Quinquagesima Sunday, February 7, 2016
The Revd. Fr. William J. Martin
“Behold we go up to Jerusalem.” (Luke 18.31)
In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus invites us to accompany Him up to Jerusalem: Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, he says, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished. Today we go up. We have changed our direction. For we have just completed the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany. In those liturgical seasons we meditate upon a certain coming down -God’s coming down in His Son, the Word’s coming down from the Father to be made flesh, Jesus’ coming down to purify and cleanse our consciences of the unclean, the unholy, and the unrighteous. But today we begin to go up, to travel up with Jesus to Jerusalem. He must go up to die for us. Behold, we go up to Jerusalem and we go up with Him to contemplate dying Love, that into its embrace we might long to be held. Behold we go up to Jerusalem in order to see and experience the love of God, and how the love of God while enduring all manner of malevolent rejection, will keep on loving. In faith we go up to Jerusalem, in hope we reach forward towards greater wisdom, and in love we desire to find a passion that can be made our own –that principle of Primal Motion that alone can heal, that alone can save.
But we all might be a little bit confused about this coming down and going up. We faithfully follow Jesus, we hope for the best, but we do not understand what it means to go up to His death. Death seems to be a kind of going down, like going down into the pit or going down into the grave. What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? Shall it declare thy truth? (Psalm xxx. 9) Perhaps we are like the Apostles who went up with Jesus to Jerusalem. They were confused and blinded to the truth. For the more they went up, the less they understood or saw in the right light. Jesus said that the Son of Man…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. (St. Luke xviii. 32,33) But we read that the disciples understood none of these things, and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. (St. Luke xviii. 34) It all seems as foreign to us as it was to the Apostles. After all, going up usually means ascending or rising out of darkness and into light, out of confusion and into clarity, and out of ignorance and into knowledge,
But as they will soon learn, travelling up to Jerusalem with Jesus will involve illumination or enlightenment of a most unusual kind –the illumination that Jesus is God and that God is Love. The eyes of the Apostles, our eyes, will be opened; there is no doubt about it. But not before, against the protestations of all others, we persistently cry out with the blind man in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy upon me. (St. Luke xviii. 38) We cannot go up to Jerusalem with Jesus until we beg for the mercy of God in Jesus Christ to come down to us to open our eyes. Jesus asks the blind man what he desires of Him. The blind man responds, Lord, that I may receive my sight. (St. Luke xviii. 41) The blind man receives his sight and so too can we if Jesus comes down to us. And immediately he received his sight, and followed him….(St. Luke xviii. 43) Vision is the door that opens the heart to follow Jesus and to go up with Him to Jerusalem.
Vision is the reward bestowed upon the man whose faith persistently seeks out the source of true healing. What he thought would be the gateway to the world alone, became the door to a spiritual vision that can go up to the Cross of Christ’s Love. Christ says in this morning’s Gospel that His impending suffering and death will be necessary that all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished. (St. Luke xviii.31) What the blind man will see and the Apostles will behold is a vision of a healing Love that is always moved and defined by an upward ascent into heart of our Heavenly Father. St. Paul speaks of this Love in this morning’s Epistle. King James’ able translators penned it as Charity.
Charity is the Queen of the Theological virtues. It outruns faith and fulfills all hope, since its passion is God’s, which finds no end. St. John tells us that, God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God in him.(1 St. John iv. 16) Love is Charity, and Charity is the everlasting expression of God’s nature. Charity is that one essential virtue that must command all others. St. Paul suggests this morning that Charity is preeminent because it alone binds God to Man and Man to God. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. (1 Cor. xiii. 1-3) Speech, knowledge, and kindness alone can never save a man, says St. Paul. All sorts of people can speak like eloquent earthly men or celestial angels. This virtue does not save a man. Countless others can have right belief, near-perfect knowledge of theological truth, and spiritual understanding. This virtue does not save a man. Generous and liberal people may spend their lives feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and sheltering the homeless. This virtue does not save a man. What they are missing is Charity. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.(1 Cor. xiii. 4-7) Charity is the pure, eternal activity of God. It sums up in one word God’s inestimable mercy, pity, compassion, and forgiveness that comes down in order that we may go up and back into Heaven. It fulfills all hope in His desire for every man’s redemption. It sees in all men the possibility of salvation, though their ways be wicked, their hearts hardened, and their motives murderous. Charity comes down to conquer all vice. Why? Because God is love, and thus God is Charity. And Charity will never cease to do all that He can to enable men to ascend or to go up and into the new life of everlasting virtue.
Charity is the passion that moves and defines the nature of Jesus Christ. Jesus is both God loving Man and Man loving God. In this one person then, what men have tried to divide since the dawn of time, is found in inseverable harmonious unity. And make no mistake about it; the devil will do all he can to divide these two loves, these two expressions of Charity in the heart of Jesus. As we go up to the Cross of Christ’s Charity, we shall see that Jesus will be tempted in His unjust suffering and execution to divide God from Man and Man from God. He will be tempted to call down legions of angels to destroy the human enemies of the Charity that moves Him. He will be tempted to forsake God in His human suffering and to forsake Man in His Divine perfection. Rather than going up and into the embrace of His heavenly Father’s Charity, He will be tempted to come down from the Cross and abandon God’s way of working out our salvation. But as we go up, we shall find that He will not come down into these temptations. He is God’s Charity made flesh for Man; He is Man’s Charity and Love for God made divine. He goes up in order to die for us. He will come down in order to rise in us. What we think of as two distinct kinds of Love will persist as one in the heart of Jesus. Sin divides; Love unites. This is the vision and expression of Love.
This morning a blind man became conscious that Jesus Christ was passing by. His cry goes up and Jesus comes down. Augustine exhorts us to imitate him.
Let Christ’s passing by make us prepared to cry out. What is Christ’s passing by? Whatsoever He has endured for us here is His passing by. He was born, He passed by: for is He yet being born? He grew up, He passed by; is He yet growing up? He was suckled: is He yet suckled? When weary He slept: does He yet sleep? He ate and He drank: does He yet do this? At the last He was seized, He was bound with ropes, He was beaten, He was crowned with thorns, He was struck by blows, He was defiled with spittle, He was hung on a Cross, He was put to death, He was pierced by a lance, He was buried, He rose again. Till then He passes by.
Christ is God’s Charity that has come down from Heaven in order to pass us by. True Charity comes down in order that through Him we all may go up and back to God. Christ is always passing by. The vision of Charity in the flesh will come down to us this Lent so that we may go up to the Cross to die. Christ is always passing by. Let us pray that this coming Lent we shall play the man, seeing and desiring the Charity that Christ is, cherishing and treasuring not only the vision, but enduring His call and claim of our hearts, as old loves fade and come down into death and true Love stirs and goes up into Life. Christ is always passing by. Our hearts will be broken if we go up to gaze upon this Charity; but in their breaking comes an opening, into which Christ will flow, grow, expand and triumph. Christ is always passing by. He intends to brings us into unbreakable loving union with our Heavenly Father. Christ is always passing by. Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, to die, to rise, and impart the Divine Charity…that is always passing by…to others. Amen.