Text: Luke 18:31-43
Date: Quinquagesima Sunday + 2/18/07
On the Sunday before we enter into the holy season of Lent we hear one of our Lord’s predictions of what’s coming. He prepared and told his disciples numerous times what lay before him and before them. “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.” We expect to hear these words because we know what’s coming. We’ve been there. We know the rest of the story.
How different for the first disciples who, St. Luke emphasizes, “understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” They didn’t think that what he was saying would literally come true. After all they had been through, every time Jesus’ enemies or critics tried to trip him up or trap him or even to do harm to him Jesus would stump them with his wisdom or just walk away unscathed. No one had been able to lay a hand on him. Maybe they thought he was speaking in a parable again. Yeah, that’s it, “The parable of the suffering servant”! For, even if “the Gentiles,” that is, the Roman occupiers would confront him, it would prove fruitless, maybe, as he said, for only “three days,” and then King Jesus would take over, mount his throne, expel the foreigners and set up his glorious kingdom. That’s how we would have written the script. But, we know he meant that he’d really be mocked and spit upon, flogged and killed. We know that his innocent suffering and death would be real and that his kingdom would be, as he said, “not of this world,” something to be “seen” and believed by faith. …Or do we even really know that?
The first point of this text is for us to face up to the possibility that we may be wrong, that we may be as misunderstanding and in the dark as those first disciples. Sure, we know the rest of the story. Certainly we can see through the disciples’ ignorance. And we know the shock that awaits them in that Great and Holy Week and the tragic betrayals by Judas and Peter. But we also are patient and know that, by the appearance of the risen Lord they will finally come to understand and to believe. So how is it that our knowledge and patience and faith might yet be misguided?
Well, you tell me. For I see a lot of folks that call themselves followers of Christ that have been deceived into believing that his innocent, bitter suffering and death and mighty resurrection, though real events, were, still, somehow only symbolic, only something he had to go through to prove a point; that the “real” significance and value of Jesus is as a teacher or an example (an extreme example, to be sure!), to teach us principles of how to lead a successful and happy or “purposeful” life. Many shop around for the church that provides entertaining programs for our children and youth, insights into developing successful marriages, and, by God’s blessings, achieving happiness in our jobs or vocation, our worship and even our material blessings. When you’re set up for such a “Theology of Glory,” however, when bad things happen, when you lose, when you are treated shamefully, spit upon and nobody seems to care even among the good church folk we end up as disillusioned and confused as those first disciples we today look down upon so sympathetically.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is much deeper than that, stronger than that, wiser than that. Faith is more than just knowing the facts of the story. But it is through the facts, through the story, “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets,” evangelists and apostles that faith is given, enlightened, strengthened and sustained. That’s why you need to be here as we handle God’s Word not only on Sundays but also in our Wednesday midweek Lenten services that you might increase in understanding and discover what’s hidden to all but the eyes of a God-given faith.
It is no accident that immediately after this prediction and his disciples’ misunderstanding of it, a blind man would prove to have the clearer vision—the vision of faith. By faith he knew all he needed to know about Jesus. He was sitting there on the side of the road, a crowd of people between him and Jesus. Even if he had 20/20 vision he couldn’t see Jesus because of the crowd. He only heard the crowd and asked what was going on. Someone told him, simply, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” and that was all he needed to know. On the evidence of someone simply telling him Jesus was near, he immediately began crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Even when those in front of him tried to shush him up, “he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” What did he know, what did he believe that even Jesus’ disciples, even you and I did not or do not know or believe…yet?
“Son of David” he called him. Now here those first disciples are like us in that they knew the rest of that story, how the Messiah was to come from the house and lineage of the great King David. The blind man cried. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then Jesus stopped. Through the shushing crowds he commanded them to bring the man to him and asked, “What do you wish me to do?” The blind man says, “that I might see!” Jesus says, “See!” “And immediately he recovered his sight.” But even more importantly Jesus said, “your faith has saved you.” Faith cries out to Jesus begging for mercy. When faith cries out Jesus stops and hears and takes notice. To those who cry out in faith for mercy Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” And as we pour out our complaint He gives us what we really need.
Martin Luther, whose death and heavenly birthday 461 years ago we commemorate today, holds high the example of the bold petitioning of this blind man. He says, “as soon as trouble presses [the Christian], he should go directly into the church or his closet, fall on his knees, and say, Lord, here I am; I have need of this or that, although I am unworthy; however, look upon my misery and need, and help me for your honor’s sake…. Do not grow weary in prayer because God does not grow weary in giving. The more you persist in prayer, the better God likes it. He does not grow tired of your clamoring, yes, even when you petition him with strong insistence that he should hear and answer you this very moment in what you desire, as though he was delaying too long.” Luther is saying that here Jesus isn’t an example for us. The blind man is! For his faith draws him to Jesus as his compassionate Savior who not only has the power to give him physical sight, but who is willing to grant it.
Notice the little phrase Luke adds as he writes, “And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him;” and he followed him just in time! For in the very next chapter of Luke’s Gospel we have the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. With his new sight and maybe tears of joy this man followed to Jerusalem and saw the cheering crowds welcoming Jesus with their shouts as to a King, “Hosanna, save now, O Son of David!” Just in time Jesus gained for himself another eyewitness of his teaching in the temple, then his trials and condemnation, the mocking and flogging, the nails and spear and manifold disgrace of his crucifixion. After his resurrection we know that Jesus appeared a number of times to “the twelve” (minus one!). But St. Paul tells us that Jesus appeared also “to more than five hundred brothers at one time” [1 Cor. 15:5-6 (ESV)]. Was our former blind man among them? Did he see with his own eyes the risen Lord? And to how many people was he able to give his witness and testimony? And that testimony, while it may have included the report of his gaining of sight on that road to Jericho, would be not so much about that but about Jesus and how his death was for the taking away of the sin of the world, the release from the blindness of death and the devil, the forgiveness of sin and eternal life for all who, like the formerly blind man, believe.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” [John 20:29 (ESV)]. Yet, as the blind man was given the gift to actually, physically see his crucified and risen Lord, we have a similar promise, that the day is coming as old Job said it:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” [Job 19:25-27 (ESV)].
As we enter Holy Lent, let this be a time of the renewal of the vision of your faith. Especially in our midweek services may you follow Jesus our Lord closer than ever that your faith may save you and make you to be a witness, that you may tell others that the risen Jesus is near, that he is here in his body, the community of the faithful gathered around his means of grace through which he gives the vision of faith, the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.