Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Luke 18:31-43

It might seem odd to put these two sections of Luke 18 together, but this is important.

In verses 31-34, Jesus lays out a graphic description of what is about to happen to him: betrayal, arrest, torture, death, resurrection. We, like the disciples, are not inclined toward the redemption of suffering. We would rather avoid suffering and experience victory without loss or pain. In essence, this is what it means that the disciples "did not grasp what was said." They had come to know Jesus as king, as Messiah, and they assumed that his dogged progress toward Jerusalem was a procession toward enthronement. Sure, there might be battles, but Jesus would be victorious. There might be resistance, but they were confident in Jesus' ability to sweep away every power. Hadn't they seen him heal the blind, cast out demons, feed the multitude? Jesus could do anything!

Our natural human inclination is to put our heroes up on pedestals. We want Mighty Mouse crying out, "Here I come to save the day!" We prefer Superman, faster than a speeding bullet, rather than a crucified Messiah. The strongest evidence of our fallen, broken human condition is that we so completely mistake the nature of love for ourselves, for others, and for God. The nature of God is to love, and love by its very nature takes the pain of the beloved into itself. This is not a codependent syndrome, but a redemptive suffering. Isaiah nailed this when he said six hundred years before, "By his stripes we are healed." Love does not march into battle victorious, but it enters into pain and brings healing. Love by nature requires vulnerability, and vulnerability by definition includes the possibility of being wounded ourselves. To love is to be vulnerable, and without that vulnerability there is no possibility of intimacy and little possibility of relationship. We underestimate the brokenness of creation -- including ourselves -- and therefore mistake the nature of God's victorious love. The cross is not an exception in the life of God; it is the nature of redemptive love, always and forever. Love as the chief character quality of God is written into the fabric of the universe, deeper than the laws of thermodynamics or gravity or 'an eye for an eye.' Sin turns us away from this truth, turns us toward cheap victories that don't cost our suffering, turn us away from the necessity of sitting patient with pain while it does its work. Like Inigo Montoya at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity in The Princess Bride, we hate waiting.  So we mistakenly see suffering as the opposite of God's love, while more often than not suffering becomes the necessary groundwork for God's love to become known in a greater, deeper way.

On the heels of Jesus' words about his impending torture and death, he encounters a blind beggar. Here is the victorious healing, the supernatural sign. But see how the beggar cries out in his desperate condition, in spite of opposition from the crowd. The people see themselves as part of a victory procession, a royal parade toward coronation -- little do they know what Jesus' throne will actually be and what crown he will actually wear -- and the last thing they want to be bothered with is the spectacle of a blind man who wants attention. In subtle and obvious ways, we put our suffering out of sight so we don't have to deal with it. The aging go to nursing homes; the dead go to funeral homes; the sick stay home from work; we don't talk about depression in polite company; we all pop pills to take the edge off our pain, and when we get addicted to our painkillers we hide away in rehab centers. But Jesus stops the parade and summons the blind man, in fact commands the people to deal with his blindness directly by guiding him to Jesus.

What to do with these verses? The place to start is sitting by the road, watching what looks to us like a victorious parade passing by. Have you experienced life this way? Everyone else seems to have their act together. They are successfully following a victorious Messiah en route to his coronation, and there you sit in your blindness, in your suffering, in your incapacity. Don't accept the illusion that this is a victory parade, from glory into glory. Realize the nature of the Love that is passing by -- that Jesus goes to the cross for this deluded multitude, and for the sake of the city that will approve of his crucifixion, as well as for you. Cry out to Jesus in the place of your suffering, and don't let the crowd's misconceptions silence you. "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" He will not fail to hear your cries. He may use your suffering to confront those who simply want to march up to Jerusalem for a party. He will enter into your suffering and stand with you in compassion. And he will bring healing, because he loves you. In that, in the healing, he will invite you to enter into suffering -- not just your own, but others' -- and stand with a broken world in love.

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