23 February 2020

Homily for Quinquagesima (2020)

"Seeing True Love"
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 & Luke 18:31-43

Listen here.

In our second reading, St. Paul extols the virtues of love. But this love is a lot different from the love that the world pursues, a lot different from the love we know or experience. The love that we long for is the feeling that satisfies every desire and craving we have. It’s a love that indulges every need we believe we have. That kind of love is aimed at the heart. It zeroes in on and plays on the emotions. Its beginning and ending is in ourselves. So the words, “love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast…love never ends,”—well, they’re a foreign language. These words are hard to live up to.

But when St. Paul speaks of love, he’s not talking about a verb, but a noun. He’s not talking about what it means to be loving, but what love is. It’s not a feeling. Instead, it’s a Person. And St. Paul does not intend to accuse you or to give you ammunition to use against someone else. No, he  proclaims the Love that came down from heaven. This is not the Love that comes from you; it’s the love that comes to you. It’s not the Love that you must live up to, but the Love who lives for you and in you. And so St. Paul is not focusing on right behavior or a good feeling. No, he’s focusing on the Love of God who is Jesus Christ our Lord.

You see, our view of love is so distorted and muddled. It’s so centered on what meets our needs and pleases our flesh. Is it any wonder that we are puzzled—even offended—to hear that the Love of God is tied to suffering and death? We admire a love that sacrifices one life for another, sure. But what about the Love who immerses us in His self-sacrifice? We think highly of love that is loyal in sickness and in death. But why do we pull back from the Love who says, “Take up your cross”? And what’s our response when He says, “Forsake house, parents, spouse, children—everything and everyone you love—all for the kingdom of God”?

Yes, our love is so interwoven with everything we want and to everyone who does something for us. Is it any wonder, then, that we quickly glance over the “we” in today’s Gospel? Love-in-the-flesh says, “We are going up to Jerusalem.” And going we are—starting Wednesday and for forty days, not counting the Sundays. We are going up to Jerusalem with Love Himself and to be joined to Love Himself. We do not go up just to see what it takes to be Love. We go up to be with Love and in Love as He is delivered, as He is mocked, shamefully treated and spit upon, as He is flogged, as He is killed, and then as He rises again on the third day. Love calls us to come and die with Him, to be immersed in His suffering and death, to dwell in His dying as He dwells in our life and living. Yes, Love calls us to come and die with Him and in Him.

This is not about some kind of death with dignity. This is about rising with Him. His death puts to death the sin that kills us. His death gives live where we can see only death and the fear of death.

So it’s much more than simply Jesus dying for us. It’s more than the good Person being sacrificed to save the evil people. It’s us dying in Him and with Him. It’s the rebellious, sinful you being killed in the holy, innocent suffering and death of Jesus the Christ.

When Jesus first spoke these things, the disciples “understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” They could not see how this could be. They could not see the need or the benefit. They could not see how this suffering and death would be good for them, how it would give them any good. They could not see the love of God in the Love who would be crucified on the cross.

But what the disciples could not see, a blind man does see. And he sums it up in one word: “mercy.” That’s what the Love of God is all about. Not behavior. Not emotions. Not random acts of kindness. But mercy. The Righteous One becomes the sin of the unrighteous. The Life of the world undergoes our death so that we may live in Him. God-in-the-flesh dies for the ungodly, so that the ungodly may be called the children of God.

“Have mercy on me!” That’s what the blind man cries out. Even though he is blind, he sees who Christ is—the undeserved, unconditional, self-sacrificing Love of God. What the blind man believes allows him to see what those with perfect vision cannot see. You see, the blind man relies on what he hears; and then his sight is restored. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

What you have heard—and what you continue to hear—is that the Lord God has mercy on you. No, not because you are loving, but in spite of your refusal to live in love for God and for your neighbor. God has mercy on you in spite of your living as if God does not matter. He has mercy on you in spite of your constant chasing after what you love, making that matter most. In spite of you, the Lord God gives you His Love and then He also puts you in that Love.

Now you no longer need to live for the self-centered love that you crave. Instead, now you get to join in the chorus of the blind man, the saints, the angels, all the company of heaven. Now you get to join with all those unloving and unloveable ones who cry out: “Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us.”

Now you see. Now you are confident. Now you trust and believe. Not only does your Lord hear this cry and answer your need; He especially has mercy on you. Now you may see, believe and be confident that the Lord God, in His mercy, has put you in His Love—that same Love who came to take on our flesh and blood, that same Love who came to live our life and die our death, that same Love who gives you His life now and into eternity, that same Love who even now comes to feed you on Himself. Now you see true Love—our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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