Quinquagesima - Luke 18:31-43 - February 15, 2015
1) In the first half of the Gospel St. Luke presents us with the disciples of Jesus being taken aside so that Jesus might teach them. They are advancing towards Jerusalem for a singular purpose. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished.” (Luke 18:31) The prophets wrote and preached much about what to expect from the Messiah and His salvation. But before the disciples can stir their memories to think of the good things and blessings recorded in the prophets, the Lord continues. “For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” (Luke 18:32-33) But we are then quickly told, “But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.” (Luke 18:34) This was not a casual misunderstanding, as if they didn’t hear Jesus’ words correctly. This is a complete lack of understanding in any way, shape, or form. St. Luke reinforces their lack of understanding by employing three phrases. “They understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them. They did not know the things which were spoken.” This triad shows their complete blindness to Jesus’ word.
2) This seems so clear to us. But we have the benefit of almost two thousand years hindsight and the gift of the Holy Ghost given to us in Baptism. Even without that though, the grammar of Jesus’ words are seem so clear and simple. The Son of man will be delivered to the Gentiles, mocked, insulted, spit upon, scourged and killed by these Gentiles. He will also be raised to life after having been dead and buried. How can these men not understand something that is spoken in such clear and plain language? Not only this, but hadn’t many of them been disciples of John the Baptist? Hadn’t many of them heard John as he preached and pointed his blessed finger at Jesus, saying, “Behold! The lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world?” (John 1:29) These men were Jews. They knew Moses. Lambs only atone for sin by dying. Sin cannot be taken away through any other way than the death of either the sinner or a substitute dying in place of the sinner. They had heard Jesus say things like this before. He predicted His passion, death, and resurrection several times throughout His ministry. It is easy to look at the disciples and wonder, “Are they just not paying attention?”
3) St. Luke doesn’t record this so that we can be bewildered at their blindness. He records this because this the disciples’ lack of understanding is the common reaction of human reason to Jesus. Human reason cannot fathom what Jesus is talking about. Human understanding doesn’t understand Jesus when He says that He will go to the Jerusalem to suffer and die. Human reason seeks to avoid suffering at all costs. Nor does it want a God who suffers. It makes no sense to have a God that suffers. More so than this, human reason is offended by the very reason for the suffering and death of Jesus. He dies precisely because He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. All the sacrifices for sin and atonement in the Old Testament required blood because God would require blood in THE atoning sacrifice of Jesus. As the author of Hebrews writes: “Without shedding of blood there is no remission” of sins. (Hebrews 9:22) It is precisely for this reason that human reason is repulsed by the idea of a suffering God. If He suffers for the sins of the world, then that means that there is sin in the world. And if I am in the world, that means that I am most certainly a sinner. The sinful flesh, even in Christians, does not like to hear the condemnation of the Law that requires blood in payment for sin. The flesh does not like to hear any condemnation of sin.
4) Instead the sinful flesh and human reason assume that God can be pleased by our best works. Human understanding feels it doesn’t need a savior from sin because it views sin as something inconsequential. Sin is minimalized to some trivial mistake that can be overcome by doing a appropriate amount of good deeds or good intentions. But “All our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” as the prophet says. (Isaiah 64:6) Humanity, even at its best, cannot add one good work good enough to the scales so that they might tip in our favor. Others, wishing to do away with the idea of sin sweep sin under the run entirely and flat out deny that they are sinners. They mask their wicked deeds by comparing themselves to men of great wickedness, pointing to them and saying, “I’m nothing like Hitler, Stalin, oh whomever we are counting as evil these days.” Or there is the movement which seeks to emasculate the love God has for sinners by calling it “toleration” of sin. They say, “Sin is okay. In fact, the desires of the wicked heart have been put there by God and what is put there by God cannot be sin. Therefore do as you please.” Again the Scriptures level all this nonsense to the ground. The apostle writes, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) Human understanding does not understand, nor does it want to understand the need for salvation from sin. Human understanding does not understand, or want to understand, the need for this passion, death, and resurrection.
5) Then we have the second half of the Gospel lesson in which a blind man teaches us faith. This blind man has heard of Jesus as the reports about Him spread to Jericho. He knows of the Nazarene who heals the sick, gives sight to the blind, and raises the dead. Hearing that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, his faith is excited within him and leads him to cry out His prayer, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Faith first of all calls on Jesus and expects only good things from Him. When those around the blind man warn him to be quiet, the blind man cries out again, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” From this we learn that faith has no problem repeating its petition, for this blind man uses the same prayer yet again. From this we also learn that faith is persistent in spite of those around us who would curb our prayers. The blind man keeps on begging Jesus for mercy in spite of what those around him say. They tell him, “You are an old, smelly beggar. This is Jesus of Nazareth. He has better things to do than entertain your request.” But faith neglects the world around us which seeks to stifle our prayers. The blind man is bold for faith understands that Jesus is not as sensitive as men are towards beggars. Jesus loves it when people think of Him as tenderhearted and loving, willing and able to give whatever good thing is lacking. This faith heals the blind man. Jesus gives the man his sight, but he does do on account of faith, for Christ says, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 18:42) The man then follows Christ gladly, glorifying God in word and deed.
6) This is how these two parts of the Gospel reading fit together. At first they do not seem to go well together; passion prediction and the healing of a blind man. But when we put these two texts together we see that the disciples are the truly blind ones. The blind man saw Christ clearly for what He was: the Son of David who comes to bring mercy to people who did not deserve mercy. The disciples are blinded because they are trying to have Christ according to human reason instead of faith. Putting the disciples side by side with the blind man in this text teaches us that faith is the only way to see Jesus, or rather, that faith is the only way Jesus wants to be seen. Human reason will not see Him as merciful because sinful man doesn’t want mercy, he wants to atone for his own sins by his own works or by ignoring sin. But faith sees the passion and death of Christ for what it is: His most merciful work for the children of men.
7) In His suffering He takes our sin upon Himself. Because He was delivered into the hands of sinful men for our sakes, His baptized ones will not be delivered over to the cruel bonds of Satan. By enduring insults and the mocking of men, Jesus saves us from having to hear the insults and mocking of an evil conscience. By standing under the scourging that we rightly deserved, He takes the full punishment of all our sins of thought, word and deed, so that there is no condemnation left for God the Father to meet out on sinners who repent and believe the Gospel. His death means life for all who look to Him in faith, trust in His mercy, believing that by His death all our sins are atoned for. By His resurrection, foretold in the prophets and by Christ Himself, He promises justification to all who believe and are baptized into the name of the Triune God. Faith sees Jesus for the merciful God He is and prays to Him in such a way that is bold, persistent, and trusting that He will withhold no good thing. So we must always be aware of how we are looking to Jesus. Are we trying to see Him and His gifts through the blind eyes of human reason and understanding or are we looking to Him in eyes of faith? Faith does not always see or understand everything, for God is still incomprehensible. But faith always knows, believes, and trusts that this crucified and resurrected one is merciful and will give every good thing for body and soul. Amen.