The text for the sermon is taken from the Gospel: “He cried so much the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.”
We are now coming again to the Lenten season which starts on Ash Wednesday. Lent is a strange season–it might best be described as paradoxical. It may seem, perhaps, to be as dark as the mornings around us. Some might be thrown off by the increased formality, or the calls to confession, or the ‘depressing’ acts of self-denial. Our services have started to change with the omission of the gloria, the simple frontal on the altar, and the prepatory collects from Gesimatide. However, Lent should be viewed not as a descent into the dark,as the awakening dawn, the beginning of a wonderful joy. And that joy is the Easter joy.
We now see Jesus again approaching his intense agony during our annual liturgical cycle, and this time we again have a chance to either join Him in that journey or again let Him pass by. The purpose of the liturgical calendar is to bring us closer to God in time and space. In Lent, in particular, we do this as we repent from the sin in our lives, gain perfect remission of those sins, and receive from God a new and contrite heart. It is a journey to rededicate ourselves to God.
But as on the cusp of any journey, there is a need to set the way, to figure out what are the means to get to your destination. And so, during this season of Gesimatide, we have been preparing for the Lenten journey. The Church has already set out how to do this through fasting, prayer, confession, and special acts of piety such as giving to the needy. It is true that all of our Lenten devotion could be dry and not healing if we do not do these things in the right way. Therefore, it is no accident that the Sunday before Lent sets out exactly the way for our Lenten journey.
The collect for the week says: “O LORD, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth: Send thy Holy Spirit, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever lives is counted dead before thee: Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.”
The Lenten journey can be done for ourselves—or each of our Lenten devotions can be stoking the ever burning fire of Divine Love which has been given to us.
Listen to St. Paul in his Epistle! You could move mountains, and yet if it was not done with charity then it was not worth it at all. Think about that for a second. You could fast completely from food for 40 days, memorize the whole Gospel of John, give money till it hurt you, attend Mass everyday, but instead of bringing you closer to your Savior, they will at best be of no avail, or at worst increase your pride, if they are not done without charity.
Paul goes on to tell us exactly what charity is. St. Paul describes it so well:”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.”
This is Divine Love. Notice that this type of love, this divine type of love that we call charity has little to do with how you feel, because this type of love is not the love of emotions. Charity is a type of love that has to do with your will, what you choose. And as St. Paul describes this so well, our Gospel shows it forth in the person of Jesus Christ, the embodiment of Divine Love.
The Gospel begins with Jesus declaring to His disciples that He is now heading towards Jerusalem. There was probably not much surprise at this statement, for the disciples went with Jesus to Jerusalem every year, perhaps multiple times. But then Jesus explains that this turn towards Jerusalem marks a new stage in his life, for now he is fulfilling what the prophets have said about the coming Messiah.
Jesus knows that He will suffer as the prophets foretold, and suffer horribly. He will be “ mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge him, and put him to death.” The fact that Luke records this statement by Jesus is important. The church father, St. Cyril, put a great emphasis on this point because it shows that Jesus went to His death knowing what was to come. Jesus told His disciples what was coming because He is doing of this of His own Will, not compelled or forced. Cyril writes:
“No one compelled Him: He suffered of His own free will; knowing fully that His passion would be salutary for the whole world. He suffered death, in His flesh; overcoming corruption, He rose again; and by His resurrection from the dead, He poured His own life into the bodies of men; for in Him the whole nature of man is turned back towards immortality.” Because Christ went towards His passion knowing what was to come, it was an act of His will, a perfect act of charity.
In addition, though Jesus is headed directly to His passion, the path that he takes is filled with charity. Even along the way, Jesus stops to heal and to serve those around Him. In the Gospel narrative, of course, the blind man’s healing is in stark contrast to the spiritual blindness of those around Jesus. I like to think of him as our Lenten guide, for he is our example of how to reach out towards Divine Love.
The blind man first yells out to Jesus, yelling so loud as to be heard above the crowds in order to be heard. Gregory the Great understands the people who try to silence the blind man as our own vices: “We often wish to be converted to the Lord when we have committed some wrong. When we try to pray earnestly against the wrongs we have committed, images of our sins come into our hearts. They obscure our inner vision, they disturb our minds and overwhelm the sound of our petition” (Hom. 13, 96). So we must persist in our prayers and not be bound by the chains of sin in our lives.
His cries are heard, and Jesus gives the blind man what he asks for: his sight. Jesus was not ignorant of the blind man’s needs. Jesus wants us to ask for what he already knows — and so as the blind man asked for his physical sight, so must we persist and ask for our spiritual light. When we are bound by our sins and the shame of them, we live in spiritual poverty, but when Divine Love is given to us and our spiritual health returns, we live in freedom towards the Lord. And notice what the Gospel account tells us of the blind man: “immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God.” Imagine that when this man opened his eyes and for the first time beheld light, the very first thing He saw was the Lord.
Lent is a time to cast off those sins that hinder us, to enjoy the freedom of walking in Charity with Jesus in our sight. Do not let your sins hold you back from following Jesus in whom you believe. As bitter as they might be, you must face those sins and repent. Gregory the Great commented “We are being led to eternal joys by way of weeping, as Truth promises us: Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted (Mt 5:5)” (Hom. 13, 100).
The Church has already set out the best way to do this, which is the Sacrament of Penance — Confession. It is in Confession that you can bare your soul to Jesus in absolute secrecy, to let go of all the sins that are holding you back, plead to God for His mercy and receive complete freedom from those sins through the Absolution. Every week we say the General Confession during the Mass, and the priest does give a full absolution. But if you have a hard time thinking that you have truly and earnestly repented of your sins, or if your conscience is not a peace after this Confession, you need to come to private Confession. Our own Prayer Book puts it this way: “if there be any of you, who by this means cannot quiet his own conscience herein, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or to some other Minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that he may receive such godly counsel and advice, as may tend to the quieting of his conscience, and the removing of all scruple and doubtfulness.” The blind man cried out above the crowds that tried to press him down in order to receive the healing touch of Love. We must do the same by seeking out Confession, be freed from your bondage, and live out this Lent in charity.
“He cried so much the more, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.”