Sermon for Quinquagesima

Quinquagesima
Luke 18:31-43
March 2, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

2.

A little girl is abducted in broad daylight. Another tortured soul goes on a shooting rampage among unarmed, unsuspecting victims. Bloody riots break out in other countries. An earthquake buries half a city under rubble. A tsunami sweeps away entire coastal villages.

How does the world react in the face of evil? Sometimes outrage, sometimes contempt, sometimes fear. Very often there’s a shared sense of guilt that we could have done more to prevent such a tragedy. Then the talking heads appear on the news shows opining as to the cause of this latest outbreak of evil. Invariably there’s talk of new laws that should be enacted to prevent future catastrophes until evil finds a way to work around the law, (or sometimes through the law) and the cycle begins again.

How does a disciple of Jesus react in the face of evil? How do you respond when presented with cross and suffering? You are likely not much different from the world. Depending on how close the tragedy hits to home, you probably go through a series of emotions. Perhaps some dull pangs of guilt rise up your throat like bile because of some past mistake you made that could have escalated into a disaster that captured national attention. Surely then, your head begins to nod along with the talking heads, a sense of righteous indignation finally overwhelming the more loathsome emotions. Then laws. If we could just get this degenerate society to shape up, we could reduce or maybe even eliminate these horrors.

But there’s something else that threads through a disciples’ reaction in the face of evil. There’s another sensation that stands tall when a disciple is presented with the cross and suffering. Confusion. Why would God, who is good, allow such horrible, ghastly, wicked things to occur on His watch? Does this mean that God isn’t as good as we thought, that He delights in evil? Does this mean that He’s not as powerful as we thought, that He’s incapable of preventing all this bad stuff from happening? How do you reconcile the good God that you can’t see with the evil that’s staring you in the face?

How does a disciple of Jesus react when presented with the cross and suffering? We see precisely how in the first part of today’s Gospel. Taking along the twelve, He said to them, “Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that has been written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be finished. For He will be handed over to the Gentiles and He will be mocked and treated spitefully and spit on. And after scourging Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise. And they understood none of these things, and this word was being hidden from them, and they did not know what He was saying (vv 31-34).

Jesus tells the disciples, “Look,” “Behold;” this is what your eyes will perceive when we get up to Jerusalem. Jesus had been speaking of His suffering and death for His entire public ministry, but as they drew closer to the appointed place and time, Jesus spoke ever more explicitly. On this particular occasion, He tells the twelve precisely what they are going to see when they get to the holy city, and what’s more, this is not something new. The prophets had written of them. Not just one prophet, but them all. The uniting theme of the Old Testament prophets is the suffering and death of Jesus. The handing over to the Gentiles, the mockery, the spite, the spit, the scourging and murder—and also the resurrection.

But they didn’t understand any of these things. St. Luke tells us that, literally, “this word was hidden from them.” Jesus had been preaching about the kingdom of God coming, and what that should look like is Jesus sitting on a throne when they get up to Jerusalem. But their eyes were about to see something totally contrary to everything they thought God and His Son to be.

You are a disciple of Jesus. You have been baptized and taught to observe all that He has taught. You follow Him, and walk in His footsteps. And along that way, He presents you with the cross and suffering. Not just on the news in far away countries and communities, but in your very own life. Cancer. Family relationships strained to the breaking point. A budget that always seems to exceed your income. Your own continued failings, and anger, and lusts, and doubts. It is confusing and disorienting for the baptized when life goes the way of the cross, because when we are presented with the cross and suffering, our understanding is impaired by what we see.

1.

Jesus said, If your eye scandalizes you, take it out and cast it away; it is better to enter into life one-eyed than with both eyes have to be thrown into the hell of fire (Mt 18:19). Jesus first says this in conjunction with lusting after another man’s wife, but then he repeats it in a conversation about who and what is great in the Kingdom of Heaven. He says the eye can scandalize. Often scandalize is translated as “cause to sin,” but its broader meaning is anything that is an impediment. The flip side of the eye causing you to sin when you see something desirable—like Adam and Eve seeing that the fruit was desirable to eat—the eye can also prevent you from seeing the true nature of God’s kingdom.

Not only would be better for you to have just one eye, but it would be much better for you to have no eyes at all. Which is the condition we find the man outside Jericho in.

And it happened that as they drew near to Jericho, a blind man who used to sit along the road was begging. And hearing a crowd passing through, he inquired what this could be. And they reported to him that Jesus of Nazareth was coming by. And he cried for help, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” And those who were going before him began to rebuke him to be quite, but he all the more cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on me” (vv 35-39).

First, this man at the gates to Jericho was no stranger to suffering. His own limitations caused Him to beg for a living; he was reliant on the generosity and grace of others. Second, what moved him to action wasn’t what he saw, but what he heard. He heard the crowd first, then he heard the report that the commotion was from Jesus of Nazareth passing through. Now, it’s curious that the blind man didn’t address Jesus as, “Jesus of Nazareth,” but, “Jesus, Son of David.” Thus, we can reasonably conclude that this blind man had heard more about Jesus than this little exchange.

What had the blind man heard about Jesus? The same that the twelve had heard—what had been written in the prophets concerning the Son of Man. He had heard the Word of God. While this blind man did not have eyes to see, he had ears to hear. His own particular cross—his blindness—was turned into a blessing, in that not only was he reliant on the grace of others, but to know of Jesus, the Son of David, he was reliant on what he heard from Scripture.

What he has heard about Jesus, the Son of David, is evident in his confession: “Have mercy on me.” When the crowd tries to silence him, he cries out all the more: “Have mercy on me.” This is his confession of faith. Jesus of Nazareth, who is passing by, is Jesus the Son of David, the One of whom Scripture speaks, the One who has mercy.

And standing still, Jesus ordered him to be brought to Him. And when he came near, He questioned him. “What do you want for Me to do?” And he said, “Lord, in order that I would look up.” And Jesus said to him, “Look up; your faith has saved you.” And at once he saw again and he was following Him, glorifying God.  And when all the people saw, they gave praise to God (vv 40-43).

Now the verb that both the blind man and Jesus use is the verb that means “to see,” but it’s also got a prefix on it that means to look up. The blind man, dead eyes downcast, wants to lift them up to see what he can see.

So imagine yourself, never having seen a thing in your life, lifting up your eyes and the first thing you behold is…Jesus.  Jesus alone. “Look up, your faith has saved you.” Faith looks up to see Jesus. This new sight granted to the blind man, so he follows after Jesus, fixing his eyes on Him.  Inevitably, those eyes would continue to look up as Jesus went up to Jerusalem, where all that had been written about Him by the prophets would be finished. It is entirely possible that this formerly blind man was standing among the crowd on Calvary just a short time later, looking up to Jesus suffering and dying on the cross. What his eyes perceive is cross and suffering, but what his faith perceives is what saves him.

How does a disciple react to evil, to abductions, to violence, bloodshed and disasters; what does a disciple of Jesus do when presented with his own crosses and suffering?

When you are presented with the cross and suffering, your understanding is impaired by your sight. But when the cross and suffering is presented with faith, then true sight is restored.

Look up; your faith has saved you

In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard
VD+MA