Blessed are the Eyes that See

Text: Luke 10:23-37
Date: Trinity XIII + One Year Lectionary + 9/18/11
Occasion: Barry Blomquist 40th Anniversary
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, MI

I don’t know if you’ve noticed Mr. Blomquist’s eye glasses. They are rather heavy…thick. I’m amazed that they continue to issue him a driver’s license! (You do have a driver’s license?) I remember when I got my first glasses. I knew I needed something for reading small print. However, when I got them what I didn’t know until then is how much I needed them even for distances. My eyes were opened, literally, wider and clearer. I remember the doctor asking me how old I was. “Forty,” I said. “Yep,” she responded, “right on schedule.” There’s a schedule? I didn’t know there was a schedule! Well, this weekend we celebrate another “Forty,” and another kind of vision: the forty years in the teaching ministry of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod of our dear teacher, principal, friend and brother Barry Blomquist. As a fellow classmate of the class of 1971 of Concordia College, St. Paul, Minnesota, I stand with you in some awe and wonder that it’s been forty years since graduation.

I’m glad that the lectionary includes verses 23-24 of Luke 10 just before the (what? parable? story? account?) of what has come to be called the Good Samaritan. Glad because it reminds us of the spiritual “vision,” the eyes of faith God gives and works in every Christian. “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!” Jesus says our eyes are blessed because of what they see. But this seeing has nothing to do with an eye chart at 20 feet. Rather it has to do with the faith of the love of God in Jesus Christ that saves sinners.

In the Greek, “Blessed are the ophthalmoi” from which we get ophthalmology and ophthalmologist, the study and treatment of the eye. And why does Jesus say their eyes are blessed? “Because many prophets and kings wished to see what you see and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Well, see and hear what? Jesus! That God, the Son of God, has come in the flesh and is standing right there before them; that Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Savior. This is the understanding of faith…alone. You will recall that when St. Peter confessed Jesus to be the Son of the living God our Lord said he was blessed; for flesh and blood did not reveal that to him but the Father in heaven. The entire kingdom of God is hidden (if you will) in Jesus. Apart from receiving and believing in Jesus as God’s Son, no one, as wise or understanding they may be in the eyes of the world, no one, as spiritual or religious or dedicated they may be to a false, non-existent god, no one will see God’s salvation. The twelve apostles are the eyewitnesses of God’s saving act in Jesus and so their eyes are blessed in a special way. But all who have received their witness and testimony in the Bible, have received not Lasik[1] surgery for their physical eyes but the operation of God the Holy Spirit who calls by the Gospel, enlightens with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps you in the true faith. This is “the eyes of your hearts” St. Paul talks about in Ephesians, “enlightened that you may know what is the hope to which [God] has called you” (Eph 1:17-18).

This is the task of the preaching and teaching ministry: proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus so that people, children and adults, will come to true repentance and faith and thus be made members of the kingdom of God. I’d like to use the account of the expert in the law who tried to test Jesus and to justify himself and the story of the Good Samaritan to reflect on the ministry that Mr. Blomquist, along with Pastors Fleming and Sherrill and I, and so many before us, have been called by God to serve as teachers in the Church.

“Behold!” says St. Luke. “Check this out!” “A lawyer stood up.” Now remember that then in Israel “the law” has nothing to do with the United States Constitution and certainly not the so-called Shariah law of Islam, but the Law of God, the Ten Commandments. This man stands up and addresses Jesus. Interestingly, he doesn’t address Jesus as “rabbi” or “sir.” He calls Jesus “didaskale,” “Teacher”!

So we can think of all the questions asked of Teacher Blomquist or us Pastor/Teachers from the simplest Biblical fact to the most complex application of doctrine. I remember an elderly lady in my first parish in Chicago. She surprised me when she asked in all seriousness, “Pastor, do we turn into angels when we die?” Now, of course, the answer is “no,” isn’t it? You do know that, don’t you? that angels are specific beings created by God and humans are humans and always will be humans. I was glad she asked. She deserved a serious answer that aimed at giving her the sure hope of the resurrection and eternal life. Teaching means meeting people where they are at and patiently leading them to the truth.

Patience! Was the lawyer in our text serious about inheriting eternal life because of his works, by “what you must do?” Or did he already know better and thought he could trap Jesus in a no-win question? Patiently, Jesus answered the man’s question, “what must I do?” “What’s written in the Law?” Jesus asks him. “What do you think?” The man answered the basic catechism question with a quote from the creed in the liturgy of the time, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Now remember the question is, “what must I DO?” The answer of the Law, “Love God and neighbor.” Jesus says, “Do this, and you will live.”

He’s absolutely right, of course. The way to eternal life by way of the Law is to follow and fulfill the Law perfectly and you will go to heaven. But does this man really think that he can follow and fulfill the Law perfectly? Or has he convinced himself that there is some “good enough” passing grade? (I can’t speak for Mr. Blomquist but I had plenty of those in college). And how many people today do not take God’s Law seriously that the only passing grade is perfection and so try to revise God’s Word to make Him say only what they think is right?

Maybe just then the lawyer happened to think of some of the people around him lately that he thought were jerks or somehow undeserving of his precious time or care. Hence the question, “And who is my neighbor?” implying the real question, “Who is not my neighbor?” What the lawyer didn’t know, however, is that his real need is deeper than following the right rules. Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan answers both questions and tries to reach the man’s “heart and soul and strength and mind” with the Good News of God’s love. And so here is a Master’s Class for teachers and preachers.

Now the story of the Good Samaritan, first, answers the question, “who is my neighbor” in a dramatic way. The anonymous stripped and beaten man was ignored by the priest and avoided by the Levite. It ended up being a hated Samaritan who proved to be a neighbor to the man because he shows him mercy. Jesus’ punch line nails it, “Go and do likewise.”

But now how does the Good Samaritan story also answer the lawyer’s (and our) deeper need, namely, of discovering, as St. Paul says it, that “by works of the law no human being will be justified” (Rom 3:20)? that a person is justified, saved solely by faith in Jesus? Who would you say is Jesus in this story? Is there anything there that points to Jesus?

Certainly Jesus is not portrayed by the priest or the Levite. Some say Jesus is represented by the stripped and beaten man. Think of our Lord’s end goal of His earthly ministry when He was stripped and beaten, spit upon, mocked, whipped, slapped and crucified. That certainly is Gospel when you add the fact that Jesus’ suffering and death was the one and only pure and perfect sacrifice that pays for and takes away the sin of the world; your sin and mine; Jesus suffered and died for you.

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress….

Bold shall I stand in that great day,
Cleansed and redeemed, no debt to pay;
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame.  [LSB 563:1-2]

But in Jesus’ parables or stories the “God figure,” if you will, is always the active one bringing mercy. We need to see, rather, ourselves as the stripped and beaten, helpless one, left for dead by the side of the road. That’s what sin has done to us from the beginning. Our one and only Savior, then, is the Samaritan (of all people!). Jesus, not ourselves, is the true neighbor, the source of love and mercy for us and for the whole world.

This may seem rather simple or obvious, but it is amazing how even trained, certified, called and sent teachers and preachers can forget this. Forget what? Well, forget that it’s all about Jesus and not about us. We get so wrapped up in our current struggles, conflicts, pride and sin…. There is nothing greater than proclaiming, let me use the word bragging, bragging about Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the greatest and the best, bar none. He is the way, the truth and the life. He is the only way, the only truth, the only life.

On behalf of the apostles and of all true teachers of the Word since then, on behalf of Mr. Blomquist, Pastors Fleming and Sherrill and myself, we say in the words of St. Paul, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:5-6).

We thank God today for forty years of His grace, guidance and blessing of our dear brother Barry Blomquist as a teacher in and of the kingdom of God. And we cannot thank God in any better way than to proclaim Jesus as the source of every blessing and of our faith and commitment to continue proclaiming His name to each individual, each and every day, with patience and love; love for God and for our neighbor. God bless you Barry! And us and many through you!

[1] “Laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis.”