Quinquigesima – A Blind Man’s Hope
Luke 18:35: As He was drawing near Jericho, a certain blind man sat along the way begging. 36 Hearing a crowd passing by, he asked what it meant. 37 They told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. 38 He cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who went in front rebuked him, so that he would keep quiet. But he cried out much more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 Jesus stood and commanded him to be brought to Him. When he came near, He asked him, 41 “What do you want Me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, grant that I may receive my sight.” 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Him, glorifying God. When all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.
Our Gospel reading for today is yet another study in parallels – really, in opposites.
Jesus has just finished the portion of his ministry in Galilee – he is headed into Jerusalem, where he knew that he would suffer and die. He knew it, and he told his disciples about it – openly, and plainly. He told them where he was going (Jerusalem); he told them why it was happening (to fulfill what the prophets had written); he told them at whose hands he would suffer (the Gentiles); and he told them exactly what to expect (that he would be scourged and put to death, but rise on the third day). And yet Luke tells us that they did not understand any of this.
Meanwhile, Jesus and his disciples are headed south along the Jordan River. One of the larger towns on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, just north of the northern tip of the Dead Sea is Jericho, just a little bit west of the Jordan River. Yes, it is the same Jericho from the Book of Joshua, the first city in the promised land taken by Joshua and the people of Israel after crossing the Jordan River, just after the death of Moses. Jericho was a decent-sized city in ancient times, certainly nowhere near the size of Jerusalem, but definitely a hub for that region. It is remarkably out of the way for Jesus in his ministry, in the sense that he did not spend much time around Jericho; he spent most of his earthly ministry in Galilee and Judea.
Alongside the road, which must have been fairly well-traveled, a blind man sat begging. The blind often had to beg to survive, as they would have had a hard time working. No doubt individual travelers and small groups passed by him frequently, but this was different – this time, a large crowd was passing by, and that must have been extremely unusual. Since he could not see for himself, he had to ask what it meant. And someone told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.
So it is remarkable that the blind man knows exactly who Jesus is. And by saying “exactly,” we definitely mean it in the precise theological sense. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he cries. He addresses Jesus not as just “that Jesus guy from Nazareth,” but using the name of promise; the name of hope. “Son of David” was his confession that Jesus was indeed the Christ, the promised Messiah whom God had promised to David, just as he had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and just as he had promised to Adam and Eve just after they sinned and were driven from the garden.
The people in the crowd were not pleased at the scene this man was making. They tried to hush him! They rebuked him for making so much of a racket!
This does not deter the blind man at all. He cries out even louder, continuing to call on Jesus as the Son of David. Jesus stops and commands that the man be brought to him, and asks him what he wants. As a blind man, he wants to see again, and this is what he asks Jesus for – to receive his sight. Jesus tells him he would receive his sight, that his faith had saved him – at which point he received his sight, and began following Jesus. Once the crowd saw this, they too rejoiced and praised God.
What incredible faith and hope this blind man had! He seemed not to have any idea that Jesus was going to pass by him, to come anywhere near his little corner of the world. But he definitely knew who Jesus was. And more than just knowing about Jesus of Nazareth, he knew Who Jesus Was – And Is – and what that meant. He knew that this Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of David, the promised one. We know that he understood what this really meant because when Jesus asked him what he wanted, the blind man asked him for something only the Son of God could give him – his sight back. And then once healed, this blind man did not simply sit down or go his own way, as many of those that Jesus healed did. Remember the ten lepers, nine of whom were never seen again? But this blind man followed Jesus, probably on to Jerusalem.
It is fascinating to me that Jesus speaking openly of his forthcoming suffering, death and resurrection is followed immediately by this incident near Jericho. Such an amazing contrast – those who spent their days and nights with Jesus, heard him teach, who even had seen him perform miracles – did not understand what he meant at the time when he spoke openly about what he must do, what had to happen to pay for the sins of the world. And this blind man, who literally could not have seen anything, who probably had only heard of Jesus and what he had said and done, but probably never in person before this day – he is the one who calls on Jesus as the “Son of David,” David’s Son and David’s Lord, who believes and trusts that this Jesus can restore his sight.
Which of these do we most resemble? This is a very familiar incident for us – I am sure we all know it well by now. We hear of Jesus’ miracles at least every week; many of our Gospel lessons focus on the miracles he did during his public ministry. Do we trust him to take care of us? Or do we spend our time worrying and fretting about what will happen tomorrow, or next week? Do we see Jesus’ words elsewhere in the Gospel of Luke, where he also speaks plainly: Luke 12:27 “Consider how the lilies grow. They neither spin nor weave. Yet I say to you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 If God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?
Do we see these words and not understand them, as the Twelve did not understand Jesus when he spoke of his coming death? Our lack of understanding and theirs come from the same basic source: our sinful natures, which will be at war with God until the day we are freed from our sinful bodies, either by death or by Jesus’ return.
This is the way our sinful natures work – they rebel against God, they do not want to hear what he has to tell us. Our sinful nature wants to go its own way, it wants to do its own thing. It does not want anyone to stop it from having a “good time,” as the world would put it. God tells us that we should love and honor Him above all things, and we know deep down that we should – but the sinful nature tells us it would be more fun not to, and we want to follow our sinful natures.
Paul explains this phenomenon in his letter to the Galatians: Gal 5:16 I say then, walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh. These are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
And again, more elaborately, in his letter to the Romans: Rom 7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing, for the will to do what is right is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. 19 For the good I desire to do, I do not do, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
And yet, we know that there is much more than the sinful nature. Since we have Christ and his Word, we also have the Holy Spirit in us, who works the faith and trust we need to take hold of Christ, and with his help, strive against the sinful nature and its rebellion against God: Gal 4:4 But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born from a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth into our hearts the Spirit of His Son, crying, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a servant, but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
In Scripture, God often speaks, and his words have power and effect. In our Old Testament lesson from last week, God compares his word to water, which gives life: Isa 55:10 For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth and make it bring forth and bud that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please.
This begins literally at Creation, where God says, “Let there be light!” and there was. Here, too, Jesus says “Receive your sight,” and that Word is powerful and effective, and restores the man’s sight. In the same way, God’s Word is powerful and effective to convict us of our sins, but also and more emphatically, to declare his mercy to us and proclaim his love to us; to remind us that we need do nothing; the price for our sins has already been paid. When we believe this, God credits it to us as righteousness, as he did to Abraham when Abraham believed God’s promise that all nations on earth would be blessed through him.
Jesus told the blind man that his faith had saved him – the Greek word used here can mean either “healed” or “saved,” and is the technical term that is used for eternal salvation. In a sense, we can see both of these senses here – the man has confessed his saving faith in Jesus as the Son of David, and that led him to trust that Jesus could heal his blindness, which he did.
And so, let us thank our Lord and Savior for his work of salvation. And just as this blind man did, let our thanks lead us to follow Jesus in this world, even if the world would say that road is not the smartest path, or the most popular path, or the one that will lead to only earthly delights. For we know, as the blind man did, that a far better home awaits us. Let us join him in his hope, and his trust in the saving work of Jesus, the Son of David, David’s Son and David’s Lord, the very Son of God, who came to save us.
In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.