Sunday, February 26, 2017
Luke 18:31-43; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; 1 Samuel 16:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus explained why He taught in parables saying, “that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” Now, this is not to say that Jesus intentionally taught in a confusing and paradoxical way so as to prevent His hearers from understanding, but rather, such is the nature of the Word of God – it must be received in good soil, that is, by eyes and ears that have been opened to the Word and therefore both see and hear with faith and bear fruit. You will recall that Jesus concluded the Parable of the Sower saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” We all have ears, but we do not all hear. Likewise, some who do not hear at first may yet hear at another time. The point is that hearing is not merely the physical function of healthy ears, but hearing is faith, and faith bears fruit. Indeed, the hearing Jesus calls for and praises are “those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”
Jesus’ disciples both saw and heard, yet when Jesus taught them concerning His impending suffering, death, and resurrection, “they understood none of these things. The saying was hidden from them.” Again, it may seem on the surface as though they were prevented from understanding. Indeed, in a sense they were, for Jesus also taught them saying, “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” The point is this: Eyes that see and ears that hear are given, they are created by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God when and where He pleases. And, as eyes and ears, seeing and hearing, are passive functions, we truly have no control over what we see and hear. Hence, someone who has seen something truly disgusting or repulsive might say today, “I can’t unsee that.” Indeed, you can’t unsee the revelation of Jesus or unhear His Word, but you can close your eyes and stop your ears and tell yourself repeatedly, “I didn’t see that! I didn’t hear that!” But, that doesn’t change the fact that you did. Thus, you either receive the Word in faith, the work of the Holy Spirit, to your great blessing and fruitfulness, or you reject it in unbelief to your judgment. Or, as Jesus put it, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”
In today’s Gospel, the twelve disciples, having healthy and functioning eyes that see and ears that hear, are set in contrast with a blind man who can truly see with the eyes of faith. The reading begins with Jesus saying to His disciples, “See.” – “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about he Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.” Then Jesus began to teach them, for the third time in St. Luke’s Gospel, about His suffering, crucifixion, death, and resurrection,” “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Though they would certainly see everything happen to Jesus of which He spoke, the disciples were blind to what Jesus was saying until after His resurrection when He “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” Again, we confess concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in creating faith in our hearts, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”
In contrast to the twelve disciples, when a blind man sitting by the roadside begging heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he cried out to Jesus for mercy. Though he could not see, the blind man had ears to hear the Word of the Lord, and so the Spirit also granted him spiritual eyes with which to see who Jesus truly was. Apparently the blind man had heard of Jesus before and believed that He could heal him of his blindness. Though the crowds told him only that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, the blind man addressed Jesus with the Messianic title “Jesus, Son of David.” Undoubtedly the blind man recalled the words of the Prophet Isaiah concerning the coming of the Messiah, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” Interestingly, the crowds and the disciples wanted to shut the man up! They didn’t hear as he heard; consequently, they couldn’t see what the blind man could see about Jesus – that He was the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, right there in his presence. Jesus stopped and asked the blind man directly, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The man replied, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” Because the blind man could already see with the Spirit-given eyes of faith, Jesus granted him physical sight as well. “To the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”
But, what is the true difference between the twelve disciples and the blind man in this Gospel? It is this: The blind man knows that he is blind. The blind man confesses that he is blind. The blind man makes no pretense that he can see, has no faith in his ability, has no faith in his faith, but the blind man’s faith is in Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, alone. Through his faith, the blind man could see clearly what the seeing could not. For, what do the seeing see: The son of a carpenter from backwater Nazareth? An itinerant rabbi without a home? A vagabond bunch of fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and worse? An insurgent who just might rile up enough frustrated Jews to rise in rebellion against their Roman oppressors? The disciples’ great sin was failing to recognize and confess their own spiritual blindness. And, we have the same problem as they. We become confident of ourselves, like a blind man who thinks he has 20/20 vision, like a beggar who thinks he’s a millionaire. Like Peter on the Mount of transfiguration, we want glory now, we want to erect tabernacles and monuments and churches to enshrine the emotional high of the mountaintop experience and dwell in glory, bypassing suffering, trial, and persecution. But, the glory was only a foretaste. Jesus came down from the mountain of glory and made His way to Jerusalem and to His cross. And, we His disciples must follow Him in His way. There is no other way. Thus, while Peter was still speaking and raving about tabernacles, God acted, the Glory of the LORD tabernacled over the mountaintop and the terrified disciples. God’s voice boomed from the cloud saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” “Hear Him.” Then the cloud receded. Moses and Elijah disappeared. And, the disciples saw Jesus, and Jesus only. “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, thy will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” The final step as we approach Lent is to see ourselves for what we are: blind beggars who need to see Jesus, and only Jesus. “Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
While the seeing attempted to shut him up, the blind beggar, who could truly see in Jesus what the others could not, begged and pleaded before his Messianic King, “Lord, have mercy on me,” or “Kyrie eleison!” just as we beg and plead in the Divine Service before our Lord and King. That cry, that plea, “Lord, have mercy,” “Kyrie eleison,” is the cry of faith of those whose only object is Jesus. “Lord, have mercy” is the plea of one who confesses that he is pinned to the floor in his sin and guilt and cannot get up. “Lord, have mercy” is the plea of one who has no strength, no sight, no ability to improve his situation. “Lord, have mercy” is the plea of one who knows his own sinful paralysis, his own unworthiness, his own desperate need, and who knows that Jesus is the only answer, the only cure, even should He not heal us in this life. And, “Lord, have mercy” is the plea of one who knows his Lord, who knows where to turn for help, who trusts that his Lord is indeed merciful and willing to help. And so, we plead, “Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us,” each and every week in the Divine Service, for we are in need of our Lord’s mercy, and we confess Him to be merciful.
On Ash Wednesday we begin our Lenten descent with Jesus to the cross. We follow Him, not as a weak and defeated leader, not as a sacrificial victim, not as our eyes see, but as our eyes of faith see, as our victorious King and God. King Jesus has already defeated our enemy and has set us free from his evil tyranny, and our God has destroyed the power of death that would ensnare us and keep us in our graves for all eternity. Even still, the way of Jesus, the way of our God, is the way of the cross. Thus, our pilgrimage, the procession in which our King and God leads us, does not bypass suffering, the cross, and death, but it passes directly through them as through an unlocked door. Therefore, let our eyes be open to see Jesus for who He is – our victorious King, Lord, and God. We do not judge Him by what our eyes see, but by what our ears hear. And, we follow Him and walk in His ways, in the way of love and mercy and compassion towards all, that all may hear what we hear, and see what we see, and find healing, forgiveness, and life in the Good Shepherd of our souls Jesus Christ. Even now we receive our King who comes to us in Word and Water, Bread, and Wine, having nothing to offer but our broken and contrite hearts and this plea from our sin-scorched lips, “Kryie eleison!” “Lord, have mercy.” And, He does.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.