23 February 2015

Homily for Quinquagesima

"Seeing with Faith"
Luke 18:31-43

Two Sundays ago we heard about living by grace—the “sola gratia” or “grace alone” on the banner. Last week we heard about God planting the Seed of His Word made flesh—referring to the “sola Scriptura” on the banner. Today is our final Sunday of preparation before we begin the journey called “Lent.” Today we focus on the “sola fide”—by “faith alone”—on the banner. As we journey through Lent, it takes faith—not plain ol’ physical eyesight—to see what our Lord does and achieves for us. And that seeing with faith ushers us into a whole new life as well. St. Paul said it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

In today’s second reading we hear what the life of faith is all about. God placed us into that new life when He poured the water over us in the font. And that life is all about love. With St. Paul we learn to say, “If I … have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” THAT is the life to which God calls us to return. After all, He who calls us to this life is Love-in-the-Flesh.

In today’s Gospel reading our eyes are opened to see this One who is Love and who loves us. We see that our Lord Jesus Christ is both true Man and true God. If we don’t see that, then we’ll never get Lent right; we’ll never rejoice in His Passion. But when we do see our Lord as both true Man and true God, as Love in the Flesh—and hold on to Him, never letting go of Him—then we can hold on and endure the wild, wooly ride that’s about to take place.

In today’s Gospel our Lord shows us both of His natures. First, He shows us His humanity when He predicts His Passion: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 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.” He foretells the horrible, agonizing suffering that awaits Him. But He suffers such things only as a human being can suffer. Only as Man can He suffer these things. Only as Man can He die and be raised to life again. All of these things—His Passion, the extreme trauma to His body, His life bleeding out—they all show His true human nature in the most profound way.

But then look at the second half of the Gospel. And ask yourself this: Who could hear the blind man’s cry for mercy? Who could give sight to this man, except God Himself? Only God can do that! And this is the One whom Isaiah proclaimed: “Behold, your God … will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” When’s that? When your God comes to you!

We now come to the starting gate of Lent. Our journey begins in three short days. Today carries the name “Quinquagesima”—50 days before Easter. We are about to embark on a journey traditionally marked by fasting, praying, and giving alms. So today the Church calls us to see with the eyes of faith WHO Jesus is and WHAT He goes to Jerusalem to do. He is at the same time true Man and true God. He is true Man so that He might suffer and die in our place. He is true God so that His suffering, death, and resurrection might forgive the sins of the whole world, crush death itself to death, and give us His life of love.

And let’s keep this in mind. Lent is not a 40-day period for us to feel sorry for Jesus. No need to pity Jesus for all that He suffered. After all, it was “for the joy that was set before him” that He “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Our Lord does not suffer and die to win our pity. No, He does it to give us His love. And His love gives us life. When we follow Him through His Passion, let’s not be like the disciples who “understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” They did not get WHAT He would do because they could not quite see WHO was about to suffer, die, and rise again. They did not yet see that this Man before them was also fully and completely God.

When we see the WHO, then we follow our Lord—not merely on the path to Golgotha, but all the way to the joys of Easter morning. When we see the WHO, then we can marvel at the wisdom of God. What wisdom is that? “The word of the Cross,” as St. Paul says. “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” St. Paul goes on: “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 23, 30)

When we see that it’s the Lord of Glory who stands there, not answering a word, being beaten and slapped, then we fall down and give praise to God. When we remember that with a single word—or even just a single thought—He could have struck down His abusers but did not, we fall down and give praise to God. When we see that the One nailed to the cross, the One praying for pardon for His persecutors, the One lifted up on the pole of the cross, is the very same God who fixed the world in place, then we fall down and give praise to God. When we see that the One whose blood stains the wood and the earth is the same God who stoops so low to raise up all the fallen children of Adam, then we fall down and give praise to God.

When we realize this is the One who breathes life itself into everyone and everything, and yet He breathes His last and gives up His own life, then we fall down and give praise to God. When we see this One who closes His eyes in death and is laid in the tomb, we fall down and give praise to God. When we see this One who was raised on the third day in a body incorruptible, the One who is the source of everlasting salvation to all who believe in Him, the One who was with the Father from the beginning, the One who is truly and always God, then we fall down and give praise to God.

So, before the great journey of Lent begins, our Lord opens our eyes to see who He truly is. We will travel through several weeks of returning to our Baptism in repentance. Then we will arrive at the holy week of His Passion. We will follow Him up the road to Jerusalem. We will marvel at the love that He reveals to us. After all, this is God’s heart for us. And we will welcome Him as that very gift of love. Everything that He accomplished in His Incarnation, He also accomplishes for us and in us. Yes, we get to bear His body in our bodies. Our lives become living sacrifices. Since we are joined to Him in Baptism, we are united to Him who is Love. That’s what St. Paul described in our second reading. That love—given from the cross and lived out in our lives—is the only true LIFE.

Once again today we gather at our Lord’s Table. He feeds us on the very same Body that was so mistreated, so abused, so dead, but that was also raised in eternal glory and gives everlasting life. He pours into our mouths the very same Blood that ran down the cross, the same Blood that covers all of our sin, the same Blood that answers every accusation the Law has against us. He gives us these gifts so that we may share in His salvation. And that salvation restores us to love. That’s what He created us for: to love—to love Him and to love one another. That’s what Adam and Eve fell from. And that’s why He went to the Cross: to restore us to that life of love. It’s the life He gives each of us in the waters of Baptism. [It’s the life He now gives to little Anders Peter.] It’s the life to which He constantly calls us to return. After all, He is both God and Man. He is Love-in-the-Flesh, in our flesh. And our life is in Him. That’s what we get to see with the eyes of faith.

“And immediately [the blind man] recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.” Let’s join the blind man and see Jesus our Lord, true Man and true God. Let’s join all the people and give praise to God as we follow Jesus up the road to Jerusalem and beyond that to our eternal home where Love Incarnate reigns supreme. Amen.