Homily for Quinquagesima Sunday at Christ Chapel, 14 February, 2021
By: Rev’d Dr. T. Y. Hiter
St. Luke 18:31
“31 Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.” That’s how today’s Gospel starts. We’ve just read it, and I won’t re-read it, now, but this 31st verse of the Gospel of St. Luke is how the lesson begins, and I think it is an important beginning. Jesus had for some time been dropping hints to his disciples what was to happen to Him, but here, for the first time, He spells it out. The first three verses constitute perhaps Jesus’s clearest statement to the twelve of what was about to happen to him in Jerusalem.
Now, this confession was made while the whole group was still well to the north of Judea, perhaps even still in Galilee, but he made no bones about what was coming. Without a doubt, he told them more than once, as they walked the 75 miles or so south towards Jericho. We don’t know exactly where they started from, so we can’t be absolutely sure how far it was, but the route that he, and they, doubtlessly took is still the main route between those two places: Galilee and Jericho. People still live there, some herding goats and sheep in the hills, and others growing fruit and vegetables along the margin of the Jordan River. It is a pleasant half-day’s car drive, today, if you can ignore the barbed wire and the signs saying “keep out”, “minefield”. Jesus didn’t have to deal with those, but we should never forget that he DID have to deal with military force: the Roman occupation troops were at least as offensive, in their own way, as the barbed wire is, today.
In any case, the disciples failed to understand what He was telling them. A single verse is devoted to the failure of the disciples to understand what Jesus was saying: Verse 34 “And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.” You have to wonder how many times, during that journey, Jesus tried to tell them, but it all boils down to “And they understood none of these things:”
And, then comes another of the several plot twists in the story. Just outside Jericho, a good-sized town in those days, situated at the southern end of the Jordan, where it drains into the Dead Sea, they passed by a blind man sitting by the roadside, begging. Now, the blind man was just minding his own business, which was begging. He was a career beggar. That was his source of income. He sat by the road and begged. Perhaps he had a gourd, or something to hold out. They hadn’t invented tin cups, so maybe he rattled something else, to get attention. Suddenly, he heard a “multitude” pass by. He would have to be attentive to the size of passing groups, if he made his living by begging. No doubt most travelers went in ones and twos, but here, suddenly, there was a “multitude”. That would have meant many opportunities to him, and so he asked what was going on. Now, we’re not told exactly how many there were in this multitude. Perhaps it was just Jesus and the twelve. That would constitute a “multitude”, in the eyes of a blind beggar, no doubt, or perhaps there were others walking along with them. Perhaps there was a real crowd. We are told frequently in the scriptures that large crowds did sometimes accompany Jesus, in his travels. Perhaps there were several hundred people shuffling along the dirt road. In any case, the beggar asked about the crowd, and he was told that Jesus was passing by. He did what any decent beggar would have done: he called out to him. It’s what beggars do. But it’s what he called out for that’s important to us.
What he asked for was action! Actually, the King James translation, and most of the newer translations as well, use the word “mercy” here, but that requires a bit of parsing. The Greek word used in Luke is “eleos”, which Vine’s defines as “the outward manifestation of pity”. Do you see the difference? The man did not ask for somebody, even Jesus, to feel sorry for him. He asked for something real. He asked for something to happen! Just to be sure, Jesus asked him directly: “What do you want me to do for you?”, and the man answered “restore my sight”. So, Jesus did so. There was not a negotiation, as there sometimes was, when Jesus did miraculous healing. And, there was no dilly-dallying about dirt and spit and all that. The man asked for an outward show of pity. Jesus asked for a specific request. The man said “my sight”, and Jesus healed him.
And, that brings us to our lesson, this morning. We have already prayed, this morning, and we are going to pray, some more. Let’s be clear about what that means. We are not giving orders to God, as if we were sitting in some restaurant, stating our preferences from some celestial menu of blessings. We are not negotiating with God, trying to get the best deal we can, in return for our faith; our belief. We are sitting alongside a figurative road, this morning, blind, helpless mortal souls, and we are crying out to God. We have no standing, and we have no rights, except that we are citizens of God’s kingdom. What are we going to ask for? If we’re smart, we’re going to ask for eleos. For an outward sign of God’s love for us. We are hurting, this morning. We are miserable, fallen creatures, whether we know it or not. We need God, and we have a chance to ask Him for the remedy to what’s wrong with us. When He asks us, as Jesus asked the blind beggar, “What do you want”, let us not mealy-mouth about it. Let us not, ever, let it go at “please feel sorry for me”, God.
Now, I’m not going to go all Joel Osteen on you, this morning. I’m not going to embrace some new-fangled Gospel of asking for personal wealth or even plenty. But I am going to take Jesus Christ at his word! God does feel sorry for us. God weeps for us. God sent His only begotten son to die for us, he feels so sorry for us. So, when He asks us what we want, let us ask for something real. Something meaningful. Something wonderful! I offer the Lord’s Prayer as an excellent script for that, by the way! And, the Prayer of Jabez isn’t a bad idea, either.
And finally, my last point for the day lies in the last verse of the lesson. Let’s assume that we each do what Jesus told him to do; what he tells every one of us to do: What if He finds our faith sufficient, and he gives us what we ask for? What will happen, then? The last verse makes it pretty clear: “And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God.” If we ask as He taught us, we will receive what we ask for, and we ought to praise God for it. And, when people see it, they will glorify God, too! Can there possibly be a better thing to ask for?