disciples have about Him as the Messiah; He cannot die in their thinking, so what is He talking about?
Reading on, Luke 18:35-36 35 And it came to pass, that as he was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging: 36 And hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant. Although St. Luke does not give the blind man a name, St. Matthew and St. Mark also record the incident and give the beggar the name Bartimeus. At this point, Bartimeus probably has as much understanding of what Jesus is doing as do the disciples, which is to say not very much. He simply sits there, completely blind but listening to the noise of the crowd, And hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant.
Luke 18:37-39 37 And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by. 38 And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. 39 And they which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried so much the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me. As soon as Bartimeus realizes who it is that is passing by, he cries out for mercy. He recognizes the name of the Messiah, and seizes upon his chance, his only chance to ask for help from Jesus. Unlike ordinary men who might travel to Jesus, Bartimeus is blind and cannot travel on his own. But here, Jesus has come to him, so he must seize this opportunity and not let Jesus go by without trying to obtain His help. We often fail to obtain God’s help simply because we do not ask; Bartimeus is not going to make that mistake! As happens so often, those around Jesus try to block the one in need, telling him to back off. Remember how this happened when people brought children to Jesus, and again the disciples try to push them away. This happens yet today. Those charged with the responsibility to mediate Jesus, specifically the Church and individual Christians, do not always make Jesus accessible to those who come seeking Him. For various and sundry reasons, we try to “protect” Jesus from the unwashed world, a perfectly ridiculous concept! Jesus came to die for all men.
Luke 18:41-42 41 Saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. 42 And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee. Thus by faith to seize upon his opportunity, Bartimeus received his sight from our Saviour, Jesus Christ. He was brought from his world of darkness into the world of light by virtue of his faith in Jesus. Had he lacked the faith to act when he learned that Jesus was passing near, he would have been left in his blindness. This is so similar to the tragedy of so many modern lives wherein people simply lack the faith to act and commit themselves to lives of holiness and faith.
Our journey to Jerusalem with Jesus this Lent is to be a journey into light, a journey into understanding the mystery of divine love in the passion of Christ. Modern man tends to doubt that the ancient disciplines and lessons of Lent can really do so much for us, but then, modern man does not understand the way of faith in the eternal God!! God gives so much in return for our little; He gives all in return for nothing. All in return for nothing: that is the Divine Charity which, as St. Paul explains in today’s Epistle, is to be the very essence of our life as Christians: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Now there can be no doubt that Faith is an excellent thing, and so is Hope, but they are only a beginning to move us towards Heaven. In Heaven there is no faith; in Heaven there is no hope, because in Heaven is the knowledge and full possession of the eternal God, towards which Faith and Hope can only aim. In Heaven there remains is only Charity, the bond of love which unites lover and beloved. Without that love, all our powers are worthless: sounding brass and tinkling cymbal, or noisy nonsense. With the best gift of charity, we have eternal life. 1 Corinthians 13:10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
Therefore our journey of Lent is not just a journey of faith and hope, but a journey of love, a journey whereby we become more firm in that bond of love which unites us to God. It is a journey whereby we grow up in love. 1 Corinthians 13:11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. We are like children who babble aimlessly. Lent is a time to grow up and put away childish things.
The disciplines of Lent are a serious matter, being fundamentally a matter of the maturing of our childish souls. It is a time when we consider more seriously the condition of our souls, remembering that we are called to grow in holiness throughout our lives. This can only be accomplished by taking seriously our state as forgiven and regenerate sinners, eternally indebted to our Saviour Jesus Christ and seeking constantly to serve and please Him. With that in mind, wouldn’t we be better off with a little more time for prayer, and a little less for empty chatter, a little more time for the Word of God and a little less for trivial words? Habits are formed by disciplines; and the habit of charity, the habit of heaven is not formed by self-indulgence, and the endless pursuit of worldly ends. Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Jesus bids us to go up with Him to Jerusalem, and to find our treasure there in Charity. May He open our blind 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.