On Seeing by Faith: The Journey Ahead

This is the last in a series of five Wednesday evening Lenten reflections I’ve been invited to offer at Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire as I accompany them in a congregational journey toward a deeper embrace of creation and a faith-based response to climate change. Later this spring I’ll offer several public lectures hosted by Grace. The text for each reflection is my own choosing, drawn from Luke’s “journey” material.

5 Lent week 5 TEXT

Lenten Reflection for Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Grace Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

On Seeing by Faith: The Journey Ahead
David R. Weiss

Luke 18:35-43 (NRSV) – Jesus Heals a Blind Beggar Near Jericho – As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you whole.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

*       *       *

 In just four more days Jesus reaches Jerusalem where he’ll make a triumphant entry on Palm Sunday … followed five days later by a crucifixion. He’s getting close to the end of his journey.

We’re still only at the beginning of ours.

But first, about the miracle in our text tonight—

I’m not going to weigh in on whether this man’s blindness was caused by psychic trauma, illness, or injury. And I’m not going to speculate on whether Jesus restored his sight by somehow healing the trauma, marshaling his own energy to overcome the illness, or breaking outright the laws of nature to make a brand new eye.

Luke isn’t concerned with those things either. But he does mention several things that should matter to us. First, the crowd tries to silence the beggar. They don’t view blindness as anything Jesus is concerned about—at least not the blindness of beggars. Second, he doesn’t let that stop him; he shouts all the louder until he’s heard. Third, Jesus tells him that his sight has been restored by his faith: he is “seeing by faith.” And, fourth, he responds by glorifying God.

Luke’s message is pretty clear: Don’t be deterred by the voices around you. Turning to Jesus in faith lets you see. In fact, this message is made all the more clear by the episodes he places on either side of this passage.

Right before this text (and for the third time on his journey) Jesus tells his disciples that in Jerusalem he will be handed over, mistreated, flogged, and killed. He also tells them that he will be raised again on the third day, but they can’t imagine any of this—least of all the killing—so they are hardly comforted by the promise of rising. Luke sums up their response emphatically, in three distinct phrases in the verse right before our text begins: “The disciples understood nothing he said … its meaning was hidden from them … and they did not grasp it at all.”

Lacking faith, they could not see the way forward. All the voices of expectation in their minds (and in their culture) said that if Jesus was the messiah, God’s anointed one, then only success could await him. Only victory. They could not imagine that being in the company of Jesus might mean being vulnerable. They were blind.

Right after our text Luke offers the well-known story of Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector who desperately wanted to see Jesus, but could not because he was too short. After he climbed a tree to get a better view, Jesus calls him down and dines in his house. The crowds grumble—maybe the same crowds who thought Jesus had no time for blind beggars?—because Jesus should have known that Zacchaeus was wealthy only because he cheated people out of their taxes. But Jesus knows something more, because after they dine Zacchaeus is able to see far more than just Jesus. He sees, perhaps for the first time in his life, the poor. He pledges out loud to repay anyone he cheated—fourfold—and to give half of his possessions to the poor. Is not this as amazing a miracle as restoring a beggar’s sight?!

In both passages Luke uses the same Greek word to describe what happens. Jesus says to the blind beggar, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you whole—or has saved you—or has healed you.” When Jesus hears Zacchaeus’ declaration based on his newfound moral clarity—his own restored sight, if you will—Jesus says, “Today salvation—or healing—or wholeness has come to this household.”

So what we really have here is a three-step set of intertwined passages that tell us something together:

If you can’t imagine becoming vulnerable, you can’t hear what Jesus is saying, no matter how clearly it’s spelled out.

But when you manage to tune out all the other voices and simply turn to Jesus in faith, you gain your sight and you can glorify God.

And when the sight you gain is moral vision you glorify God by doing justice and by attending to the poor.

Luke isn’t simply recording events. He’s crafting a story. He’s arranging these tales to help us see by faith.

*         *         *

So now for us.

We’ve been accompanying Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem these past five weeks. Some of us in here have been accompanying him on that journey for five decades—or longer. We know where that journey leads; both to the cross … and to the empty tomb.

But this other journey we’re on today, this mis-adventure on a changing planet, we’re only just beginning this journey, and we don’t know yet where it will take us.

I told you two weeks ago that all 16 of the warmest years on record have occurred in less than the span of my daughter’s 20 years on the planet. (She turned 20 today – so Happy Birthday, Susanna.) And I mentioned that 2016 is starting out even warmer.

Consider this. Not unlike Jesus’ words predicting what would happen to him when they reached Jerusalem, the data coming in on 2016 is alarming. Just Monday—just two days ago, right smack in the middle of Lent—NASA released its latest report: January 2016 was a full 2 degrees warmer than the global average established over a 30-year baseline period (1951-1980). It was a new record. It was the first time in modern global temperature tracking (that is, since 1880) that any month had been warmer than the average by 2 full degrees.

Until February. You see, February, rather than dropping back a bit … or rather than simply remaining as warm as record-setting January, well, February set it’s own new record. It rose another half-degree—in a single month—across the entire planet. A planet now 2½ degrees warmer by average than it has ever been in the last 135 years.

Monthly global surface temperatures (land & ocean) from NASA for the period 1880 to February 2016, expressed in departures from the 1951-1980 average. The red line shows the 12-month running average. (Image credit: Stephan Okhuijsen, www.datagraver.com/case/world-temperature-anomalies-for-februari-2016)

Monthly global surface temperatures (land & ocean) from NASA for the period 1880 to February 2016, expressed in departures from the 1951-1980 average. The red line shows the 12-month running average. (Image credit: Stephan Okhuijsen, http://www.datagraver.com/case/world-temperature-anomalies-for-februari-2016)

Do you recall Luke’s description of the disciples’ response to Jesus’ words? “They understood nothing he said … its meaning was hidden from them … and they did not grasp it at all.”

This is our predicament. Amid the expectations of our culture, we cannot imagine a tomorrow in which the planet itself—human society for sure, and a multitude of animals and eco-systems—experiences a veritable crucifixion. But recall Luke’s three-step story:

If you can’t imagine becoming vulnerable, you can’t hear what’s being said, no matter how clearly it’s spelled out.

But when you do manage to tune out all the other voices and simply turn to Jesus in faith, you gain your sight and you can glorify God.

And when the sight you gain is moral vision you glorify God by doing justice and by attending to the poor.

What does it mean to “see by faith” on a now rapidly warming planet? I can’t spell it all out. I don’t know myself. But I’ll offer three strong convictions, based on our confession of a Trinitarian God:

Seeing by faith means confessing that all of God’s creation deserves our respect and care.

Seeing by faith means recognizing that God—both before and after Jesus, but especially in Jesus—enters history to keep us company. And that God’s company leads us into not away from vulnerability.

Seeing by faith means that, as we are transformed by the Holy Spirit (think: “saved,” “made whole”), we respond here and now by acting with justice for a hurting planet. By changing those behaviors that threaten to cheat future generations out of their planet. By using the wealth that is ours—the science, technology, and wisdom that we have—to tend to the need of the poor, whether those “poor” be fellow citizens of the world, fellow creatures, or the eco-systems on which we all depend for life.

It’s now just seven months since Pr. Dean first asked me to consider being with you this year—and only seven weeks since I began this journey in earnest myself. Almost every word I’ve shared, every image I’ve offered, every connection I’ve made is as new to me as to you. I’m still only at the beginning of this journey.

I hope it’s a journey on which you’ll join me. Not because I know the way, but because I’m convinced that this is a journey which must be traveled. And a journey on which—if we travel together, and if we travel by faith—we will find ourselves in the company of Jesus. Amen.

*         *         *

WEEK FIVE – Questions for reflection & conversation:

  1. I suggest that, both for Luke and for us, restored sight has to do with a willingness to become vulnerable and to attend to the poor. Was it helpful to see how these passages fit together—and how they speak to us today?
  2. We tend to hear “salvation” as about what happens after we die, but in Greek the word just as likely describes health and wholeness before we die. What difference does this make?
  3. I refer to some pretty scary weather data—and then link it to Jesus’ passion predictions. How did that strike you?
  4. What in my “triune” proposal for “seeing by faith” was insightful, unsettling, or empowering?
  5. What else struck you in tonight’s reflection?
  6. WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

http://www.davidrweiss.com / drw59mn@gmail.com

 

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