Monday, February 4, 2013

What do you want me to do?: Thoughts on Quinquagesima

We tend to see what we want to see, what we expect to see. And the things that don’t fit our expectations, our preconceived notions, we tend to dismiss, thinking they’re unimportant. But actually the opposite is true. The things that don’t line up, that strike you as strange and out of place, are the things to concentrate on. The things that don’t make sense are the things that have meaning. And concentrating on them, figuring them out, reveals what it means, when before it remained hidden to us.

So why does Jesus ask the blind man this question: “What do you want me to do for you?” I would think that this is pretty obvious. He’s blind, so he wants his sight back. He wants to see what he was always missing. To behold the beauty of creation. To be relieved of having to beg. But that’s our problem. We see only what the blind beggar would gain. We give no thought, however, to what he must give up. We see it in terms of sunsets and stars and being able to see the sky at night. But there’s comfort in blindness and in ignorance, in familiarity, in what we’ve grown accustomed to. How many things are we deficient in, and how often do we live covering over our weaknesses rather than spending the time to change them? It is safer never trying.

The blind beggar is giving up all he knew. He’s giving up his sole source of income, the only trade or skill he has. And that trade, that income was pretty reliable, especially for someone blind or lame, with some physical illness or handicap. Beggars were an important aspect of 1st Century Middle Eastern life and society. Beggars weren’t seen just as someone to avoid. Beggars were seen as an opportunity for people to render service to God by giving to and having mercy on the poor, the lame, the blind, the deaf. Beggars were a way for the people to fulfill their religious obligations. And so beggars didn’t sit by the side of the road and ask passersby “hey man can you spare some change or a few bucks?” They’d cry out “Give to God, have mercy on me.” That is, “do your duty to the Lord by helping me.” And people gave not because they felt sorry for him but because it was their duty to God. The blind beggar in this account then, if he were to receive his sight, would be leaving behind everything. His world would be turned upside down.

And so our Lord asks him: “What do you want me to do for you?” That is to say: “I know you think you want to be cured, to receive your sight. But are you sure? Don’t you know that when your eyes are opened, it will change everything? Don’t you know that nothing will be the same again, and that there’s no going back? Ignorance is bliss. The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. Everyone loves hotdogs until you read what’s in them.

But the blind man simply says: “Let me receive my sight.” In essence, he says, “Yes, Lord. I know, but let me receive my sight so that I may see you, so that I may know you, and follow you.” The blind man wants to see so that he can behold with his own eyes the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Son of David who would come to establish His reign by redeeming His people, by saving them from their enemies, giving them knowledge of salvation by forgiving their sins. Even if he is poorer than a blind beggar, even if he has no work or trade, regardless of what people have said or might say about him in the future, He has seen the Lord, known His mercy, received His love. He would rather be a beggar of God and have nothing than be a beggar of men and have everything. For to have the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation is to have everything and more. And that is enough.

And what of you? Do you want to see, to have your blindness removed, not only to see the good things, to see the Christ and the works that He does for mankind but also to see the depravity of your own sinful nature in the cross. Are you, too, willing to give up everything to see and know and follow the Christ, the Son of David? Will you step out in trust and faith, handing everything over to Him? Do you want your eyes opened to see Him, giving up your former lives, your former comforts, seeing our Lord but also the the destruction your own sins bring on Him and yourself? Having your eyes opened means having your ignorance removed. Having the bliss of not knowing, not seeing your sin for what it really is removed—not just that it’s a little mistake, or a lapse in judgment, or a weakness, but a damnable offense against God and His holiness.

It means that you’d rather be poorer than a blind beggar and despised by men but seeing the Lord Jesus than blind, accepted, having income and knowing where your next meal will come from but not having Him. It means suffering the scorn of the world as it scoffs at you even as we heard this week, “What’s with you Christians? It’s only a pill, it’s only contraception, you must hate women.” But some of those pills cause abortion, it’s not just a pill, it’s a child. Following Jesus means not being able to live in the bliss anymore of not knowing. means having your world turned upside down, losing everything you find comfortable in order to follow Jesus to Jerusalem, to His cross, to His death and His grave. To see does not mean just the roses but also the thorns, not just the sun but also the darkness, not just the resurrection, but also the cross.

The blind man follows Jesus. And he follows him all the way to Jerusalem. He follows Him all the way to the cross, to the place where everything we expect is turned upside down. The place where the King of Kings, David’s Son and David’s Lord, reigns his kingdom as the Crucified one, seated upon his throne the cross and is crowned with thorns.

For the kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of men. In the kingdoms of men the blind are just blind, the deaf are deaf, the lame are lame,and the dead are dead. But in the kingdom of God, it’s the blind who see, the deaf who hear, the lame who walk, and the dead who live. So, confess your blindness, your deafness, your infirmities, and your deadness, your sin. Confess them and cry out to the Son of David for mercy, and ask that in seeing Him you may truly see, that in hearing Him you may truly hear, and in dying in Him you may truly live. And by His Holy Spirit-filled Word, you see, you hear, and you live.

And so it is that we, too, standing at the doorstep into Lent, will follow Jesus to Jerusalem and to His cross. And in going there, Our eyes will be opened to see Him as He is revealed in Scripture and receive Him in the breaking of bread. Our eyes will be opened to receive the light of Easter—the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

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