Quinquagesima.  March 4, 2019.  Our Redeemer, Marietta, GA

St. Luke 18, verse 34 – And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Chapter 18 of Saint Luke’s gospel begins with parables and stories about our Lord which contrast spiritual insight with spiritual blindness.  So the chapter begins with the parable of the humble publican and the proud Pharisee.  We have the disciples rebuking those who bring children to Christ, then Christ rebuking the disciples in turn for this behavior.  Next we have the rich man asking how to enter the kingdom of heaven, to whom our Lord says, ‘[S]ell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor…and come, follow me.  And when he heard this, he was very sorrowful: for he was very rich.’ (22f.)

At this point in the chapter Peter says, ‘Lo, we have left all, and followed thee.’ (v. 28)  Peter wants to be rewarded as a self-sacrificing follower of the Lord.  But isn’t this just another form of blindness?  Isn’t Peter, asking for a reward, really closer to the proud Pharisee than the humble publican?  In any case, it is just after this interchange involving Peter that our gospel lesson today begins.  And this lesson too is about yet more blindness.

In this lesson our Lord foretells his passion:  ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem,’ he says (31), where ‘the Son of man…shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on:  and they shall scourge him, and put him to death:  and the third day he shall rise again.’ (31ff.)  To us this seems to be a very clear prediction of coming events.  But we are told that the disciples are blind to what they have been told.  In fact, their blindness is emphasized three times in the verse that I have taken as my text:  ‘And they understood none of these things:  and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.’ (v. 34)  There is triple blindness:  they understood not, the saying was hid from them, neither knew they.

So, again, this chapter contrasts blindness with insight.  Peter proclaims how much he has given up to follow Christ, but immediately we see his blindness proclaimed three times.  Then in the second half of the lesson we find this contrast acted out for us in a healing miracle.  We have just heard the blindness of the disciples emphasized three times.  This blindness is followed by the healing of ‘a certain blind man [who] sat by the way side begging’ (v. 35).  Where the disciples fail to understand their Lord, the blind man sees clearly.  He knows his condition and his need, so he cries to our Lord, ‘Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.’ (v. 38) As the disciples earlier in the chapter rebuked those who brought children to Christ, so here again they rebuke someone who is humbly seeking a blessing.  But the blind man ‘cried so much the more, Thou son of David, have mercy on me.’ (v. 39) Our Lord responds to this appeal, and when the man asks for help the third time, Christ says, ‘Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.’ (v. 42)

In short, then, this chapter and lesson end with another contrast between spiritual blindness and insight.  The disciples are blind to the nature of Christ, namely that he must suffer in order to save them and us.  Their blindness is emphasized in triplicate:  they understood not, the saying was hid from them, neither knew they.  Though they can see Christ and have long heard his teaching, they are blind.  Then immediately we find a blind man who three times calls upon Christ, reversing the triple ignorance of the disciples.  The sighted disciples are blind, but the blind beggar truly sees.  The faith of the beggar sees where the disciples’ blindness sees not.  His faith saves him, and as a conclusion we are told:  ‘And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God.’ (v. 43)

Throughout the chapter faith and blindness are contrasted, and in the end the contrast, as I have said, is acted out for us in a miracle.  We are shown the effect of faith in the healing of the blind man, whose faith is the ultimate rebuke to the faithless blindness of those who should have known better.

Notice, please, that the blindness of the disciples concerns the passion and cross of Christ.  This is the third time in Saint Luke’s gospel that Christ has predicted his coming sufferings.  After three predictions, the disciples can have no excuse.  Three times Christ has plainly foretold what is coming, and three times they have refused to understand.  It is fitting that my text today emphasizes their lack of understanding in triplicate.  But let us not be too smug about this.  It is natural that we should shrink from the passion and cross.  We all do it.  Our Lord himself will at Gethsemane.  But our Lord is a crucified Lord, and he has told us that we too must take up the cross and follow him:  ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23)   This is not the way we would prefer to have it, but it is the way of Christ.

Today we stand on the verge of Lent.  Today our gospel reminds us that, if we would not be blind, then we must follow Christ to Calvary and there take up our station at the foot of his cross.  ‘For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.’ (Luke 9:24)  It is natural for fallen man to cling to himself and to shrink from the self-abandonment that Christ calls us to.  But it is precisely to such daily self-denial and patient bearing of our crosses that our Lord summons us.

And behind and above all of this lies the love of God which is St. Paul’s theme today in our epistle.  The blind man is healed because of his implicit trust in Christ, which we call faith.  But faith itself is less than charity, the love of the heart which draws us to God.  Faith takes hold upon God and looks to him for strength and salvation.  Hope helps us to endure in the face of trials and difficulties.  But it is charity, the burning desire to know God even as also I am known by him, which leads us to embrace our crosses and to bear all things for his sake.  Without the love of God in our hearts, bearing the cross is merely stoicism.  Without charity our good works are ‘as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.’  Without charity I am, as Paul says, nothing.

But if in love our hopeful faith cries out, ‘Thou son of David, have mercy on us!’, then our blindness is cured.  If we understand our condition, our need, our blindness, then we will turn to God as children in need of aid turn to their father.  And if we hold up our empty hands to God, then he will save us and will ‘pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues’ (BCP p. 122).  And so we shall receive our sight, following Christ, bearing our cross daily, and glorifying God in his Church.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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