In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. Our Lord’s third and final prediction of His coming crucifixion in Jerusalem could hardly be more direct or clear. He tells of His impending betrayal, the explicit details of His suffering and mistreatment, and, finally, His death. Everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. Between our Lord’s own clear predictions, the entire history of Israel, and all that the prophets wrote, there should be no real surprises. But it is not hard to surprise a blind man, and the disciples are blind. The disciples’ blindness, however, does not stop the Lord. Thanks be to God! He does not need their understanding. They are not worthy of His love, but that does not stop Him either. He loves them anyway. He goes on to Jerusalem for them.
2. But on the way, they come to Jericho. As they make their way through the city, a crowd gathers. A blind man, named Bartimaeus by St. Mark, asks what the commotion is all about. He is told only, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by” (Luke 18:37). The men who informed the blind beggar of the Man from Nazareth’s approach thought they could see, and so relayed what they saw to the blind man. But it is the blind man who reveals his sight. He will not be silenced. He will not be deterred. He cries out not for alms and pity, but for mercy. And he cries not to some rabbi or miracle worker, but to the Son of David, the One who goes to Jerusalem as a sacrifice, the One who rules as king by grace and mercy. Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy.
3. In the midst of this great crowd and all its commotion, the One who hears the cries of all who are distressed hears the blind man. He commands that he be brought to Him. Then He asks him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” (Luke 18:41). The blind man gives the obvious answer: “Lord, let me recover my sight” (Luke 18:41). The Lord says to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has saved you” (Luke 19:42). And so, the now seeing man follows along to Jerusalem, glorifying God. But here is what we are usually blind to: If the blind man gains his sight, he loses his employment and way of life. It is easy for us, of course, to realize that life with sight is better than blindness, but we’re on the other side of it. The blind man has a pretty good thing going. Is he willing to risk it?
4. Socrates’ most famous allegory is that of the cave. A group of people have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall. These people watch shadows projected on the wall by things passing in front of a fire behind them. They never see the real things. They only see the shadows, and thus they think the shadows are reality. Socrates explains that the philosopher is like a prisoner who has been freed from the cave and has learned that the shadows on the wall are not reality. But when he goes back to tell the other prisoners, they don’t believe him. In fact, they even kill him. The point is this: People don’t like having their worldview challenged.
5. Socrates is on to something. Blindness can be comfortable. When the Lord asks the blind man what he wants Him to do for him, it is not that the Lord is uncertain. Why, then, does He ask? He wants to be sure that the blind man knows what he is in for. It is not at all unlike the baptism rite when the pastor asks the one to be baptized, “Do you desire to be baptized?” Why do we ask that? Because Holy Baptism is going to take you out of the cave, and you can never go back. This will make the devil your lifelong enemy. A target has been placed on your back. You will no longer celebrate impatience. You will no longer boast in arrogant pride. You will no longer rejoice at wrongdoing because the Christian life is a life of love. And so, you will follow your Lord, as best as you are able. You will go to bloody, traitorous Jerusalem. The servant is not above the master. “Take up [your] cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24) means “Come, die with Me.”
6. To be sure, the blind man sees more clearly than the disciples. He recognizes the way to life through death. The disciples follow with their feet, but their hearts are not in it. They are still too attached to this world. Who isn’t? They wanted a miracle worker—not a sacrifice. They wanted a teacher who would blow their minds with insightful teaching—not a Messiah. The blind man, however, recognizes Jesus of Nazareth as the long-foretold Son of David. He sees where they are blind. He knows the cost, but he also sees the value. So he gives up his life, everything that he had known, and he follows Jesus to Jerusalem, glorifying God.
7. And so, the cross of Jerusalem is the most beautiful architecture ever erected on earth. It is the tree of life, from whence comes our life with God. During the Reproaches of the Chief Service of Good Friday, we hear the pastor proclaim our Lord’s case against us sinners. We have offended Him and bitterly rebelled against His goodness. But the Reproaches conclude, as we sing: “We adore You, O Lord, and we praise and glorify Your holy resurrection. For behold, by the wood of Your cross, joy has come into all the world. God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us, and have mercy upon us.” And so, we mourn for our sins. We have been selfish, greedy, impatient, angry, lustful, and full of pride. We have hurt ourselves and our loved ones. We have failed to serve and love our neighbors. Let us repent and set our faces toward Jerusalem and the cross. Ash Wednesday looms close. We prepare for the journey. For we know that we have been too attached to this world, too afraid to leave behind the pleasures of the flesh. We are desperately in need of a Savior.
8. But for all that, let us not despair that, as a result of our sin, God sent His Son to be handed over to the Gentiles, to be mocked, shamefully treated, spit upon, flogged, and crucified. Let us also not follow ignorantly and blindly like the disciples who heard their Lord’s words, but because of their blindness they failed to recognize the need for repentance. Let us rather give thanks and rejoice in our Lord’s great love for us. Let us be like the cured blind man, following to Jerusalem, glorifying God, knowing that leaving behind our sins is like leaving behind blindness. And so, in answer to our Lord’s questions, “What do you want?”, we ask to be free of sin, O Lord.
9. And so, we go to Jerusalem, for there on the holy cross is the love of God that would not bend or turn. There is the love that purifies and saves and declares sinners like us to be the saints of God. Let us not forget the end of that prophecy, now known in history, that for all the sorrows and hell that our Lord suffered, on the third day He rose again. “We adore You, O Lord, and we praise and glorify Your holy resurrection. For behold, by the wood of Your cross, joy has come into all the world.” We go to Jerusalem not only because there Jesus pays for our sins but also because Jesus lives. Whether we understand these things as well as the blind man or are as confused and stubborn, uncertain and fearful as the disciples, let us follow to Jerusalem and the holy cross of Jesus Christ. And we follow Him not simply by some effort of the imagination, but we follow Him by partaking of His holy body and blood here at the altar. Here is the fruit of the cross, the gift of the resurrection.
So, what do you want? To recover sight? To be free of sin? Or perhaps simply to be with You, O Lord, wherever You may be and wherever You may lead.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.