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Vol I No. 1
Feasts & Seasons

Quinquagesima Sunday

by William J. Martin

Behold, we go up to Jerusalem

Matthew 20. 18

The Gesima season ends with an invitation to another beginning. Behold we go up. (Matt. 20. 18) We are invited on to yet another road, a spiritual road that leads to our death and new life with God. The road which we will tread is not an easy one. It will require a new and determined readiness. It will demand serious moral introspection. It will call for drastic measures as we learn how to hand over our sin to the Lord for death. It will demand a death to all else but the love of God in Jesus Christ. Progressively our journey will be an invitation on to the road that Jesus Christ is. I am the way, the truth, and the life, (John 14. 6) Follow me, Jesus says, for behold we go up to Jerusalem. In other words, behold we go up to the new city in which we shall find first our death and then our new life through the real operation of God’s loved in our lives.

Our journey will teach us many things about ourselves and about God’s Love. First, of course, we shall learn what happens when fallen man can no longer endure the love of God in heart of Jesus. Every one of us is fallen, fallen away from and out of the perfect operation of Love in our world. Fallen man rejects God’s Love. God’s Love never ceases to be itself and this means that it insists upon conditions that most men cannot endure. Love is made flesh for us in the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is that perfect Love that never ceases to offer itself to all people in all ages. But fallen man rejects this Love, this desire that is at once persistent and consistent. God’s Love persistently reveals the truth in Jesus Christ. That Love is consistent with the nature of God and His expectations for men. Long before the coming of Christ, the prophets foretold of how God’s Love would be received in the heart of sinful man. They foretold of how fallen man would not be able to endure the persistent presence of God’s Love in the world. Fallen man resists when God’s Love threatens to disrupt the constancy of his carefully contrived comfortable continuance. The prophets knew that most men would be hard pressed to abandon the good of this world for the sake of God’s Love.

Even the Apostles themselves bear witness to how difficult it will be to embrace the love of God in Jesus Christ. They believe that Jesus is Love of God made flesh. But they cannot see how He must be delivered unto the Gentiles.( Luke 18. 31) Nor can they allow themselves to imagine that He shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on. (Luke 18. 32) That Jesus will be demoralized, derided, and despoiled is beyond what they think is possible. Why? Their concept of Love knows no struggle, difficulty, or sacrifice. What they see of Love involves neither suffering nor self-abnegation. The Apostles desire to go up with Jesus to Jerusalem and yet they have no conception of what His Love must undergo in order to reconcile man to God. Jesus prophesies that they shall scourge Him and put Him to death. (Ibid, 33) But the Apostles understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.(Ibid, 34) Calvin says that they had formed the expectation for joyful and prosperous advancement and therefore had reckoned it to be in the highest degree absurd that Christ should be ignominiously crucified. (J. Calvin: Harmony of the Gospels, xvii) Their minds see only the prospect of going up to glory. They cannot see. That they are blind is confirmed in what follows.

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.(Luke 18. 35-37)  The Apostles do not understand what Jesus has said to them. They are blind, and so are we. And what do they find? A man who is blind in another way stumbles onto their path. They are spiritually blind, but he is physically blind. But this physically blind man sees what the Apostles and we do not. And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.(Luke 18.38) What he could not see with his eyes, his saw and knew with his spirit. And so he cries out to Love made flesh, to Jesus, for mercy. In some deep way, he knows that the Jesus who is going up to Jerusalem will come down to minister to him. The Apostles are blind and thus cannot see the point. And they which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace. (Luke 18. 39) The Apostles are confused enough already; so, why should they allow some pathetic blind man interrupt a journey already wrought with perplexity. Yet, the blind man sees. He sees that he must reach out to Love made flesh. He sees that he cannot let Love made flesh pass him by. With the eyes of faith and the determination of hope, he sees God’s Love and the Power in Jesus, and so he cried so much the more, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. (Luke 18. 39) Let the Apostles luxuriously wallow in philosophical perturbation. This man sees and will have the Love that condescends to men of low estate. Love is near. The blind man will procure its healing power. Behold we go up to Jerusalem. And as we go up, we find one who was blind and truly sees, who has only heard of this Jesus and yet understands. Love is going up to Jerusalem, and it will love and be loved. The relationship is established. Will we go up to Jerusalem? Will we follow Love, cry out to Love, implore Love’s mercy as we travel?

And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him: and when he was come near, he asked him, Saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee. (Luke 18. 40-42.) Yes, behold we go up to Jerusalem, and as we go up the Love that will be mocked, spitefully entreated, spitted upon, still loves. Love reaches out to all. Here to a new friend who knew more than the old friends because he truly saw who Jesus was and understood the power of His Love. The blind man reveals a faith that sees the Love that heals. This Love is indeed going up to His death. And so He finds one who can assist Him in beginning the process. This Love cannot help but love. This Love cannot help but die to Himself as He comes alive to God in the life of His brother. He sees faith and hope and responds with God’s Love. His says Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee. (Luke 18. 42) Love says to the blind man, because you see me inwardly and spiritually, you shall see me now outwardly and materially. And, blessed are they who have not seen, and yet believe. (John 20. 29) Behold, we go up to Jerusalem. (Idem)

On the journey up to Jerusalem, Love in the flesh is always Himself. It will never cease to be the Love received from the Father and passed on to all –friend and foe alike. Here a new friend asks for its power and receives it. The new friend has the eyes of faith with which to see. Will we desire this Love with the faith and hope of the blind men? We have been blind, but Love desires for us to see. As St. Paul reminds us this morning, Love or 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.  Charity never faileth. Love or charity is always itself. Love made flesh is always Himself. Jesus is Love or Charity made flesh. He suffers all resistance to God’s Love. His Love never ceases to be kind, benevolent, humble, and meek. He is never puffed up or proud, never seeks his own advantage and worldly comfort. In fact, Love always reaches down to lift others up. It stoops down to lift the blind man into the light of day. It will come down from the Cross to see and perceive that those who are killing it on Good Friday on the Hill of Calvary, might just have a change of heart on Holy Saturday in order to embrace it wholeheartedly on Easter Sunday.

Behold we go up to Jerusalem. (Idem) Will we begin to imagine that Love in the flesh must suffer innocently in order to reveal God’s persistent desire for all men’s salvation? Will we begin to imagine that Love in the flesh must die in order to welcome all men into new life? Will we participate in this reality that Jesus will offer to share with us? If we don’t, we do well to remember that it is always that one thing more that separates man from the Love of God in Jesus Christ. It might be the love that forgives the worst of sinners and their sin. It might be the love that calls forth more generosity at the cost of a sacrifice. It might be the love that must suffer real mental and even physical anguish and loss in order to be rewarded with new life and its gains. Whatever it is, and it is usually something seemingly insignificant in the eternal scheme of things. Will we open our eyes to behold these things that separate us from the knowledge and love of God in Jesus Christ? Will we see, with the blind man, that unless we believe and hope in the invisible work of God’s love in the heart of Jesus, we cannot be saved?

With the blind man then let us receive our sight today. Then let us forsake all, follow Him, and glorify God. (Ibid, 43) For, again with Calvin, those who are healed of their blindness show a grateful mind in presenting themselves to others as mirrors of the Grace of Christ. (Idem) And what we are to mirror is what Christ is about to do for us in Holy Lent.  Behold, we go up to Jerusalem. (Idem) Amen.

©wjsmartin