Then Jesus took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.
With our Gospel for today we have reached another turning point in Jesus’ journey to his final earthly destiny. From the moment of his baptism by John one door after another has opened up revealing more and more his identity, his mission and his way of life. The Doors of Heaven opened up and the Holy Spirit came down and lighted upon him as his Father declared, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Then the nuptial doors opened up a home in Cana and Jesus worked his first miracle and his disciples saw it and believed on him. It is true that the doors of his hometown, Nazareth, closed, but then the doors of Capernaum, a city right next to the Sea of Galilee, opened up. From there he went on a preaching mission as the doors of villages all through Galilee were unbolted and he healed people of diseases, cast out demons and announced the Kingdom of God.
As I have said, all this happened quickly and with such generosity, such abundance on Jesus part as to make one blush. But before we see the plenty, we see only paucity. But even before that Jesus calls his disciples to wake up. The Gospels for the past three Sundays, starting with Epiphany V, have all been about planting and harvesting. Epiphany V is the story of the Enemy sowing tares among the wheat, which endangers the whole crop. In the Gospel for Septuagesima, the Lord of the vineyard had to keep hiring labors at different times of the day in order to harvest the bumper crop of grapes. Last week the parable of the sower and the seed shows how most of the seed sown sprang up quickly but finally failed to grow to maturity; but the few that did matured were superabundant. Jesus was teaching his little band of disciples to distinguish between appearance and reality — to be Christian realists, but also not to despair, not to lose heart, not to lose faith in him.
Looking at it from a mere human point-of-view most of Jesus’ labor, his sermons, his healings, his miracles, and his love, yielded very little fruit. More people left him than stayed and they frequently turned on him. One of the overriding points that Jesus made to his little flock was that no matter how hopeless it may appear, the Kingdom of God is in God’s hands and it growing, sometimes visibly, but mostly invisibly, secretly, and it will grow and grow and grow and fill up the whole world with the life-giving life of God.
That was recorded in Luke 8, the Gospel for Sexagesima. In Luke 9 Jesus made a huge turning point: he called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over demons and to cure diseases. And he sent them out to preach the Kingdom of God and to heal. The Twelve went out from there and preached their way through the villages of Galilee healing people, the Bible says, everywhere. Then the doors opened up not just for Jesus but also for his friends. News spread all the way to Herod and he became fearful that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead. When the Twelve returned from their mission they were elated. But Jesus asked them an odd question:
Who do the people out there say that I am?
This and that,” Peter says.
This and that.
But who do you, Peter, say that I am?
I say you are the Christ of God.
Then Jesus responded to Peter’s confession:
And he straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing; Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it… But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying.
Jesus made these declarations to the Twelve two times in chapter 9 of Luke. Our passage for today, Luke 18:31, is his third announcement of his approaching Passion. Weeks passed and the Twelve remained willfully and happily in the dark. They could not imagine what Jesus is talking about. But it was important enough for Jesus to announce to them three times, privately, face-to-face, eye-to-eye, in secret, what they could not have known otherwise: He is the Messiah and he will suffer the most agonizing death one can imagine. A friend will betray him. The Masters of Israel will deliberately, consciously, intentionally, collectively decide to have him killed. He will be handed over to the Romans, a Kingdom dedicated to the will to power. People will lie. People will spit upon him. He will be degraded and demeaned. He will gather up into his bosom all the shame of Adam and his seed and he will make it his shame. He will be tortured and put to death. But he will rise from the dead on the third day. And he is emphatic concerning the existential reality of the price of discipleship:
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it…
The Twelve could not imagine what he is talking about. They would not let it sink in. They were happy to remain in the dark. How is that possible? He had just sent them out to preach and work wonders in the villages and they had actually exercised power and authority to heal and cast out demons. Imagine yourself saturated with power from Jesus. At your touch scales fall from a blind man’s eyes. And for the first time in his life he knows color, shape, brightness and shadow. At one point they were ready to call fire down upon villages that rejected Jesus and his messengers. Think about this: Peter and John the Beloved Disciple as well as Judas Iscariot were among those preachers and healers. In a matter of a few weeks everything would change.
The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.
They just put it away. Why? Blame it on the devil. Blame it on our fallenness. Blame on you mother and father. Blame it on the priest and blame it on the bishop. Whatever we want to blame it on, we all have a tendency to hear what we want to hear from Jesus and shut out what we do not want to hear. In a matter of weeks it would all change. They will give into feelings of self-pity, resentment, boredom and ingratitude. And note that is was not merely one Apostle or two who were behind the curve. There is a collective blindness.
What is my point? My point is that it was not merely individual sin, or individual blindness that the Apostles were guilty of — it was corporate blindness and corporate sin. Yes, each Apostle was personally responsible for his blindness, but it was also the willful blindness of the Apostolic community — a blindness that would not be healed until after the passion and resurrection of our Lord.
A wonderful season arrives Ash Wednesday. In the midst cold, icy winter, Springtime will break for the Church! We will have another chance to make this season of repentance, a season in which we corporately and personally drawing closer to Jesus. Remember the parables of the seed. The seed of the Word of God, finding good ground, will flourish beyond what we may ordinarily expect: one seed will die and bring into being thousands of seeds. But that is only possible within the Body of Christ, locally, which is the Parish. The Body of Christ is not an abstraction and it certainly is not invisible. The instantiation of the true Body of Christ is the Catholic Parish. This Lent we may all be like crushed grapes or the kernels of wheat on the threshing floor. Grapes from the vineyard are trodden down and their blood mingled into one drink. And many grains of wheat are ground down to become one loaf of bread. In the Mass we present our selves, our souls, and our bodies to be made one single Sacrifice; one Sacrifice that joins ourselves, our souls and our bodies to one another. Once sacrifice that joins ourselves, our souls and our bodies to the bodies of Peter and Paul, to the body of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the body of the Samaritan Woman at the Well — our selves, our souls, and our bodies to be made one Sacrifice, one Body to the body the blind beggar of Jericho, as well as to the resurrected Body of the One who healed the blind man. As we come to the Throne of Grace this morning to receive the precious Body and Blood of Christ our God, let us pray, please Lord prepare us all for solemn, holy, and happy Lenten.