In today's Gospel, our dear Lord invites us to join Him on a journey, a journey which will end at the foot of His cross. This is an invitation to join Him once again for the forty day pilgrimage which we make together in His church in the holy season of Lent. As the Twelve “understood none of these things,” we might not understand the purpose or value of any special Lenten observance. When Lenten rules are outlined each Quinquagesima Sunday, for many of us “this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.”
We find ourselves in today's Gospel as the blind man. His physical blindness echoes the spiritual blindness of the Twelve. He came to Jesus begging for a miracle: “And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Remember that Baptism, which in ancient times was the climax and conclusion of Lent, is presented in the NT and in the Church Fathers as an “enlightenment,” the gift of spiritual sight. Lent can be for us, if we use it holy season properly, a rescue and healing from spiritual blindness.
Here are some specific suggestions for things to do in Lent.
1. Be in church for every service, Wednesday and Friday.
2. Observe all Wednesdays and Fridays as days of abstinence (in plain language, keep all meals meatless those two days.)
3. Remember that Lent is no time for parties, concerts, movie-going, unnecessary restaurant meals and the like.
4. Make an extra effort to be diligent in private prayer, Bible reading, and cultivation of a deeper spiritual life.
5. Special almsgiving and works of corporal mercy. Like Advent, Lent is a fine time for a parish food drive.
Lent is not, emphatically not a “religious emphasis season” when we do things we can leave behind at the end of Holy Week. It is always sad to see the drop in attendance which seems inevitable after Easter Day. Lent is a time to develop new habits of spiritual discipline. It is a time to learn the value of keeping every Friday of the year (save those in Christmastide) meatless, as a weekly memorial of our Lord's death. The habits of Bible reading and keeping a personal prayer life should take root in our lives for the remainder of the year.
In our own spiritual poverty and blindness, we must come before Crucified and Risen Saviour and cry out, “Thou Son of David, have mercy upon me.” In keeping a good and holy Lent, we also may receive our sight. That's what He wants for each of us.
In our study of today's Epistle, we have been re-reading a fine little book by D. A. Carson with an unusual title: _The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God_. The author points out the necessity for calling the love of God a “difficult” topic. Had he written “the difficult doctrine of the Trinity,” or “the difficult doctrine of predestination,” it would have caused no surprise, since everyone agrees those are challenging or controversial topics. But what is “difficult” about the love of God? Everyone assumes that God's love is an easy and self-explanatory matter.
Today's Epistle is St. Paul's great hymn on charity, an unusual poetic outburst on his part. Practically every modern translation replaces the grand old King James Version's word “charity” with the modern word “love.” While the term “charity” has its drawbacks, the word “love” has been so debased that it is almost misleading.
Whereas our English word “love” is used for a wide variety of things, ranging from God's mercy toward sinners to a child's delight in ice-cream, the language of the New Testament had a fairly large number of words for love. It is remarkable that the NT writers did not use any of the words familiar to their readers. They went out of their way to find an unusual word. This is the word agape, pronounced ah-gah-pay.
Agape refers to the unparalleled, unequaled, undeserved and unexpected love which God has for sinners. This is the word which the King James Version translates as “charity” in I Corinthians 13. In spite of our efforts to tame this word through slobbering sentimentality, it remains a unique kind of love, love like the world had never seen, love made visible in the cross of Jesus.
As we begin once again our annual journey “up to Jerusalem” to be with Jesus on Good Friday and Easter Day, today's Epistle reminds us that the whole purpose of keeping Lent is our personal renewal and increase in “faith hope, and charity, and the greatest of these is charity.” Lent, with its discipline and self-denial, should teach us that the charity of God is to be shown forth in the “love and charity with your neighbours” of “all who profess and call themselves Christians.”
The Christian life has no place for spitefulness, mean-spiritedness, unkindness, especially toward those who have wronged us. As we read I Corinthians 13, we see Paul's portrait of Jesus (“charity suffereth long, and is kind...”), the world's first truly charitable Man. But Paul's point, and the point of Lent, is that charity is the greatest of virtues, which we must implore God to pour into our hearts. LKW