March 2, 2014
If a man will only despise and overbear these obstacles from a world which calls itself Christian; if, despite all [opposition], he will go on, until Christ is evidently and plainly with him [and in him], then the very same who at the first [criticized and judged], will in the end applaud and admire [what is in him]; they who at first exclaimed, ‘He is mad,’ will end exclaiming, ‘He is a saint.’
(Arch. Trench: Notes on Miracles)
Perhaps one of the greatest obstacles to a man’s spiritual growth in Jesus Christ is other people. Think about it, how often do we struggle to allow the Lord Jesus Christ to be born in us, only to find that other people are always at us? I won’t say that other people are offended with our Christianity, since that happens only when we go public, trying to force-feed the world with what must always remain a choice. No, what I mean is that we are distracted and diverted from our spiritual path because other people –be they our co-workers, family members, friends, or others are addicted to communication. Bing, there is another text message, an email, a phone call, drawing us obsessively and compulsively down and into a world that won’t shut up.
Of course the upshot of the post-modern obsession with technology has, in many instances, had an effect opposite to the one intended. With young people, at any rate, the communication explosion has desensitized them to other people. Another bing, they think, is just one more attempt at meaningless talk. And in some ways they are right. But the danger is that in the usual pursuit of their ends they might miss that one distraction or interruption which should arrest their attention and claim their time. We find an example of this in this morning’s Gospel lesson. Of course, there were no cell phones in 2029 A.D., but there was as much motion, commotion, noise, and talk then as there is now. Jesus says to his friends, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he 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. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. (St. Luke xviii. 31-34) Jesus bids His friends travel with Him up to Jerusalem in order to see and experience the unfolding of God’s Love in His impending suffering and death. But we read that [His] saying was hid from them, and so they did not understand the description of His impending doom. They were blind, like most of us, because they were too immersed in this world, moved and defined by their own limited apprehensions and expectations of what life should be. Jesus’ Apostles, having heard so many of Jesus’ parables and witnessed so many of His miracles, probably thought that He was speaking allegorically or symbolically. Had they received his message by way of text, they might have thought that He was expressing some cryptic truth hidden beneath His literal words.
That they didn’t pay much attention to what Jesus had said is verified in what comes next. And it came to pass, that as he was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging: and hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant. And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by. And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. And they which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried so much the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me. (Ibid, 35-39) No sooner had Jesus tried to draw His friends into the prophecy of His own impending suffering and doom, than, Bing, they are interrupted and distracted by a man who is suffering. Here we find a man born blind, and one who earnestly desires to be touched by the Love that informs and defines Jesus’ life and mission. The Apostles attempt to silence him, since he interrupts and frustrates their determination to follow Jesus and see what will come to pass. But the Apostles are completely blinded to the blind man’s desire and passion to be touched and healed by the Love of God in Jesus Christ. As it turns out, the blind man sees, perceives, and knows much more than Jesus’ faithful disciples and friends. For though he cannot see the external world, and so does not yet have the luxury of that vision that will enable him to walk in Jesus’ footsteps up to Jerusalem, he senses and trusts that the Love of God is alive in the heart of the Son of David. He has an inward and spiritual vision of the merciful power that moves Jesus. Jesus asks him, What wilt that I shall do unto thee? (Ibid, 40) The blind man answers, Lord, that I may receive my sight. (Ibid, 41) Jesus says, Receive thy sight. Thy faith hath saved thee. (Ibid, 42) The blind man’s journey up to Jerusalem with Jesus begins long before his physical eyes are opened to the tangible world around him. He has the eyes of faith which trust and hope in what they do not yet possess but are determined to acquire and procure.
The interesting fact that we should remember is that blind men in Jesus’ time were mostly shunned and avoided like the plague because ancient Jewish tradition taught that blindness was the effect or reward of grievous sin. That science had not, (and has not!) found a cure for blindness stood only to reinforce the judgment of God’s wrath upon the sinner. So blind men in Jesus’ time were judged, and thus abandoned and neglected. So the blind man in today’s Gospel is alone, living in his own physical darkness but praying for that spiritual light which would open his eyes. No man had any time for his suffering, until Jesus passes by. The Apostles were determined to follow Jesus up to Jerusalem, no doubt determined to see and experience some great miracle through which Jesus would, once and for all, put down the Jewish religious establishment of his day –which always despised Him, and conquer and expel the foreign Roman Legions. Their minds, we might say, could not see how this suffering, blind man’s predicament could contribute usefully to their journey up to Jerusalem with Jesus.
The Apostles wanted to keep moving with Jesus up to Jerusalem, impetuously and impatiently hoping that if they kept up the pace they might circumvent and avoid that inconvenient little text about how Jesus would be mocked…spitefully entreated…spitted on…scourged… and put…to death….(Ibid, 32, 33). They probably didn’t mind the bit that read, the third day he shall rise again (Ibid), but the sooner they could get to that, the better! But we read that Jesus stopped and stood still. (Ibid, 40) They may not have understood what was happening, but they would have to wait. The Gospels are full of distractions and interruptions to the life of Jesus, and each and every one of them He deems essential for our salvation. And this morning’s example is no exception. If and when Jesus stops, we must stop. And today Jesus stops because He intends that the blind man should play a role in our impending Lenten journey up to the Jerusalem of His Cross. The blind man needs and desires the healing Love that Jesus was born to give. And his predicament reveals the right order of man’s approach to that healing. The man cannot see the Lord with his physical eyes, but his soul sees and perceives spiritually the healing Love and desire that consume every moment of Jesus’ earthly mission. Blessed are they that do not see and yet believe. (St. John xx. 29) The blind man is well suited to travel up with Jesus to His Cross. He believes so deeply in his heart that Jesus is God’s Love and Mercy made flesh that he desires to see and follow him not only in his soul but with the physical vision that can move his body up to the summit of Christ’s Love. He will not be satisfied with anything less. He cries out first, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me. (Ibid, 38) And his need and desire are not thwarted or disrupted by the spiritual ignorance of those who try to shut him up. He cried so much the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me. (Ibid, 39) This man is in search of salvation. This man will not be satisfied until his need becomes his desire, and his desire is fulfilled. He wants his inward and spiritual vision to open up into the physical vision of what God’s Love will accomplish for the whole of the world. What he knows through his soul, and believes from his heart, he desires to see and meet with his eyes, as the tangible painting of Love found in Jesus’ flesh.
Now the cynic will say that the blind man in today’s Gospel wished to see only the physical universe which had been before covered in darkness. But Jesus knows otherwise. Jesus knows that those who are born blind desire to see absolutely everything, from the inside out, from the soul to the body, from the depths of the human heart to the breadth of the universe. Jesus knows that the man born blind desires to see and experience not just the Love that opens his eyes for the very first time, but the Love that promises to dilate and distend them to the contours, lines, colors, shades, depth and breadth of His Divine Mercy made flesh. Jesus knows that the man born blind desires to follow and see His Love through to the end. We don’t know it for a fact, but the blind man might have been one of those anonymous friends who stood by the Cross and could not take his eyes off of the dying Lord who was still loving, giving, and even healing. He might even have helped the devout women to wash Jesus’ dead body and prepare it for burial. This was, after all, the human flesh that housed the Love that made him to see. Then perhaps with the others he waited for what would come next. I have a sneaking suspicion that he believed with all his heart that the same Jesus, whose Love in the flesh opened his eyes, would not go down into a death forever –where His Love would cease to be seen, but would rise up again as the vision of Love whose desire to open the eyes of those who will follow Him home to the Father never ends. Behold, we go up to Jerusalem. Amen.
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St. Michael and All Angels Sermons