Quinquagesima Sunday| 2004|Luke 18:31-43
Only He who received no mercy can bring mercy to you. Only Jesus, the Son of David, can hear your cry and answer your need. Of course, if you see no need for mercy you are in the wrong place. You don’t belong here in church. The church gathers together to cry out for mercy. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us. Only those who obtain mercy from Jesus can learn to love. Only those in whose hearts the Holy Spirit has implanted His living and eternal word can from their hearts love one another.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
How can such a love exist in what so often appears to be an increasingly loveless world? Where can we go to find this kind of love and to learn to love in this way? We know where we must go. We must go to where the blind beggar went. We must go to Jesus and we must cry out to Him just as that beggar cried out. And when we cry out to Jesus for that love that suffers long, is kind, doesn’t envy or parade itself, is not proud but gentle, humble, self-effacing, and pure, what does Jesus show us? Where does he tell us to look? Whence is the source of this wonderful love for which we yearn and yet that we cannot find within our own hearts? Jesus tells us. He points us to His suffering. Jesus said, concerning Himself, “For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” Oh, what an irony! If we want to see love, we must first witness hatred. If we want to be filled with love for God and for one another –and surely we cannot want anything greater than that! – we must first be willing to confront the most horrifying hatred imaginable.
But we must not only imagine it. We must look at it. We must receive instruction from it. For only in the suffering of the Son of Man can we see love conquer hatred. We look upon Christ’s suffering. We see God’s promises fulfilled. We see true love displayed. We see our prayers answered.
In the suffering of Jesus God fulfills His promises. The first gospel promise God gave was that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the Serpent. In so doing, His heel would be bruised. This was a prophecy of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ. The bruised heal of the woman’s Seed was the price of human freedom from evil. The prophets foretold the suffering of Christ, even speaking His words for Him several hundreds of years before He spoke them. David speaks for Christ saying, “For dogs have surrounded Me; the congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet.” (Psalm 22:16) Isaiah speaks for Him saying, “I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:6) It was no secret that the Christ would suffer.
Still, they didn’t understand. How could they not understand? This was the third time that Jesus had told them. They were familiar with the Holy Scriptures that taught them this. The blood of the covenant had to be shed. Who did they think would shed it if not He who was identified as the Lamb of God? But the disciples who had received instruction from Jesus for three years could not understand the plain meaning of the words Jesus spoke.
He would be delivered to the Gentiles. The religious leaders of the Jews did not have the authority to crucify Jesus. He would suffer and die by the authority of Pontius Pilate. He would be mocked and insulted and spit upon. There is no love visible here, is there? There is only contempt and disgrace. But He who bears it utters not one word of complaint. Instead of cursing, He blesses. Instead of threatening, He prays. There is the love.
But there is also love in the whipping and in the crucifixion. Not only the love of Christ who patiently endures it, but the love of the Father by whose will it happened. Here is a love so wonderful it cannot find adequate expression in words. It is our heavenly Father’s love for us. The Father sees the purity of His innocent Son. He sees inside Jesus’ soul and witnesses a spotless and beautiful innocence. It is the purity they have shared from eternity with the Holy Spirit and now the Son become flesh has manifested it for thirty-three years on this earth. The Father, who knows with intimate personal knowledge the purity and holiness of His dear Son, watches as His innocent Son suffers shame. There is love! The Father watches as His holy Son is whipped and killed. He watches as His Son rescues us all from death.
The Father Himself requires this suffering. The Son willingly bears it. All because God loves us so much. This is no accidental death. It is not by the Romans or by the Jews but by the eternal will and purpose of God that Jesus suffers for us. And in this suffering God’s love for us is revealed. Listen to how the poet expresses it:
Of what the paltering world calls love,
I will not know, I cannot speak;
I know but His who reigns above,
And His is neither mild nor weak;
Hard even unto death is this,
And smiting with its awful kiss.
What was the answer of God’s love
Of old, when in the olive grove
In anguish-sweat His own Son lay;
And prayed, O, Take this cup away?
Did God take from him then the cup?
No, child; His Son must drink it up!
It was not the anger of the mob, or the pain of the whip, or the shame of the spitting, or the physical dying that brought the greatest sorrow to the soul of our Lord Jesus. It was the curse of God Himself against sinful humanity, the curse that Jesus Himself bore as He took the place of sinful humanity in order to become a curse for us. Love required it. By bearing God’s curse, Christ removed the curse from us. He set us free from sin. We are forgiven by God.
No one can understand that unless he first understands his need for that. But, as St. Paul reminds us, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) Who are those being saved? It is those who are crying out for mercy.
To cry out for mercy to the Lord Jesus is not a once in a lifetime experience after which one has it settled and will from henceforth move upward and onward in sanctified living. Far from it! To cry out for mercy to Jesus, the sin-bearer, is the daily cry of even the most sanctified Christians.
The cry for mercy is called the Kyrie Eleison, which is Greek for Lord, have mercy. The Kyrie is set at the beginning of the Divine Service. In the older liturgy we sing, “Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.” That’s been a feature of the Service since the earliest years of the Christian Church. In a newer liturgy, brought to Denmark, and from there to Norway and from there to America we sing the Kyrie this way: “O God, the Father in heaven, have mercy upon us; O God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy upon us; O God, the Holy Ghost, true Comforter, have mercy upon us.” In either case, the Kyrie or cry for mercy stands at the very beginning of the Service and sets the tone for everything that follows.
What are we saying when we sing the Kyrie? We are saying that we are the blind beggar standing at the side of the road, crying out to Jesus in our need. The very up to date religious crowd tells us that this is no way to worship God, but that we should toss out the historic liturgy and the Kyrie with it, replacing it with more upbeat “praise” songs that celebrate good things going on in our lives. But we are stubborn, just like that blind beggar, and we ignore the crowd as we cry out all the louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!”
And He never ever fails to hear our cry. Every time we gather in His name, and by His authority, He chooses to be present. Not only is He here, but He is here to give us our sight back. We have become blinded by our foolish and persistent infatuation with the things of this life that are perishing with the world. We have served our own appetites instead of God. We have not loved our neighbor. We have been impatient and unkind. We have envied. We have paraded ourselves and become puffed up. We have been rude. We have sought our own benefit over others and we’ve been provoked when we haven’t gotten our way. We have though evil against our neighbor with no more basis in fact than the malice within our own hearts. We’ve rejoiced in the sins of others because it gave us opportunity to judge them.
Here we come, week after week, to bemoan our loss, to confess our sins, and to cry out for God’s mercy. Yes, we celebrate God’s goodness every day and we love to sing His praises. But our deepest and more pressing need is always for the mercy that only Jesus, the Son of David, can provide. He, who was delivered to the Gentiles, mocked, insulted, spit upon, whipped, and crucified did not remain dead in the grave, but rose from the dead and is here with us whenever we gather in His name. He gives to us the forgiveness He won by His bitter suffering and death. He answers our Kyrie with pure divine mercy, flowing from His wounds into our lives, blotting out every sin and healing our souls from the guilt that distresses us. By forgiving us, He opens our eyes to see the pure love of God. By giving to us the mercy for which He bled and died, He pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts who enables us to love one another even as we have been loved. And for every imperfection of our love, the mercy of Christ is the all-sufficient covering. The faith by which we are saved is the faith that receives the mercy for which we cry.
So we gather together as blind beggars and every time we gather Jesus deigns to give us our sight and confirm our faith.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus