GEORGE HERBERT notes how “close, reserved and dark” we are when God asks for our heart. It came suddenly to mind when I remembered that it was on Quinquagesima Sunday that his coffin was placed on the floor of the little church at Bemerton which I know so well. The spring birds would have been singing in the rectory garden opposite.
It was a time when we had St Paul looking through a glass darkly, and speaking of tongues ceasing. Herbert understood: “A man that looks on glass, On it may stay his eye; or if he pleaseth, through it pass, And then the heav’n espy”.
Both the Epistle and Gospel for Quinquagesima Sunday, in the Book of Common Prayer, are about giving — two very different kinds of giving. In the first, St Paul writes about giving without love. Doing anything without love, he says, is worthless. Because he has seen showy philanthropists. Then he writes, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, but have not love, it profiteth me nothing”.
It means that those that can afford to, sometimes give in order to buy salvation. And such givers do not love the poor. They dislike them the more for their having to be the kind of people who exist to give the wealthy the necessary leg up towards honours and respect.
There is a story about Jesus giving a blind man sight — the thing which the man wanted most in all the world. Jesus could have given him a kind word, or a coin, which is what the blind man usually received. But no, the great healer on his way to Calvary gave the blind man what no one else could give: his sight. He was ecstatic.
He made such a din when he heard that the healer from Nazareth was passing his begging pitch just outside Jericho that he was told to be quiet, hold his peace. But what peace could he hold in his state? Jesus forced him to say what it was he wanted from him, in as many words. There was a huge silence; everyone heard the request: “My sight.” Then the giving of the gift. “Receive your sight, your faith in me makes it possible for you to do so.” The blind man — now the seeing man — does not thank Jesus, but God: he who gave him the gift to give sight. The giver then walked in the direction of Jerusalem to give his life.