Quinquagesima Sunday - Luke 18:31-43
[Luke 18:31-43] And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.
As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
Standing in Grace, Strong when Weak
The twelve disciples, having been taken aside, were told in plain language what Jesus was about to do – that He would be killed and on the third day rise. The disciples, however, are blind to these plain words – “they did not grasp what was said”. Then, a short while later, a man who is blind physically receives his sight.
And as it turns out, the blind man is the one who can see better. Blindness of the eyes to many in the ancient world was associated with sin and darkness of the heart. Yet, this blind man, without seeing, proclaims “Jesus of Nazareth” to be in fact both “Lord” and “Son of David” – the promised Savior and King.
Those at the front of the throng traveling with Jesus said to the blind man, when he cried out for mercy, “Be silent!” Yet the blind man knows, better than those who can see, who Jesus truly is – that he is one who will have mercy – so he cries out even louder, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!” The blind man’s advantage, his strength, is his place of weakness.
When you’ve been brought to a place of weakness, then are you strong – because the strength of the weak is in their reliance upon the One who is stronger – Jesus, the Lord, the Son of David. The Apostle Paul said even of himself, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” [2 Corinthians 12:10].
The blind in the ancient world could not see (of course!) – which typically meant they could not work. They had to beg, and, therefore, were reliant upon the grace of those passing by. A grace often not found from men. Blindness had the stigma, as we said, of sin and darkness. Elsewhere, regarding another blind man, the disciples once asked, “Who sinned? This man or his parents?”
So, practically speaking, blindness meant being thrown into economic hardship. Which, socially, meant the shame and embarrassment of living on charity. Blindness likely meant being unfairly despised and being treated unjustly. Yet, unlike those who can see by nature, only the blind man experiences the glory of having received his sight from Jesus.
The blind man knows that his sight is by grace alone – which is a more joyful knowledge than the delusion of self-sufficiency. From a place of great weakness, you see more clearly that you live by grace – by God’s charity – alone. This is the truer joy.
Indeed, the blind man got to see – after how many years of nothing, of darkness – the blind man got to see as his first sight Jesus. The effect is joy, praising, glorifying God. Thanksgiving in his heart. Yet, how many others, the seeing, saw Jesus daily unimpressed – so that the prophet Isaiah could say, from man’s perspective, “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.” Yet, the blind man sees a beautiful and desirable Savior. We see more clearly the beauty and majesty of our Savior from the vantage point of our weaknesses.
A little before today’s Gospel, earlier in Luke 18, a man of strength – the rich young ruler – who believed himself to have done well, walked away from Jesus sad [Luke 18:18-23]. But the blind beggar follows along behind Jesus as his newly-seeing disciple, and with great joy.
You could even say, “Blessed are the blind!” Or, as Jesus did say, “Blessed are you who are poor”; “Blessed are you who weep now”; “Blessed are you who hunger now”; And “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven”; “You shall be satisfied”; “You shall laugh”. [Luke 6:20-23]
And you shall know, from your vantage point of weakness, that your laughing and satisfaction are by God’s grace alone. So, blessed are you.
The Apostle Paul served Christ in great weakness. Paul said to the Corinthians about his preaching, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling” [1 Cor. 2:3]. To the Galatians, he mentions “a bodily ailment” that was a trial for his hearers [Gal. 4:13-14]. And elsewhere, Paul mentions his “thorn in the flesh”, whatever it was. But, whatever it was, God said of it, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made known in weakness.”
Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ wasn’t taken away – but this weakness, like the blind man’s blindness and beggary, was to his advantage. By it, he knew that all good things were by grace alone – and that God’s grace to the weak is a greater joy to us than any sufficiency we might’ve sought in ourselves.
Physical ailment. Sickness. Injury. Deep depression. Persistent guilt. Persistent grief. Reoccurring anxieties. Weakness in sin. Sin of the flesh or mind or mouth that, though you’d like to overcome it, so far, it keeps overcoming you. When you are weak, then are you strong. You are saved by grace alone.
Loneliness. Mistreatment. Rejection. Stuck in a nursing home or hospital scared and unjustly forced to go it alone. It’s wrong that this happens to you and to your loved ones – and God will avenge you according to His will and in His timing – but, today, know by faith that “God’s power is made known in weakness”, that “His grace is sufficient for you”, that “when you are weak, then you are strong” because God alone becomes your strength.
Brothers and sisters, we are living by grace alone. And what is this grace? It is the very thing the prophets spoke of concerning Jesus, and that Jesus spoke of to His disciples in today’s Gospel: “everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” That He did this for you is “Grace alone”.
And hear further what the prophets spoke concerning Jesus – hear what He did for you: “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” [Isaiah 53:4-6]
For those with a thorn in their flesh, His hands were pierced. He carried your grief. For those who are mocked, He was mocked. And He was crushed in your stead for your sin. His soul was made an offering for your guilt [Isaiah 53:10]. For those weak in flesh, and for those weak in sin, He was given for you on that cross. By that cross, you are each saved by grace alone – a gift known in weakness, a gift you get to see. Amen.