Gnostic America

Thursday of Quinquagesima: The Beggar’s Faith (Part One: Objective Faith)

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Jesus of Nazareth was passing by And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”This passage is a perfect illustration of faith. Not seeing with his eyes, the blind man still had the sense most related to faith, hearing. As St. Paul writes, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

Against Gnostics old and new, we uphold the word and language as having one to one correspondences with the truth. Language is reality’s herald. God spoke the world into existence and by language we, made in the image of God, speak community into existence. And in the communion-community of the Church, the Word once again speaks the new creation into existence. The spoken Word has done it since the beginning, being Truth’s herald. Gnostics who deny fabric of reality likewise deny the ability of the word or language to herald anything but illusions and lies.

But not orthodox faith. For us, the word names, identifies and singles out unique, separated, distinct truths. When that truth is the Truth, Jesus, that word is great indeed.

What was the word in today’s Gospel? “Jesus was passing by.” When Jesus passes by, and beggars hear of it, they cry “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Here you see two aspects of faith, the objective and subjective aspects. The objective aspect is “Jesus, Son of David.” The subjective is “Have mercy on me.” Both aspects are necessary. Both aspects are the basis of our liturgy. Today we focus on the objective side.

So often when people think of faith, they see it as an end in itself. “Keep the faith,” they say. The question is, “Faith in what?” They’re missing that objective quotient of faith. Yet, unpack what is often meant, and you get some variation of “have faith in yourself.”

That is not the faith of the beggar. If faith is in the content of “things unseen,” the beggar more than anyone knows and “sees” one thing: he can’t be any object of any sort of faith. He’s helpless.

But the beggar did have faith in the Messiah. As a Jew, he knew the Jewish teachings on the coming Messiah. He obviously had heard that Jesus was doing things that fulfilled the messianic expectations. So when he heard that Jesus passed by, there was a lot of “word” going on behind that. And so he confessed this faith: “Jesus, you are the Son of David. You are the messiah. You are the one who is promised to be a healer of the blind.” On that objective foundation, he proceeds with his subjective faith: “Have mercy on me!”

We are very much the blind man. We are those who “have not seen, and yet believe.” And when we hear that Jesus is “passing by” on the basis of His promise, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am present among them,” faith compels us – if indeed we are beggars! – to cry out and lay the objective foundation for His having mercy on us.

Notice how this plays out liturgically. The service begins with the invocation, the gathering “in his name” which signals His presence. And then for almost the first third of the service we get this interplay between objective and subjective faith. Most especially we observe this in the Gloria in Excelsis. What objective things do we confess of Christ? He’s the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He’s seated at the right hand of the Father. He alone is the holy one. And so on.

Leading in to the Gloria in Excelsis is exactly what the blind man cried, the Kyrie: “Lord, have mercy.” We pray the Kyrie, and then confess why Jesus can, should, and will have mercy on us. Because objectively speaking, He is our Savior, who takes away our sin, who intercedes for us at God’s right hand, who alone is holy. (Of course, the creed adds to the objective foundation as well.)

The point is, faith without this objective, doctrinal side can drift off into solipsist, narcissistic platitudes that mean nothing. Or worse, faith becomes a psychological game we play with ourselves. We ourselves are doing something, but to sanctify what we’re doing we project something of ourselves outward and name that “Jesus.”

Keeping faith objective prevents this temptation. The doctrinal foundations for our subjective faith are spelled out clearly. This is what Jesus did. This is who Jesus is. I.e. This is not who we are or what we did. Never the twain shall meet.

An objective basis for faith is premised in the rather obvious truth that Jesus is an outside of us, objective Savior. This might seem obvious but how often do we hear people talk about “what Jesus means to me,” and how often is that nothing more than people trying to sanctify or justify an aspect of themselves.

But Jesus is an objective, outside of us Savior, and this because He is in flesh and blood. He is completely “other,” therefore there are objective things to be said about Him, like “Son of David.” By contrast, when Jesus “leaks out of” His body and blood, then that’s where the line between Him and us becomes fuzzy, and the line between objective and subjective faith becomes fuzzy as well.

Not so today. The blind man knew Jesus was completely other, and that His only hope was this objective Jesus being true to what He was objectively expected to be, a Savior.

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