The other night I came across an interesting picture…I think it was posted on Facebook. In the photograph, there is a black hearse. And the black hearse is sitting in the parking lot of a Hardees fast food restaurant.
Now as a pastor I’ve spent a fair amount of time driving behind black hearses in various funeral processions to nearby cemeteries. Actually, a few times on the way to a cemetery I’ve been a front seat passenger in the hearse itself. And I’ve never seen a hearse pull into a fast food restaurant parking lot or even go through a fast food drive thru lane. Indeed it was an odd image to see captured on film.
As with many things on social media I have no way of knowing whether the Facebook picture was real or staged. What’s more, if the picture was real I have no way of knowing the story behind the picture. Maybe the hearse was empty save for the driver, and he or she was really hungry. In a world where most people can snap a picture with their cell phone, maybe somebody driving by took the picture at a time when the hearse was off duty and not in a funeral procession. Or perhaps somebody not associated with the funeral business actually owns this particular hearse and uses it as a recreational vehicle. I know it sounds a bit strange or even macabre, but it is possible to buy a hearse and drive it around like you would a minivan or a pickup truck…think of all the extra room in the trunk.
Despite all these possibilities and unanswered questions, the Facebook caption that went along with the picture was, of course, designed to be provocative. I don’t remember the exact wording of the caption but it had something to do with a loss of decorum in our culture. Is a hearse pulled over at a fast food restaurant a sign that we have lost a sense of protocol and respect and dignity in this country? Or to put it more bluntly, who in their right mind would pull over for a hamburger and some fries when they’re in the hearse leading a solemn funeral procession to someone’s final resting place?
Wouldn’t such an image be symbolic of priorities out of whack? Couldn’t the driver of the hearse have waited? What would you think if you were on the way to a cemetery to bury someone you loved and all of a sudden the hearse took a quick detour for an iced Coolata and a Dunkin donut? Well as you can imagine, all kinds of people weighed in with strong opinions in the Facebook comment section down below the picture. As for me, in true preacher’s fashion I decided to write a sermon about it…
Hold the image of the hearse in mind as we turn to this morning’s Scripture lesson. “Behold,” Jesus said to his disciples, “we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.”
According to Luke’s chronology, Jesus and the disciples have been on the road from Galilee for quite some time. Steadily and surely, Jesus has been on a mission with his closest friends. A mission that will take them into the city of Jerusalem and ever nearer to an epic, final confrontation with those who constituted his powerful opposition.
Among the disciples there was a mounting sense of excitement and anticipation. I suspect they had at least some vague, ominous awareness of the showdown that awaited Jesus once he walked through the city gates. Maybe they were a bit fuzzy on the details like when and why and who and how. But this long journey to Jerusalem had the feel of fulfilling destiny to it.
By this time in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has already told his friends that he will be killed and will rise again on the third day. He taught them often about the impending Kingdom of God. Maybe, the disciples figured, they were about to be part of a coronation ceremony where Jesus would ride into Jerusalem and claim ultimate power and authority.
Above all else, there was no mistaking something important was about to happen. High drama, a clash of wills, a climactic moment in time. Whatever it was that awaited Jesus and the disciples, there was no time, no room, no space, no patience for unwelcome distractions.
The only problem was that the blind beggar along the road failed to receive the memo. With the dust from dozens of footprints kicked up all around him and a mantle over his face to shield the sun from his sightless eyes, the blind man called out to Jesus.
In context, the loud blind man yelling over at Jesus was totally out of place. Who would do such a thing? Where was his self-respect, his dignity, his sense of decorum? And there were all kinds of people nearby, including the disciples, more than willing to voice their strong opinions by voicing pointed comments in the blind man’s general direction.
“Be quiet, old man,” the crowd shushed. For Jerusalem was straight ahead. And then the holy temple and then the feast of the Passover and then it was full speed ahead to the Kingdom of God. This was neither the time nor the place for interruption. The crowd couldn’t be bothered with the blind man and they assumed Jesus couldn’t be bothered either. Maybe someone in the crowd reached into their pockets and pulled out a coin or two to toss in the blind man’s direction. Hush money…if you will.
But the blind man refused to shut up. His cry pierced the noise of the crowd and continued to irritate and offend those nearby. Why won’t this blind man keep his mouth shut? By then it was too late and no use.
“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” And all of a sudden Jesus stopped…
Like an episode of the Three Stooges where Mo stops abruptly and Larry and Curly pile right into him, Jesus did what no one expected. He brought the whole crowd to a grinding halt.
Jesus was on his way to fulfill God’s destiny. He was about to enter Jerusalem to save the world and all the people therein. He would soon be named the King of Glory, the Bright and Morning Star, the Lord of the universe…but he heard the cry of mercy from one obscure blind beggar and put all that on hold.
Amazingly enough, Jesus didn’t even seem to be in a hurry. He asked that the beggar be brought to him. And then he took the time to ask the blind man what he wanted.
“Lord, let me receive my sight.” Arguably the blind man could see better than anyone else that day for he alone had the audacity to believe that Jesus would consider stopping for him. In spite of the sheer magnitude of the journey Jesus was on, the blind man was the only one who trusted that Jesus would not ignore his lowly pleas.
“Receive your sight,” Jesus said to the man. “Your faith has saved you.” And immediately the blind man’s sight was restored and he followed Jesus on the way, glorifying and praising God as he went. Like a newly minted disciple plucked out of obscurity and hopelessness, the formerly blind man took his rightful place in the procession, following the one who had saved him…”
I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s really good news to know that the one who leads the procession to Jerusalem…the one on his way to accomplish God’s salvation…will stop and offer mercy to someone in need. Even if it means the final supper and the cross and the grave and the empty tomb will have to wait, Jesus will still take all the time needed to hear and heal and restore someone who calls out by the side of the road.
But here’s what I really mean by that statement. Yes, it’s good news that Jesus reaches out to the least of our brothers and sisters, hearing their cries in a world filled with desperation and brokenness. Yet for me, the whole story is more personal…
Because sometimes I am the one who’s in dire need of some mercy. And sometimes I’m the one who needs to have my eyes opened to see clearly. And this story reminds me that Jesus will stop for me.
It may seem like bad protocol. A little disrespectful and out of place. Insignificant and incongruous given all the other enormous things going on in the world. Still the truth is Jesus will stop for each one of you as well…
The only thing left to figure out is whether you and I will do the same. Stop along the way for each other. In the name of Jesus, Amen.