Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sermon: Quinquagesima

26 February 2006 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Luke 18:31-43 (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

The theme of today’s Gospel text is blindness and restoration of sight. But as is always the case with Holy Scripture, there is more here than meets the eye.

First, there is the obvious. A blind beggar cries out to Jesus for mercy, addressing him as the Son of David. The beggar knows he is blind. He doesn’t insist that people use euphemisms to downplay his affliction. He doesn’t insist people call him: “visually impaired,” “differently abled,” or “handi-capable.” No, he understands full well his condition. He can’t see. His world is one of darkness. He must beg and rely on help for the most basic things. He seeks wholeness and healing.

And he knows where he must go to get it.

He seeks out the Son of David, that is, the Christ, the Messiah, the King of Israel. Though his eyes do not see, he “sees” who Jesus is by faith – unlike the “blind guides and hypocrites,” the Pharisees, who don’t suffer physical blindness.

And so he cries out to Jesus for mercy. His cries are an embarrassment to the community, and they try to shush him, “but he cried out all the more.” Jesus hears his cry for mercy, and listens to his prayer. He addresses Jesus using the term “Lord,” which in Greek is “Kyrie,” and which in Hebrew is “Adonai.” Adonai is itself a euphemism for the name of God: Yahweh, I AM. Again, the blind man is not so blind at all, for by faith he “sees” that Jesus is none other than God Almighty from the Old Testament. And like his ancestors, he cannot see God. For it was said in those days, if you saw God face to face, you would die. But this was no longer to be the case, for because of Jesus, this man would indeed see God and live!

He prays for his sight to be restored, and immediately, that is, straightaway, he receives his vision! And he becomes a disciple of Jesus, a follower. All of the people witnessed this miracle, and they praised God.

Notice that Jesus links faith to this miracle, “your faith has made you well.” There is a temptation to look at faith in a superstitious way. Kind of like magic dust that we can store up by going to church, saying prayers, and leading a holy life. When we see faith in this way, faith becomes a kind of token that we can trade in for valuable prizes: a miraculous healing, a financial miracle: the old “gospel of health and wealth.” But to read this passage in this way is to be blinded to the meaning. Faith means “belief.” It does not mean the power of positive thinking. It doesn’t mean self-confidence, or “name it and claim it.” For the faith, the belief, Jesus speaks of is faith in Jesus. Notice the man’s cry and prayer: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

His faith is not in himself, not in his own power to conjure up a miracle, nor even faith that Jesus will cure him. Rather, he prays Jesus to cure him, with faith that Jesus is capable of doing so. Why? Because Jesus is the Christ: the Messiah. Because Jesus is Lord: very God of very God. And in this faith, this belief, he makes his request. He begs for “mercy,” that is, clemency, leniency, pardon. He knows he deserves to be blind – as all of us do. And so he seeks the opposite of justice. He asks not for what he deserves: punishment – but rather for what he does not deserve – forgiveness.

This is pure Gospel, pure grace, pure mercy. Jesus’ healing of this poor, miserable sinner is the living embodiment of the love Paul speaks of in our epistle text. Pure divine love doesn’t seek revenge or just retribution, but rather this love wipes the slate clean and forgives.

The blind man’s faith has indeed made him well. No magic dust, no positive thinking, but rather belief that the incarnate God was passing by in the flesh, and trust in his authority even over disease, darkness, and death.

But notice what precedes this miracle. Jesus is speaking with the Twelve, the ones he called “you of little faith.” And their lack of faith is making them blind. Jesus tells them quite plainly what is going to happen. They’re going to Jerusalem, and just like the law and prophets testify, the Son of Man, the Son of David, the merciful one will be “delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon.” He will be whipped and killed, and he will rise again the third day. Jesus lays it all out for them. But their lack of faith blinds them to the proclamation of God’s Word! For “this saying was hidden from them.” They were completely in the dark about what Jesus was talking about.

We need the Light of Christ to illuminate the Word of God.

This is how it is we Christians can read the Scriptures and hear the Gospel proclaimed and by faith comprehend and take it to heart – all the while the world cannot see it. They mock, and in their blindness, revel in deeds of darkness.

You see, we’re all blind, we’re all beggars, we’re all immersed in a self-imposed darkness. We are those of “little faith.” We are like the Twelve who want a different Jesus than the Jesus of the Gospels. We become annoyed when God’s will is not our will, when we must endure our own crosses. Who among us embraces his cross and joyfully follows the Lord to be “delivered to the Gentiles,” mocked, insulted, spat upon, scourged, or even killed for the faith?

And so the example of the beggar is clear. We need to accept the reality of our blindness, our darkness, our brokenness. We’re not “morally-impaired,” we don’t simply have “different standards of behavior.” We’re not ugly ducklings waiting to become swans if we only work hard enough, repeat lots of affirming phrases in the mirror, and become ablaze for the Lord. No indeed. As Dr. Luther wrote shortly before his death, “we are beggars.” The only “affirming” things we can say in front of our mirror is: “I am a poor miserable sinner.” Indeed, the Law itself is for us a mirror that shows us every blemish and imperfection. And we gaze into that mirror dimly, imperfectly. But one day we will be able to look into the mirror in the pure light of Christ, all imperfections gone, all blindness taken away.

As a blind beggar, what do we do? We cry out “Lord!” This is why we begin our liturgy in the name of the Lord, the Triune God. We begin our cry by invoking the One who can help us. Then we acknowledge our sins and ask Jesus to forgive us, to have mercy on us. We sing the very prayer of the anonymous blind man every Sunday: “Lord, have mercy! Christ (that is, the Son of David), have mercy! Lord, have mercy!”

For we don’t dare approach the throne of God with a swagger and strut, demanding what we deserve. No, rather we gaze upon this altar with eyes cast down, bowing and scraping before the King. We fall face down as blind beggars – for then and only then does the Son of David gently touch us, raise us up, and restore us to worthiness to stand before God, face to face, and live.

For the blindness of this world is a passing thing. Disease and death are on their last legs. Unhappiness and sorrow, separation from loved ones, pain and suffering are quickly passing away into non-existence in these last days. So, dear brothers and sisters, “Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees…. Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; he will come and save you!”

For every day that passes, we are closer to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words in our Old Testament lesson: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water; in the habitation of jackals, where each lay, there shall be grass with reeds and rushes.”

Jesus gives us a foretaste of this wondrous new creation without sin, death, and the devil, without blindness, disease, and sorrow, without hunger, thirst, and fear, when he responds in love to the persistent blind beggar who in faith cries out: “Kyrie eleison! Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

Rosko said...

Totally diggin both that hat, and this sermon!