It’s not fair that there are all those days with boring titles (“The fourth Sunday after…”) and then today gets the two coolest names of the church year. Quinquagesima. Also known as Esto Mihi. To avoid confusion, pastors need to pick one, and stick with it. But that’s not fair. They are both so much fun to say. None of which has to do with my sermon, which is based on the Gospel reading. As the years go on, I appreciate more and more the season of pre-Lent. Today I was quite happy that it was not Transfiguration. Transfiguration works at the end of Epiphany, but not as well for the run-up to Holy Lent. I think the Gospel reading for today is much more profound in this situation. The three week break gives the necessary time for reflection as we turn our focus from one season to another. Anyway, the Gospel reading is Jesus predicting his death and healing the blind man. Enjoy. (After the jump, as always.)
Jesus predicts his own death. Appropriate for today. Wednesday we start Lent. Six weeks of extra services, talk of sin, the death of Christ. It’s a long way from now until Easter. But here, Jesus predicts not only his death, but his resurrection. Today’s Gospel reading gets us focused properly on what we’re going to be doing the next few weeks.
And it’s a reminder of what is to come. Jesus words spoken today will be spoken again by the angel at the tomb on Easter. Today Jesus says, “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.” On Easter the angel will say, “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
This prediction brackets the journey to the cross. Spoken before, and spoken after the resurrection. The disciples don’t understand it now. Not surprising. “I’m going to die, but I’m not going to stay dead.” Hmmm. That must be a parable. There must be some deep meaning we just don’t get yet. Jesus has lots of hard sayings. And it’s really easy to try and spiritualize them somehow, because he couldn’t possible mean what he says. “This is my body, given for the forgiveness of your sins.” That can’t possibly mean all that it says. It must have some sort of spiritual meaning. If we think about his body, then we’re forgiven our sins. Or maybe not all of our sins. But, No. His real body, real forgiveness for all the sins. Believing that is too much.
Going to die and be raised. What could it mean? Jesus doesn’t explain it, like he did the parable last week. This must just be one of those mysterious things. We need to find some meaning ourselves.
But that’s not the case. Jesus is being clear, even if we don’t understand. Even if we need someone to explain it to us. In the Gospel of Luke it’s the angel at the tomb that recalls the words. Remember how he said to you in Galilee… And yet even then, we are told only that the women remembered his words. It doesn’t say that they believed or understood his words. When the women tell the disciples, the disciples respond the way you might expect “these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.” It’s not until Jesus is on the road to Emmaus that the words are explained in detail. And then, it’s not until Jesus finishes explaining, comes in for dinner, takes the bread, gives thanks, and then vanishes that their eyes are opened. Because who could believe? What amount of evidence does it take to prove to us that the dead body we all saw put into the grave just got up and walked out?
Only when Jesus opens their eyes, are their eyes opened. Which is what happens in the second half of the Gospel reading. The blind man. He’s begging when he hears about Jesus. He screams. “”Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” They tell him to be quiet. “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He will not be silenced, because even in his blindness, he knows. And so in faith he calls to the only one who can help him. Jesus. And Jesus opens the eyes of the man. A man who eyes were already far more opened than the disciples. They could not see. This man could. The people want him to be quiet. He knows that Jesus – and only Jesus – can heal him. Jesus does. Today’s Gospel reading is a foretaste of what is to come. Miraculous – eyes opened.
On Easter, on the other side of Jesus prediction, the disciples can not see what is in front of them. They are told what has happened. Jesus even shows himself to them. But they cannot see. It is only when Jesus opens their eyes, that they see. Just as it is with the blind man in the Gospel reading.
We’re on the “not yet” side of things today. We have Ash Wednesday, the Sundays in Lent, the Midweek services, the solemn journey of Holy Week to the cross. All of this happens before we get to Easter. This gospel reading points us to where we are going over the next few weeks. And we pray that God would give us eyes to see.
Because while we have the resurrection of Jesus, we don’t yet have the resurrection of all flesh. We don’t yet have the final purification. We are still in our sin. We still live in a world hostile to God. We are still tempted by Satan every day. We still stumble and fall. We still need the forgiveness God so freely gives through Jesus. And we still need Jesus to help us believe. Because we can’t do any of it on our own. We like to think we can. We like to think that we’re so very strong, so very faithful, so very good on our own. But that’s not how it is. We only understand that Jesus words in the Gospel reading are about his death and resurrection because we are on the other side of it. But put us there with the disciples and we’d be scratching our heads as well.
And when we face the tough parts of life, do we say, “Ah yes, to your glory, oh Lord. This is wonderful, for I now have the chance to walk in the footsteps of Christ to the cross. I have been found worthy of suffering for the name.” Or do we wonder why it is God has abandoned us?
And even with the wonderful news, even with the great promise and blessing of the forgiveness of sins, do we hear that word and believe, and then go and sin no more? Or do we find ourselves trapped in the same sins day after day. As the author of proverbs says, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” And it would really great if we could say, “Jesus forgave my sin, and then I never again had trouble, never again strayed.” But that’s more foolish than the dog. At least with the dog, we have some honesty. We return to the same sins, because we are sinners, who need the help of Jesus every moment.
So, yes, the time is coming when we put aside the laughter and singing, and put on the sackcloth and ashes. Because we know that forgiveness has a price. The dearest blood of Jesus. He says so in the Gospel reading today, even though the disciples don’t understand.
We know that his death is coming. And as we prepare, as we celebrate, we cry out like that blind man, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” What do we want of our Lord? We want him to help us to see. So that we would believe the word spoken. So that we would keep our eyes fixed on him. So that we would be forgiven, healed of our sin, and be given strength to endure to the end.
The journey is about to begin. Lord, in the days ahead, cure our blindness, and keep us focused on you.