Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem.
On Wednesday of this week, the Church proclaims, as it has from earliest of times, a forty day fast. It is not something you must do, but something that has been found to be helpful to do, and to do together. We do this to prepare ourselves to more fully understand, in a way that changes our hearts, Jesus’ Passion and Death and his Resurrection.
I don’t know if you use Microsoft Word, they’ve just added (or I just discovered it) a new feature called “focus” – do you know it? They say it is for those who want a less clutter all over your screen with all these options there continually before your eyes, distracting you from your work and making you tired. So when you put on focus, all editing options disappear and you just have your page – and you can make the background like oak or birch or leather – so that it is as if you were just looking at your page of writing on a clear desk. You can be more focused without all the clutter – really nice. That is one aspect of what Lent is about – clearing away the clutter so you can “focus” a little more on God.
In our Gospel [St Luke 18:31-43], Jesus says, Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem. And he warns his disciples about everything that will happen when they get there – just as the prophets have proclaimed, The Son of Man “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.” How could the disciples understand that the Passion and Death and Resurrection of Jesus would be an event of greater significance to the history of the world, to the whole of Creation and its salvation than the Flood or the Covenant with Abraham, or the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt, or the gift of the Law of Moses – how could the Passion and Death and Resurrection of Jesus be an event that is the successor to them and their completion?
It is not surprising that “they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”
We can hardly grasp it after having hearing it again and again, hopefully as the Gospel is proclaimed Sunday by Sunday, and as we have the Lord’s death presented before us Sunday by Sunday in the Holy Communion. The deep mysteries of its power and effectiveness to save us, remain partially unseen, hidden, or we would never feel ourselves unloved by God, we would never despair in our more difficult moments, we would never sin if we truly saw it with the eyes of our hearts. We catch glimpses of its power at certain moments, but we also lose sight of it often, as is revealed by our unfaithfulness.
What is this about the human soul that it is so blind?
At the heart of our readings of the last two Sundays has been a call to take action to cooperate with the grace of God to bring about a change in us, to open the eyes of our hearts.
We were called upon to enter into the labours of God’s vineyard, no matter what our stage in life, and then we were called upon to consider some practical ways of making our soul the good soil onto which God’s Word can fall and bear fruit abundantly. We were given the example of St Paul who laboured abundantly in God’s vineyard and continues to bear fruit [Sexagesima], or how he took upon himself the task to “pummel his body, lest when he was preaching to others, he himself might be a castaway.” [Septuagesima]
There is an article in the March Newsletter and on our website, about why we might participate in a fast and in spiritual feasting at this time of year, and to do it together with others, and with suggestions of what we might do to participate in it.
This morning there are a couple of things that St Paul tells us in the Epistle reading [1 Corinthians 13] that we should remember if we’re going to participate in a fast this Lent.
First, our foremost motivation must be to grow in love: whatever spiritual disciplines we take on, if it is fasting or Bible reading or some sort of charitable offering of our time or money, or a combination: knowing more, doing more, won’t help us if it simply makes us more judgemental or full of spiritual pride. Even having faith is not helpful, says St Paul, if we don’t have love. He makes clear that even doing things for others or giving away all that we have is worthless if it is not out of love.
If we restrict ourselves in some way through fasting or other self-denial, it would not be surprising if we were a little more irritable. One person in a previous parish told me he never fasts because he becomes too miserable to be around. And so it is helpful to remember if we are a little more sharp with others, that we would be reminded by St Paul that “love is not irritable”. Wash our faces, says Jesus, when we fast, and don’t remain in a state of irritability, but look to our Lord in that moment, and he will make us smile at ourselves, at our weakness, that our happiness should be so easily contented or so easily withdrawn by some simple earthly compensation.
The Lenten fast and spiritual feasting is about coming to know ourselves, how our souls work, how they don’t work so well, about how childish we can be. St Paul says,
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
Do you see how St Paul suggests that becoming known to ourselves even as God knows us is actually a key to maturing, to growing in the Christian life, to cooperating with the grace of God given to us? then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
I think we have a natural interest in ourselves, but maybe we think it is being more Christian to only think of others? And yet, self-reflection, knowing our weaknesses and our strengths, and even entering inwards to know our hearts and leading us to know the kingdom of heaven within, even seeing it as the path towards God – from our absorption outwardly, to a movement within, and then to find God above us – that is the path laid out in Scripture and followed by the great Christian mystics through the ages, and by the great theologians of the Christian tradition.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
How can we give up childish ways if we do not even see how we’re being childish in our thinking, in our reasoning?
Know thyself – is the call of the Greek Classical philosophical tradition, in order to grow in wisdom. Know thyself, and come to know God who is dwelling above your heart – this is the call of Jesus Christ. And He gives us his Spirit so that divine Light may shine on us inwardly, to reveal our weaknesses and also our inner beauty and strengths.
After the disciples expressed their incomprehension of Jesus’ warning to them about his own Passion, Death and Resurrection, they met a blind man who was begging by the roadside. He asked what was happening and heard that Jesus was passing by. So he cried out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” It is no mere coincidence that these two events happen, the one following the other, in the Gospel reading.
Surely this is the state of all of us spiritually – we are blind to seeing the truth, to comprehending the fulness of what Jesus has done for us, and blind to seeing Him in all His beauty. And yet the blind man has faith, and trusts in this very One, to restore his sight. And Jesus responds to his faith and the man can see.
We are here today because we have faith – so we are asked to turn that faith towards Jesus this morning, to cry out to him to restore our sight, to see the truth about ourselves, and to see the wondrous truth of his love for us, that it might be before our minds and in our hearts always. Let us now be washed in Jesus’ Blood shed for us, and be strengthened with his Body, the bread of life. And he will respond by saying to each of us today,
Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.