A Sermon by Subdeacon Steve.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
Today is Quinquagesima Sunday on the Church calendar. It means there are 50 days until Pascha on the Julian calendar that the Orthodox Church uses to date Pascha each year. The Church has done it this way since the dating of Pascha was agreed upon and set by the Council of Nicea in 325. At that time, the Julian calendar was the official calendar of the Roman Empire used throughout Christendom to mark the annual passage of the church year. Pascha is on a 19 year rotational schedule in the Orthodox Church, and according to the Council of Nicea, it should be celebrated on the Sunday following the first vernal full moon. The Orthodox Church determines Pascha from the full moon at the longitude of Jerusalem. This links the dating of Pascha to the principals for the dating of Passover that would have been done in our Lord’s day. Our Lord would have been familiar with the Julian calendar. It was the official calendar of the Roman Empire even then, having been established by Julius Caesar in 46 BC - quite a long run indeed, and it is still going today. It’s not a perfect calendar, but it has worked, and is a direct link to our Lord’s day - something that He would have known and lived with. That is very meaningful to Orthodox Christians the world over today.
In the West, things changed a bit when Pope Gregory XIII took up what was then a modern conundrum - that the world needed better, more accurate calendar to fix the shortcomings of the Julian calendar. For this reason and also one of power politics of the day regarding the Church and State, Pope Gregory replaced the Julian calendar in the Roman West in 1582 with the Gregorian calendar, which differs from the earlier calendar by 13 days and puts the Roman Catholic dating of Easter on an 84 year cycle. The Gregorian calendar is our modern secular calendar used predominantly around the world today. This is why our Roman Catholic, Anglican, and other Western brethren are already one week into their Lenten discipline. We Orthodox follow the older, more traditional calendar - again the one which would have been used in our Lord’s day to determine our Liturgical Year. This is very important. Occasionally the two calendars converge, such as the case was last year when Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha were the same for both the East and West. This is just one example of the historical differences between the East and the West that have seperated Christendom for centuries.
In spite of man’s best efforts to screw up God’s creation, we soldier on because of our faith and love for Christ and his Church - both gifts from God for our benefit. Paul is very clear in his epistle to the Corinthians in this morning’s lesson that love is the greatest Christian attribute. He writes that without love, he has nothing - his life is meaningless; his cause, his command from Christ to teach the Gospel and the Way of is nothing if he does not have love for his fellow man.
Christ’s love for us and His ultimate sacrifice of giving Himself for our sins and shortcomings is the ultimate expression of love and our example to live by. This is Paul’s message throughout his journeys and so pertinent to us in our world today.
Desire for God is a characteristic of faith. This desire for God is eloquently shown in the example of the blind beggar in Luke’s Gospel this morning. We read that Jesus and His disciples are on their way to Jerusalem from the north. The throngs of people that constantly are drawn to our Lord are travelling with Him as well. As they near Jericho, a blind beggar is sitting in the road wondering what is going on with this unusual crowd of people passing by. He knows it must be something because he is in the midst of so many people. When he asks what is happening and is told that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by, he shouts out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” This quote from Luke’s narrative is the origin of the Jesus Prayer that we use when we pray a rope. A blind beggar would have had no status in the world of the ancient Jews and would have been considered a nuisance, an undesirable - in the very same way one would be considered today because of the lack of that most important of attributes - love. The crowd in front of the beggar, eager to see Jesus, rebuked him. They told him to be quiet. They didn’t want anything to interfere with and ruin their “Jesus experience.” Because of this man’s desire for God, he shouts out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Son of David was a salutatory name faithful Jews had for Jesus. It recognizes Jesus as a descendant in the royal line of King David, the King of Israel, the King of Kings. To the faithful, Jesus was the Messiah, the one who was to come into the world and save the Jews. Jews understood that Messiah had to be a king. It is obvious the blind beggar, who was a nobody believed this. I cannot help but think that perhaps the blind beggar was there not by chance, but perhaps on purpose - to manifest to the crowd and ultimately to us that Jesus was indeed the Christ. It was an opportunity for Jesus to prove once more that faith and tenacity lead to salvation.
When He heard the beggar’s plea, Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to Him. Someone had to lead the man to where Jesus was. Who it was, Luke does not say. When the man is brought before our Lord, He asks him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” In other words, “How much faith do you have?” “Are you tenacious enough to be all in?” These are the questions Jesus asks of us. “How much do you love Me?” How committed to Me are you?” “What do you want Me to do for you?” - sobering stuff indeed.
The blind beggar’s reply to our Lord was, “Lord, let me receive my sight.” Jesus said to him,
“Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” This man’s faith, his tenacity in wanting to get our Lord’s attention, his belief that Jesus was who He said He was, is what drew him to Jesus. Jesus not only gave the man his sight, He gave him everlasting absolution and salvation because of his belief. What a lesson and example for us to follow. How much do we love Jesus? How much do we love our fellow man? What do we want Jesus to do for us? What are we willing to do for our fellow man? These are questions that demand faith and tenacity of us to follow our Lord’s example. Immediately after the man received his sight upon Jesus’ command, he followed Christ and glorified God in thanksgiving for what had been done to him. Luke also reports that the crowd, having saw what had been done to the man, also gave praise to God. No doubt some in the crowd were converted at that moment; not all but some - those who recognized love and Christ’s love for humanity; those who had the faith and tenacity to want to be with God over everything else in their lives that impeded this very simple and basic tenant. God knows what is best for us. Jesus tells us so over and over in the Gospels. It is up to us to heed this message and firmly believe and live out this truth that faith, hope, and love are the keys to our own salvation. And as Paul reminds us, love is the greatest of these.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, Amen.