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"Charity Cases" and "Getting It"

Luke 18:31-43; 1 Corinthians 13

Pastor Jason Zirbel

Quinquagesima
Grace Lutheran Church  
Greenwood, AR

View Associated File

Sun, Mar 3, 2019 

The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.

I love the irony of the Gospel lesson.  The blind man is the only one who really gets it; who truly sees Jesus for who He really is—the promised Son of David, the Messiah in the flesh.  So…what is it that everyone else doesn’t seem to get?  Well…it’s not the whole “Son of David” thing.  That’s been argued by some, but the Old Testament is FILLED with this term (“Son of David”), and it always points to the Christ, the coming Messiah.  The apostles certainly understood and believed that Jesus was the Messiah; the Son of David; the Son of the living God.  Even the Pharisees knew what the term meant and they used it properly.  “What do you think about the Christ?  Whose Son is He?” They respond very matter-of-factly, “He is the Son of David.” Even they got it.  They didn’t recognize Jesus as “that guy,” but they understood what the “Son of David” meant. 

This means that the whole concept of “mercy” was the problem.  [Historical note: This event is taking place about three days before Palm Sunday; about one week before Maundy Thursday.  You would think by now that the apostles would get it!] When this blind guy gets to crying out to Jesus—the Son of David; the Christ—for mercy, the apostles; the ones out front leading the procession into town, actually rebuke the blind guy for crying out and making such a commotion.  Let me say that again.  It’s not the Pharisees who rebuke the poor guy.  It’s the apostles!  Rebuke: That’s a harsh term!  What’s really sad is that it’s not the first time they did such a thing either.  Remember: People brought their small children and babies to Jesus so that He could bless them, and the disciples rebuked the parents for “wasting” Jesus’ time.  “Let the little children come to Me, for of such is the kingdom of God.” They didn’t get it then, and they certainly don’t get it now. 

The apostles didn’t see what the blind man saw.  They really didn’t understand what Christ’s life-giving mercy was all about.  Truth be told: This misunderstanding still abounds today among many Christians.  Many modern-day theologians are quick to point out that the Greek words for “alms” and “mercy” are very similar (the word for “mercy” being a root word for “alms”), as if this guy couldn’t possibly be asking for just mercy.  He’s a beggar looking for something more base and tangible; a favor; a handout.  Maybe it’s just me, but that says more about the theologian than the blind man, don’t you think? 

“Have mercy on me!” This guy doesn’t ask for anything other than what he says.  He asks for mercy, plain and simple.  The Greek word for mercy—eleison—simply means to ask a superior to be gracious and kind to one far lower and undeserving.  There’s nothing “transactional” about this.  It’s not a “tit-for-tat” or “let’s make a deal.” Notice, too, that I said that the cry for mercy is made by one who confesses that they are completely undeserving of anything.  The one who asks for mercy knows that they don’t even deserve a moment of time; a glance; acknowledgment of their lowly existence.  The call for mercy isn’t a call to highlight the self in any way, shape, or form, but rather a plea for the grace of the superior.  It’s all about the superior’s grace and charity.

Maybe that’s why, if we’re honest, even we don’t truly get it…at least, not as well as we think we do.  Case in point: Nobody here would ever want to consider themselves a “charity case.” Talk about a derogatory term!  Sure, we might need a little help once-in-a-while; a little hand-up, but we’re too proud to take the hand-out.  We’re not charity cases!  Folks: We’re all charity cases! 

Consider the fact that the Greek word we so often translate as “love” (ref. 1 Cor 13) is also translated as “charity.” In fact, this is how our Christian forefathers have traditionally translated this particular text.  (Check your KJV if you don’t believe me!) You need to give that some thought.  So often this text (1 Cor 13) is misused and abused and twisted into some sort of proud statement about the love we feel for our significant other.  Look: It’s great that you love your special someone, but St. Paul isn’t talking about you when he speaks of love being patient and kind, etc.  Talk about narcissistic!  He’s speaking about Jesus, and not in the popular way that likes to see Jesus as our boyfriend.  No!  He’s speaking about the unconditional love of God; love that sent Jesus to be our Savior.

Properly understood, we are all charity cases in the eyes of God.  God so loved us—unconditionally, in spite of us—that He sent His only-begotten Son to die for us.  He gave His only-begotten Son to redeem us; that is, to pay our wage for sin; the wage of death.  He had to.  There’s NOTHING we could do to earn/merit such forgiveness.  We have NOTHING to offer; nothing to give in exchange.  In terms of God’s love and mercy and grace, we’re all undeserving beggars—every one of us.  Little historical fact: When Martin Luther died, he had a slip of paper in his pocket that said, “Wir sind alle bettler. Das ist wahr.”—“We are all beggars, this is true.” It is true.  He got it.  Through the eyes of faith, he saw his sinful corpse reality in the mirror of God’s Word.  Through the eyes of faith, he saw and embraced the life-giving mercy, grace, and charity of the Father’s love for us in Christ and because of Christ.  What about you?  Do you see?  Do you get it?

“Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the Words of eternal life.” Faith gets it!  We are all undeserving beggars.  We come to God with nothing to offer; nothing to barter with; nothing to exchange.  We come empty-handed, undeserving of even a glance, justly deserving only the present and eternal punishment that is ours because of sin.  However, out of His great charity and unconditional love and mercy, God fills our hearts, our minds, and our souls with His rich grace, peace, and Life. 

Look no further than right here and right now.  Here He fills us with His body and His blood; His Word and promise.  Through these—His means of grace and Divine charity—He works miracles; miracles of death and life.  His Word penetrates the darkness of sin. It penetrates the blindness, the deafness, the apathy, the lifelessness, and it gives life!  The blind are made to see.  The ears of the deaf are opened to hear.  The lame walk, and the dead are resurrected to new life.  Folks: This is your reality right now!  Either you “get it” or you don’t.  No prescriptions.  No “to-do lists” or tricks or gimmicks to help you find your purpose or your way to leading your “best life,” or at least a more fulfilling, rewarding, and pleasure-filled life.  Nope.  None of that.  And those of you who by faith “get it” understand, and I thank God that you do.  Lord, have mercy!  And He does.  “The Word rightly taught and the Sacraments rightly administered.” Faith sees this, and faith can’t help but cry out in humble thanksgiving.  Faith wants all the Christocentric charity and mercy and grace it can get!  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the Words of eternal life.” That’s a faith that gets it.  That’s a faith that sees and holds fast to Christ. 

Folks: Here is Christ—Son of David; Son of God.  Here is the one and only Way.  Here is the fount, source, and terminus of all Divine goodness, grace, love, and peace.  Here is God, right where He’s promised to be—with you always and with you right now, bestowing on you His full measure of merciful charity; merciful charity that walked that way of the cross that no one else could, walking that way for you, making full and complete payment for you with the sacrifice of His body and blood on the altar of His cross. 

And in that Divine act of incomprehensible charity He declared, “It is finished!” This same victorious and charitable Savior comes to you today with that same victorious body and blood…because He loves you.  Alleluia!  Hosanna in the highest!  Blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord!  Either you get it or you don’t.  Those who have ears to hear, hear!  Hear and cry out in thanks and praise, for your Lord has answered your prayers before you even asked.  He has had mercy on you, in Christ, through Christ, and because of Christ.

To Him alone be all glory, praise, and honor…AMEN.



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