Sermon for Quinquagesima
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 + Luke 18:31-43
The words of Jesus in today’s Gospel are very plain; there is no secret meaning, no lofty interpretation to be sought. He tells His disciples plainly, in detail, about His suffering, death, and resurrection, which will all take place soon. He tells them that they’re traveling toward Jerusalem, walking into all of this, on purpose. And none of it makes sense to His disciples. They didn’t think Jesus was speaking literally, apparently. They didn’t understand the Scriptures that pointed to this. They didn’t understand the need for Jesus, the Christ, to suffer, to die. It’s not what the Christ was supposed to do, in their thinking.
Why? It says that it was hidden from them, hidden from Jesus’ own apostles. The Holy Spirit was intentionally not enlightening their minds yet at this point, but was leaving them in blindness, for the moment. They weren’t supposed to understand Jesus’ suffering and death ahead of time. And Jesus, for His part, wasn’t supposed to have the comfort of friends who could sympathize with Him and who could understand what He was about to go through. So they couldn’t see the path ahead of Jesus and ahead of them, in spite of Jesus’ clear words. Even the clearest words of God are hidden from us sinful human beings unless the Holy Spirit enlightens our minds to perceive what the words mean.
For the moment, the Holy Spirit left the disciples blind. But not totally blind. They couldn’t see or understand the path of the cross that was laid out for them, but they still saw one thing clearly enough: they still saw Jesus. They still saw Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. They still knew His selfless and committed love for sinners—the love St. Paul described in today’s Epistle, even though they didn’t yet know the full extent of that love that would drive Him all the way to the cross for them. They still trusted in Him, even though they didn’t yet understand the whole truth about Him. They still had faith, with Jesus Himself as faith’s object.
And because they did, they kept following Him. They kept walking with Him toward Jerusalem. They stayed on the path of the cross, even without understanding it. Because they trusted in Jesus. They knew Him to be truthful, to be kind and good and merciful. They knew Him to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world, and the One who would keep them safe from the just condemnation of God’s Holy Law. That was enough for them to stay with Jesus, whether they saw their path clearly or not. And when the time was right, after He was raised from the dead, Jesus did open the minds of His disciples to understand clearly the things that were now hidden from them.
Then there was the blind man they encountered on their way to Jerusalem, a beggar. He heard the commotion as the crowds traveled with Jesus to Jerusalem, and he asked what it was about. They told him, Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, so he began crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Eleison” is the Greek word, the same thing we sing in our Liturgy five or six times every Sunday. Have mercy!
It often happens with people who are blind that their other senses are heightened as they compensate for the lack of a sense of sight. That was certainly true in this blind man’s case. He had been listening, listening better than most in Israel, listening to the word about Jesus that had been spreading in Israel over the past three years, that He was the promised Son of David, the Christ, and that He was good and merciful, willing and able to help anyone with any need whatsoever.
Even more importantly, though, the Holy Spirit had been using that word about Christ to enlighten the blind man’s mind, to shine the light of Christ on him and give him spiritual sight, even though his physical eyes didn’t work at all yet. He couldn’t see Jesus with his eyes, nor did he have the benefit of the years of instruction that the apostles had. But he believed in Jesus. He believed in Him as the Son of David, the Christ. And he believed in Him as the One who is love, who is kind and good and merciful, who offers divine help to all who seek it from Him, even to blind beggars.
That faith is what led the blind man to call out to Jesus for mercy, and no one could dissuade him, even though they tried. They tried to silence him. Somehow they must have thought that Jesus was too important to stop and take time to help a beggar. But his faith led him to overcome their scolding and focus on Christ alone. He just wouldn’t stop crying out for mercy, mercy, until he received it from Christ. That’s what faith does.
And he did receive it. Jesus stopped walking toward Jerusalem, stopped the procession with the crowds who were following Him, and He asked, “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Then Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” Or translated in another way, “Your faith has saved you.”
There it is again. Salvation by faith alone. Faith in what? Faith in the merciful and loving Lord Jesus Christ. The eyes in the blind man’s head counted for nothing; they were worthless. Only faith created by God’s Holy Spirit through the good report about Christ benefited the blind man. Not human reason, not good works, not some inherent worthiness in the man. Only faith in Christ. And as a result of that faith, Christ saved him from his physical blindness. And in so doing, Christ teaches us that human reason counts for nothing. But all who believe in Him, that is, all who seek refuge in Christ from the condemnation their sins have earned, are justified and saved by that faith.
By faith, Christ heals our status before God. He takes sinners and turns them into saints who are counted holy and righteous before God by faith alone.
By faith, Christ also heals our spiritual blindness, even as He healed the physical blindness of the blind man. When you can’t see God’s Word clearly, when you can’t see God’s path clearly, when the road ahead appears dark and dim…when you can’t see anything else, just focus on Jesus. Not with your eyes, but with your ears. You know Him well enough through His Word. You’ve seen that He is truthful and dependable. And you know what the apostles still didn’t know as they kept following Jesus toward Jerusalem—how He would suffer at the hands of sinners and be crucified, how He would rise from the dead, and how His Church would indeed be built over the next 2,000 years, how you yourself have been made a member of Christ through Holy Baptism, how He continues to give you His body and blood.
That Spirit-worked faith is enough. That’s all you have to see, for now, until Christ sends His Spirit to enlighten your mind further. Pray for mercy, and you will receive it. Pray for His help to strengthen your faith, and He will do it. And when you can’t see in yourself the strength to love your neighbor as you ought, pray that Christ may increase His love within you, so that you begin to love with the perfect love described in 1 Corinthians 13, with a love that suffers long, and is kind, that does not envy, that does not parade itself, that is not puffed up, that does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, that thinks no evil, that rejoices not in iniquity, but in the truth, a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Seek His help that you may grow into His image of love, and don’t stop crying out until you receive it.
See Jesus even when you can’t see anything else. See Him during the Lenten season that begins this Wednesday, and follow Him along the path of suffering and self-denial, even when you don’t understand it, even when its outcome is hidden from you. He will lead you to the cross, but also to an empty tomb. And all who look to Him for help will find it. Amen.