Sunday, March 2, 2014

Homily for Quinquagesima


Luke 18:31-43; 2 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Samuel 16:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
You know, we take so many things for granted in life. Take, for instance, seeing and hearing. These senses are so extremely fundamental to us, so much a part of our human experience, of what it even means to be human, that we assume them, we take them for granted, and we rarely stop to think what it would be like to not have them. Oh, sure, we can pretend, play a little parlor game and imagine being deaf or blind, but that’s a far cry from the reality that truly deaf and blind people have to endure every day of their lives.
As I’ve mentioned in other homilies and Bible classes, seeing and hearing are passive activities. What I mean is that our eyes and our ears receive information, they don’t transmit it, but they are passive. Light and sound come to our eyes and our ears, and then our brains interpret the data it receives from them. Thus, you don’t decide or choose to see and to hear, but sights and sounds come to you completely apart from your will or decision. You are passive in regard to your sensations. Sensations are not something that you do, but sensations are something that you experience, something that happens to you. Only if you desire to not see or to not hear do you have to do something; you have to close your eyes and cover your ears. Even then, it is extremely difficult and it takes much effort to stop seeing and to stop hearing completely.
So, here we are just days away from the beginning of Lent, a season of penitential reflection upon our sins and upon our merciful Savior Jesus Christ who suffered, died, and rose again that we might not die but live through faith in Him. And, in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus exhorts His disciples to “See.” Jesus said to them, “See, 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.” Jesus exhorts them to see. He commands them to see. However, they do not see. And, they do not see because they do not hear. Now, God made their eyes to see, and God made their ears to hear, so what is the problem? Why did they not hear the continuous message of the prophets? Why did they not see the signs demonstrating that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophet’s prophecies? Why is it that a blind man sitting by the roadside could see who Jesus was and what He came to do when His twelve seeing and hearing disciples struggled so to believe and to understand? Sin, of course. It was sinful rebellion and the refusal to believe the Word of the Prophets, the Word of God, and to submit to His will rather than force their own reason and interpretation upon God’s Word. They effectively stopped their ears and shut their eyes to the Word of the Prophets, therefore they could not hear, therefore they did not see.
Peter had this problem more than a few times. He had just confessed Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” for which Jesus praised him saying that His Father in heaven had revealed this truth to him, but then, moments later, when Jesus taught His disciples, just as He did in today’s Gospel lesson, that the Son of Man must suffer and die and rise again, Peter could not hear and he did not see – Peter stopped his ears and shut his eyes and would not believe that the Messiah should come in this way or suffer and die. Peter’s rational wisdom simply would not accept, would not believe, the Word and the will of God. Likewise, Thomas had this problem too. Following Jesus’ death and resurrection, though the other disciples told him that they had heard and seen the resurrected Lord, Thomas said “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.” Indeed, seeing and hearing are passive activities. One must willfully and intentionally stop his ears and shut his eyes to keep from seeing and hearing the Truth.
And yet, too often, you do precisely that. The Word of God does not make sense to you. It seems to say something that is hard for you to believe and to accept. It seems to go against the popular wisdom of your culture, your brightest and best minds, and your world. Then you, like Peter and Thomas, say to yourself and to others, “Well, that can’t be true. Surely God’s Word must mean something else. It must be a metaphor or a symbol. It’s not meant to be taken literally. For, if that is true, then what so many believe to be true is surely wrong. Or, if that is true, then what I have been believing is wrong.” Whereas Jesus praised Peter for his bold confession of faith, what did our Lord say to Peter when he denied and refused to accept the path that the Son of Man must go? He said, “Get behind me Satan.” Now, Jesus was not calling Peter Satan. However, just as He told Peter that his bold confession of faith came, not from Peter’s flesh and blood, but from His Father in heaven, so Jesus also told Peter where his denial and unbelief was coming from – Satan, the father of lies himself. It was Satan, after all, who was the first to tempt man to disbelieve God’s Word saying, “Did God really say?” Indeed, this is Satan’s great and only power – lies and deception. Truly, there is no need to fear the devil, for he is already defeated by Christ. He has no power to harm you other than that power which you give to him by believing and trusting his lies and deceptions, his word instead of God’s Word.
Jesus exhorted His disciples to “See,” but they couldn’t see. They couldn’t see because they didn’t hear. Well, they heard, to be sure, but the didn’t hear rightly: Hearing, they did not hear, therefore seeing, they did not see. St. Luke tells us the “they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” This is to say that there was a little something supernatural going on; in some respect, the disciples were kept from understanding Jesus’ teaching. We should understand this in this way: God does not force Himself upon anyone. As in the Parable of the Sower you heard last Sunday, God’s Word, the seed, is always powerful and efficacious to bring about faith, life, and fruit. If the Word is not successful, that is not, and can never be, the fault of the seed of the Word. No, it is the fault of the soil, for when the soil is receptive, the seed of the Word will do it’s work, creating faith and growing to fruitfulness. However, the condition of the soil will always limit the growth and fruitfulness of the Word. Could God force the growth and fruitfulness? Well, He certainly has the power to do so, but that is not His way; God does not force Himself upon anyone. Therefore, when your heart is receptive to His Word – when your ears and eyes are open and not intentionally stopped and shut, or blinded by human reason and wisdom – then you will grow in faith and understanding and fruitfulness, for the seed of the Word is always powerful and efficacious.
In contrast to His hearing and seeing disciples who did not understand or grasp what Jesus said, it was a blind man begging on the roadside that heard and therefore saw Jesus for who He truly was and what He had come to do. What the blind man heard was the sound of a crowd going by. Then, rather than leaning on his own understanding, he inquired of others what this meant. When he heard the word that Jesus was passing by, he cried out to Jesus for mercy using the Messianic title “Son of David.” Though the blind disciples rebuked and tried to silence the man, he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The Lord Jesus asked the man what He wanted Him to do for him. The man replied, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And, because his ears were open to the Word of God, Jesus granted him also to see, for those who have ears to hear the Word of the Lord will also have eyes to see differently, to see in accordance with God’s Word unclouded by man’s reason and wisdom.
Similarly, in our Old Testament lesson today, neither Samuel nor David’s father Jesse expected the lowly shepherd boy to be the LORD’s chosen king. Nevertheless, the LORD had said, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, […] For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Likewise with St. Paul’s beloved epistle on love – St. Paul lists all sorts of spiritual gifts and abilities and yet states that they are all worthless, meaningless, and nothing unless they proceed from love for God and love for the neighbor. What is seen with natural eyes is the work. What is seen with the eyes of faith is the love that produces the work as fruit, indeed, that makes the work to be a fruit and the branch fruitful.
Children of God, be slow to speak and quick to listen as the Lord teaches through St. James. For, faith is created and knowledge and wisdom are gained through the Word of God that you hear, not through that which you observe with your eyes. Indeed, by hearing rightly will you receive eyes to see the truth of things as they really are, as God sees them and directs them. This is what St. Paul means when He says, “Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully.” This is why physical eyesight is not necessary to see the things and the ways of God, for, when the soul rightly hears and hearkens to His Word, then true sight will be given with which you may truly see.
Your God is a God who does wonders. He has made known His might among the peoples of old. His Word has gone forth from His mouth, returning not to Him void and empty, but having accomplished the purpose for which He was sent forth. He is unchanging from eternity, His Word the only thing true and certain. He has kept His promises, and He keeps them now for you. Come before Him now, as His dear children, purchased in the blood of His Son Jesus, the Word of His mouth made flesh, and receive from Him bread and wine, what your eyes see, believing them to be as you have heard Him say, Jesus’ body and blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, eternal life, and salvation. He who by His Word has opened your ears to hear will give you also new eyes to see what lies beneath the veil until He comes, when every eye will see Him and every tongue will confess Him to be the Lord, and God the Father will be glorified.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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