03 February 2008

Homily - Quinquagesima

The Blind Man who Sees
Luke 18:31-43

Did you catch what the blind man cried out when he heard that Jesus was passing by? Perhaps he could see, in a way, after all! He cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” In other words, Kyrie eleison – Lord, have mercy! It’s one of the simplest prayers you can say or sing. But those two Greek words, or three words in English, contain more great stuff about our Lord than we can hardly imagine. We pray them at least twice in our liturgy every week. At the beginning of the Divine Service, we pray the four-fold “Lord, have mercy.” Later in the service, just before we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, we pray: “Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world; have mercy on us.” Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy. The words may just roll off your tongue like you’ve been saying them your whole live – and many of us have been - but what do they mean? What do they tell us about who we are as sinners and who Jesus is as Savior?

First, we hear Jesus taking His twelve disciples aside to tell them what’s about to happen to him. He says, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” Yes, His pending Passion and His soon-to-come Crucifixion were prophesied by the Old Testament prophets. All is about to happen as planned by God Himself from eternity. Then, again referring to Himself, Jesus says, “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.” Yes, our Lord shows His true humanity in His suffering and death. How else would He be able to suffer and die for us, if He weren’t true Man?

But the disciples just don’t get it. They cannot quite grasp that Jesus’ death on the cross is the whole focal point and purpose of His life. The purpose of Jesus’ life was hidden from them. Jesus would have to heal a blind man to reveal the faith that trusts in Him.

But let’s pause here for a moment, before we get to the blind man. How often don’t we follow in the disciples’ shoes? How often don’t people come to church, go to Sunday School or Bible class their whole lives, and still they just don’t get the point? We like to think that just going through the motions of coming to Church, hearing the Gospel, and receiving the Sacrament is enough. But going through the motions is not the same thing as faith! Jesus’ disciples had been with Him for almost three years. Some of them even saw Him transfigured before their very eyes; they saw a glimpse of His glory. He even predicted His Passion and Death several times, basically telling them, “This is the point.” And still they just don’t get it.

Yes, the same thing is true for us. Perhaps you have a relative who grew up in the Church. They came to God’s house. They heard the Gospel. They received the Sacrament. Yet for some reason, they never got it. They have since fallen away from the faith. Like the seed that fell upon the rocky soil or among the thorns from last week, some just don’t get it. They don’t hear God’s summons to confess their sins. They somehow miss the point that Christ came to suffer and die for them. And it’s really not that complicated. Jesus wants us to be in His house so that we can receive His forgiveness and enjoy the life He comes to give. But He does so as our crucified Lord. That’s the message the disciples just didn’t get.

So let’s move on. Jesus travels on the road to Jericho. A crowd of onlookers gathers around Him and follows Him. As they make their way down the road, a blind man alongside the road hears the commotion and asks what’s going on. St. Mark tells us that his name is Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus learns that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. Then he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” It’s the cry of every sinner who needs Jesus. It’s the cry of every soul that is weighed down by all the cares of life, by the trials we all face as children of Adam. It’s the cry that does not try to manipulate God or make demands of Him. It’s the cry of faith. Lord, have mercy on me!

And notice that he keeps crying out, even after the crowd tries to shut him up. Bartimaeus cries out because he knows that God will give mercy. He knows that God loves him with an everlasting love. He knows that God will hold him in the palm of his hand and will keep him forever. The pressure from the crowd to shut him up? Just doesn’t matter. The scrutiny from curious onlookers? Doesn’t mean a thing. All the socially popular and politically correct pleas for this man of faith to be quiet do not deter him. He knows that Jesus can heal him. He knows that he can see new life in Christ. And that means more to him than fitting in with the crowd.

Lord, have mercy. What does it mean? It means first of all that Bartimaeus recognizes that Jesus is Lord. He is the Son of the living God who has power over life and death. That’s why he can cry out to this Lord of life for mercy. Basically, he asks that God will not give him what he truly deserves. Bartimaeus knows that he deserves the blindness of his eyes, just as we all deserve the blindness that our sin brings. However, Bartimaeus prays that God would open his eyes and restore his sight. Let us pray that our gracious Master will open our eyes of faith to see His mercy. Lord, have mercy.

Bartimaeus isn’t afraid to ask God for what he wants and needs. Are you? Are you afraid to ask God for forgiveness? Are you afraid to ask God to be with you in times of trouble? Are you afraid that God will abandon you when you need Him the most? Are you afraid that God’s ways and teachings will make you unpopular and disliked by people around you?

Don’t be afraid. Our second reading today is from the “great love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. It’s one of the most loved chapters of the Bible, but too often we miss something about it. St. Paul is describing God’s love. This is the depth of God’s love. His love is so deep and wide that it will engulf the sinner—you—in flood of forgiveness. This love of God will put you back together when you are beaten and broken by sin, oppression and death. This love of God does not look for the easy way out. No, God’s love goes the very hard road, the road to Calvary and death on a cross. That’s God’s love for you. That’s how far His love will go to save you from sin and rescue you from death.

So we hold up the faith of Bartimaeus as a wonderful example for us to hear and follow. Bartimaeus did not try to make sense of things. He did not complain to God that his life was so miserable or that So-and-so had it so much better than he did. Instead, Bartimaeus looked at Jesus with the eyes of faith and cried out with the only words that made any sense: Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.

This week we begin our Lenten journey to the cross. This is a time of deep reflection for us Christians. This is the time when we need to look in the mirror of God’s message and realize the horrifying depths of our sinfulness and depravity. But this is also time when we get to look to Jesus Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame. This is the time when we all learn to cry out with the whole Church of all ages: Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.

And remember this. It’s no accident that we pray these words just before we receive the Lord’s Body and Blood. After all, it’s right here, at Jesus Holy Altar, more than any other place, that we receive God’s mercy. It’s right here that God’s mercy is poured out for us in the cup of salvation. Oh, taste and see how gracious and merciful the Lord is. Blessed is everyone who trusts in Him and cries out to Him for mercy. Come to the Table, and receive a foretaste of His mercy that knows no bounds. Amen.

No comments: