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Quinquagesima – Study and Homily

by William Weedon ~ January 29th, 2008

Study for Quinqugesima (Esto mihi)Oremus. Almighty and eternal God, you govern all things in heaven and on earth. In mercy hear our prayers and grant us your peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings:

Isaiah 35:3-7 The eyes of the blind are opened when God comes to save His people and end their exile by leading them home through the desert, changing it a place of waters overflowing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 No asceticism has any value – as indeed nothing has any value – apart from love, which is nothing less than participation in the Divine Nature.

Luke 18:31-43 Although the disciples’ eyes were blind to the road Jesus was to walk, the blind man’s eyes are opened. He and all whose eyes are open follow the Lord Jesus on his road to Jerusalem, singing the praises of God.

Liturgical Key:

Immediately before the rigors of the Great Fast begin, the Church reads some vital wisdom from the Word of God. The first reading connects not merely with the Gospel and the blind eyes being opened; it reminds us that Lent is about a return from exile. That we who have betrayed and wandered from the life given us in the waters of Baptism, are called to return to those flowing waters with joy. The theme of return is picked up and carried forward in the Psalm. The epistle is a beautiful warning. Should we get any notion in our heads about the value of the Lenten disciplines in and of themselves, we are told that they have none. That no discipline whatsoever has any meaning apart from love – that participation in the Divine Nature which is reached us in Jesus. The Gospel reading is very profound. The disciples do not see, but the blind man (who asks for pity) does see. And seeing, he follows with songs of praise as Jesus heads to Jerusalem to be the sacrifice for the sin of the world. Lent invites us to join the catechumens in having our eyes opened and following Jesus to his great sacrifice with songs of gladness and joy – for THIS is the return from exile. This is the road home – the road to Jesus’ cross and resurrection.

Text in Detail:

Verse 31

Then taking the Twelve aside he said to them, ‘Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of man is to come true.

paralabwn de touv dwdeka eipen prov autouv idou anabainomen eiv ierousalhm kai telesyhsetai panta ta gegrammena dia twn profhtwn tw uiw tou anyrwpou

This is the third and final prediction of the Passion in Luke’s Gospel. Each grows more explicit. Immediately before the Transfiguration and following Peter’s confession Jesus prophesies: “The son of man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.” (Lk 9:22). After the Transfiguration and healing of the epileptic, he said: “For your part, you must have these words constantly in mind: The Son of man is going to be delivered into the power of men.” Only Luke immediately juxtaposes the third passion prediction to the healing of the blind man. Seeing Jesus’ Passion as the fulfillment of the prophets is a big theme in Luke’s work: Luke 24:25, 27, 44; Acts 2:23; Acts 3:18, 24; Acts 8:32-35; Acts 13:27; Acts 26:22.

In addition to the usual citations from the prophets (Is 53 et al.), I wonder if Jesus also had in mind the passage in Wisdom:

“Let us lay traps for the upright man, since he annoys us and opposes our way of life, reproaches us for our sins against the Law, and accuses us of sins against our upbringing. He claims to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. We see him as a reproof to our way of thinking, the very sight of him weighs our spirits down; for his kind of life is not like other people’s and his ways are quite different. In his opinion we are all counterfeit; he avoids our ways as he would filth; he proclaims the final end of the upright as blessed and boasts of having God for his father. Let us see if what he says is true, and test him to see what sort of end he will have. For if the upright man is God’s son, God will help him and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies. Let us test him with cruelty and with torture, and thus explore this gentleness of his and put his patience to the test. Let us condemn him to a shameful death since God will rescue him – or so he claims.’ This is the way they reason, but they are misled, since their malice makes them blind. They do not know the hidden things of God, they do not hope for the reward of holiness, they do not believe in a reward for blameless souls.” Wisdom 2:12-22

Verse 32

For he will be handed over to the gentiles and will be mocked, maltreated and spat on,

paradoyhsetai gar toiv eynesin kai empaicyhsetai kai ubrisyhsetai kai emptusyhsetai

Now for the first time, the mention of the handing over the gentiles – and thus he knew what sort of death he would die.

Verse 33

And when they have scourged him they will put him to death; and on the third day he will rise again.’

kai mastigwsantev apoktenousin auton kai th hmera th trith anasthsetai

I can’t remember which of the Fathers, but one of them noted that our Lord chose to rise on the third day to confound his enemies and to comfort his friends. He did not rise the first day, lest any should suppose he had not truly died. He did not rise the second day, for he willed to sanctify our graves by having one of his own. He did rise on the third day, for he was not willing to let his people grieve any longer.

Verse 34

But they could make nothing of this; what he said was quite obscure to them, they did not understand what he was telling them.

kai autoi ouden toutwn sunhkan kai hn to rhma touto kekrummenon ap autwn kai ouk eginwskon ta legomena

In other words, they were blind. They could not see that the Righteous One, the Innocent One, should suffer and through his suffering open a way through death for the homecoming of God’s people – God’s vindication for the innocent sufferer. But if the disciples cannot see it, others who have no sight can…

Verse 35

Now it happened that as he drew near to Jericho there was a blind man sitting at the side of the road begging.

egeneto de en tw eggizein auton eiv iericw tuflov tiv ekayhto para thn odon epaitwn

Jericho, where Joshua first led the Israelites in triumph over their enemies into the land of promise. And now a greater Joshua is preparing to go up to Jerusalem to fight enemies that make the Canaanites look like wuss.

The blind man begs at Jericho. He is the image of humanity. Blinded by Satan. He is the image of contrite humanity – hands outspread, begging from the Lord, making no claims, but seeking gifts.

Verse 36

When he heard the crowd going past he asked what it was all about,

akousav de oclou diaporeuomenou epunyaneto ti eih touto

And so the seekers ask, when they hear the crowd and noise of the church, the people around Jesus, passing them by: “What’s all the commotion for?”

Verse 37

And they told him that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by.

aphggeilan de autw oti ihsouv o nazwraiov parercetai

He’s told that the commotion is all for Jesus, who is passing by. The verb for passing by (as in what Jesus would have done to the disciples in the boat) is an interesting one. It seems that when Yahweh wishes to “pass by” he is doing so to show His glory. Jesus is “passing by” because He is on the way to Jerusalem where He will show His glory on a cross.

Verse 38

So he called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’

kai ebohsen legwn ihsou uie dauid elehson me

Here is faith crying out. Jesus is given His Messianic title: “Son of David.” The beggar asks mercy, pleads pity.

Verse 39

The people in front scolded him and told him to keep quiet, but he only shouted all the louder, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’

kai oi proagontev epetimwn autw ina sighsh autov de pollw mallon ekrazen uie dauid elehson me

If we are to see in this story the people around Jesus as the Church – and the beggar as the Catechumen – do we ever silence their pleas for Jesus’ pity? Do we ever tell them to shut up and stop making a scene? If we do, we are rebuked by Jesus’ own actions.

Verse 40

Jesus stopped and ordered them to bring the man to him, and when he came up, asked him,

stayeiv de o ihsouv ekeleusen auton acyhnai prov auton eggisantov de autou ephrwthsen auton

Even on His way to the cross and resurrection, He stops at the cry for pity. Here we see the welcoming and embracing love of Yahweh in flesh and blood. “Accept (welcome) one another, then, for the sake of God’s glory, just as Christ accepted you.” Romans 15

Verse 41

‘What do you want me to do you for you?’ ‘Sir,’ he replied, ‘let me see again.’

ti soi yeleiv poihsw o de eipen kurie ina anableqw

He had evidently once been a seeing a man, for he asks to see “again” (ana). His request showed that he must have already known much about Jesus, because he knew he had the power to heal and that he did not turn away those who cried to him in time of need.

Verse 42

Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you.’

kai o ihsouv eipen autw anableqon h pistiv sou seswken se

Is there a paradox in the “again” this time? See again. You’ve already seen with the eyes of faith the truth that in Me is healing; now see Me with the eyes of the body. Faith is what saved, rescued him. Instrumentally, of course.

Verse 43

And instantly his sight returned and he followed him praising God, and all the people who saw it gave praise to God.

kai paracrhma anebleqen kai hkolouyei autw doxazwn ton yeon kai pav o laov idwn edwken ainon tw yew

And so from sight, to discipleship (following) which is described not only in terms of following, but in terms of worship, of praise.

This is a favorite theme of Luke’s witness:

1:64 – Zechariah’s return of speech immediately results in him praising God.

2:20 – the shepherds return from seeing the Christ, praising God.

2:28,38 – Simeon and Anna bless and praise God after their encounter with Christ.

5:26-27 – the healing of the paralytic results in the crowds praising God.

7:16 – After Jesus raised the widow of Nain’s son, the crowds praise God.

13:13 – the crippled woman healed on the Sabbath stands up and praises God.

17:15, 18 – the Samaritan leper returns, thanking Jesus and praising God for healing.

19:37 – the crowds praise God as Jesus enters Jerusalem

23:47 – the Centurion at the cross praises God

24:53 – After the Ascension, the disciples are continually in the Temple praising God

There is more to this than gratitude toward God for what He has done in Christ. The point is that what He has done in Christ restores us to the life of continual praise for which we were intended at the beginning. “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” Psalm 34. We sing our homecoming song as we journey with Christ.

Jesus is going up to Jerusalem to suffer and die and then be raised. Faith sees in this not merely another tragedy of the human race, but the very act that ends the Exile of humanity from God, the bringing home of God’s people. We follow Jesus in His Pascha through suffering and into His death (baptism) and end up with Him in eternal life, where we feast in His presence and sing songs of His love endlessly.

Lent is the time of our return to following. Lent is our time to learn sing again as we walk the road Jesus walks – the road through suffering and death into eternal life.

Homiletics:

Central Thought: With eyes wide open, and mouths singing His praise, we follow our Lord home.

Goal: That the hearers would rejoice in our Lord’s Passion and Pascha as the way that leads home from exile to the Father’s house.

Malady: Not “getting” that when Jesus calls us to follow Him, He is calling us to suffer and die with Him; trying to find other, less painful ways home!

Means: Baptism (Jericho on the Jordan!) is where our Lord opens our eyes again and again to see what His Passion and Pascha have accomplished and how they have been given to us in the water, so that we may fearlessly follow even into the darkness of suffering with the song of praise on our lips.

 

Homily for Quinquagesima

“Get a life!” people say nowadays. They mean: “What you’re doing is BORING! You need some spice, some excitement, some adventure in your existence. Do something daring and fun – go get a life.” But “Get a life” is a good slogan for us to adopt on the threshold of Lent – only, not the way folks usually think of it.

“Get a life” is the call of the Church to all people. It’s a recognition of the fact that we can be alive and breathing, and still not be living – not living LIFE like God wants us to live. But when the Church calls to us: “Get a life!” she doesn’t just mean any life. She means the life of Christ. Here’s life that’s real life. To miss out on this Life, not to have this life as your own, is to miss out on what you’re here for. So “get a life.”

But today’s Gospel sounds more like “lose a life,” doesn’t it? Jesus says: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. 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.” Get a life?

Jesus speaks about suffering, torture, death, and then finally vindication. Get a life?

He knew that life was in the Father and that all of His being flowed from the Father as gift. And so he didn’t have to worry about keeping his life – that was His Father’s job, not his. His job was to do the Father’s bidding – a plan laid out by the Father in the prophets. His job was to suffer, and then to die for us, and to do so in the complete confidence that His Father would not abandon the Innocent Sufferer, that His Father would raise Him from the dead on the third day to be the well-spring of eternal life!

But he was talking to deaf ears. His disciples, His 12, His chosen friends, they just didn’t get it. Three times Luke tells us that: “But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them; and they did not know the things which were spoken.” As though Luke said: Dumb, dumber and dumbest. They didn’t get it. Why?

Because that’s not how any of us think about “getting a life.” It’s the exact opposite. Look at our hospitals. They’ve been called the temples of our culture, where we expend awesome amounts of money and skill to try to cheat death for a few more minutes, a few more days. That we understand. But willingly walking into suffering and death and trusting that God will not abandon to this in the end, that we just don’t get.

Our eyes are as blind as the disciples’ were. But look what happens next! Jesus nears Jericho, and a blind man hears the crowd and all the commotion and wants to know what’s up. They tell him that Jesus is passing by. It’s his chance for life.

He cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” “Would you shut up,” the folks around him say. “Son of David, have pity on me!” he screams all the louder. Jesus is on his way through Jericho to Jerusalem to that suffering and death he has just spoken of. But he stops at the cry of this man. Tells them to bring him to him. And asks: “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord, that I may receive my sight!” he begs. Jesus says: “Receive your sight. Your faith has made you well.” And instantly, the beggar saw again. Saw the face of his healer. And this is all important: what did he do then?

“He followed Him [that is, Jesus] glorifying God.” He followed Jesus as Jesus takes the Jerusalem road. He followed with open eyes and songs of praise and thanks to the One who had given sight. “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened” – then when? “When God comes to save you!” Jesus is on the way to do the great saving work. He is God in the flesh, and He has come to rescue and save, to give life to a people who are bound for death. To do so by suffering and dying for us. To do so by rising again in victory over the grave.

“Get a life!” the Church cries to her children as they enter Lent. Let the Lord Jesus open your eyes to see what it means that He goes to Jerusalem. And then with eyes wide open, follow Him up the road to His city. Join the crowds that throng Him on Palm Sunday. Sit with Him at His Eucharist where He bequeaths a Kingdom. Pray with Him in the garden, “Not my will, but thine be done.” Follow Him to judgment, to suffering, to execution. But don’t leave Him there. Go with Him all the way to Easter, to His appearing to His disciples in the breaking of bread after their hearts have been warmed by His teaching from the Word. Listen to Him as He bestows the gift of life.

And all along this road with your eyes wide open to what He is doing for you, let the songs of praise rise from your lips, as you follow Him through suffering and death to resurrection and life eternal. And as you walk this road with Him, you will come to the joyful recognition, that He walks this road with you – and this is how He gives you life. That just as His Father did not abandon Him to suffering and the grave, neither will He abandon you to these. “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up, does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

That’s what was in the Lord Jesus as He walked the road to Jerusalem. And that love is REAL life. And that is what He would plant within us as we walk the road with Him: His life within us as real life. This life that He gives us in the water, at the table, in the Word. Real life. Get a life this Lent. Real life. The life of Christ!

 

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