✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
The disciples in today’s Gospel don’t seem to be very bright. Jesus takes them aside and gives them a heads-up, spelling out for them exactly what’s about to happen: They are going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus will be mocked and insulted and spit upon and scourged and killed. And the third day He will rise again. It couldn’t be laid out much more clearly than that. But the disciples aren’t able to see or understand it. It doesn’t fit in with their way of thinking about Jesus, and so it goes right over their heads. The disciples clearly don’t get it.
Let this be a warning to us all. For if it could happen to them when they were right there in the visible presence of Jesus, it can also happen to us. We shouldn’t look at them and say “How foolish!” We should rather look at ourselves with some godly fear and humility and ask, “What is it that I don’t get? What is it about Jesus or about myself that I’m blind to?” The fact of the matter is that in our fallen condition, we are all spiritually blind. Our vision is clouded and darkened to the truth, even though it might be sitting there right in front of us.
First, without the clear mirror of God’s Law, we don’t see our own sin rightly. We know we have a few flaws and problems, but we’re blind to how utterly deep the corruption goes in us, and how it taints everything about us. We can see it a little better in others, all the issues that everyone else has whom we live and work with. But the justifications and excuses we make for ourselves inevitably obscure our vision and block a clear self-diagnosis.
And perhaps even worse, apart from the clear proclamation of the Gospel, we don't see Jesus rightly. He gets turned into some other figure whom we can fit into our agendas–the Messiah who’s on our side in political causes, the guru who helps us to cope and live a happier lifestyle, the guide who provides the example for how we can make ourselves righteous, the coach who helps us to get where we want to be. You can tell you have a false Jesus, though, when He’s only a means to an end. In the Bible, Jesus is the end–He’s the goal; He’s everything that we’re seeking. He is Himself the Truth and the Life. He’s not merely our guide to lead us somewhere greater. For there is nowhere greater than fellowship with God in Christ.
So as we ponder today’s Gospel, let us remember what we confess in the Catechism about the 3rd article of the Creed, “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts ("enlightened" means that He’s given light to our eyes so that we can rightly see), sanctified and kept me in the truth faith.” If we do have proper vision about ourselves and about Jesus, it’s entirely a gift of God’s grace by His Word and Spirit. Remember this, too, as you talk about the faith with others, particularly if they seem to be a little bit unclear and unable to understand what you’re saying. Have patience; for only the Holy Spirit can open their eyes.
In today’s Gospel, the one who sees Jesus best of all is actually the blind man. And so we must learn to become more like that beggar on the side of the road–empty-handed before God, with nothing to give Him that He should accept us, desiring the vision that only He can impart.
The blind man heard a great crowd passing by and asked what it all meant. When they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was with them, the blind man cried out and shouted with a loud voice, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Notice how that prayer showed that the blind man already had faith in Jesus. The term “Son of David” is a title for the Messiah. This blind man had certainly heard about the things Jesus had said and done prior to this. The blind man believed that Word he had heard. His ears were his eyes. Seeing Jesus would not have helped the blind man believe in Him. For faith comes by hearing. Even without earthly sight, the blind man could see that Jesus was the Promised One. He believed that Jesus could heal him; even more, he believed that Jesus was the Christ, who had come to redeem His people.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is our prayer, too. “Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.” “O Christ the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” This is your go-to prayer. For it covers almost every situation possible. When you see someone in trouble or acting foolishly, you can pray for them simply by saying, “Lord, have mercy.” When you yourself are in trouble or need, when you’re about to go into surgery, when a relationship is on the rocks or you don’t know how you’re going to pay the bills, you can pray, “Lord, have mercy on me.” Even when everything’s going great for you, you’re healthy and prosperous, after your prayers of thanksgiving, it is still good to pray “Lord, have mercy on me” lest you fall into complacency and spiritual laziness or pride and self-congratulation. Let this prayer be a regular part of the conversation of your heart, so that in the hour of death you may confidently say, “Lord, have mercy,” and know that He will. His mercy is everything for you.
Now the crowds here don’t much like this prayer of the blind man. They warn him that he should shut up. It’s impolite. He’s being annoying, crying out that way. It’s like those people who think it’s fine that you’re a Christian, as long as you keep it a purely private matter. “I don’t care what you believe, as long as it doesn’t bother me.” But when the exercise of your faith goes against the flow of their desires and plans, or when the confession of your faith becomes a nuisance to them, that’s when people start telling you to shut up and pipe down and don’t carry things so far.
However, faith is stubborn and persistent. Faith won’t let anything get in the way of life in Jesus or prayer to Him. Faith doesn’t care what people think or what they will say, because it seeks a gift infinitely greater than worldly approval. Faith is not ashamed and will not be silenced. And so the blind man cries out all the more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And notice this wonderful statement in the Gospel. When the blind man speaks these words, it is written that “Jesus stood still.” This prayer goes directly to His ears. It stops Him in His tracks. It turns Him around and draws His undivided attention. Isn’t that marvelous!? Jesus stood still. He doesn’t mind that proper decorum has been breached. At the sound of this prayer, Jesus commands that the blind man be brought to Him.
And He asks him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Now why would He ask that? Doesn’t He already know? Of course He does. God knows what you need even before you ask Him. In fact, He knows your needs better than you do. But He asks anyway in order that the blind man may exercise his faith with a specific prayer. The general prayer, “Lord, have mercy” opens up a whole world of particular prayers and requests. Jesus also wants to hear the specifics of your lives. He wants to hear from you in your own voice what is on your mind and heart. He wants you to verbalize your desires, like a little child learning to speak to his father and use his words to ask for help. In verbalizing your prayers, they become concrete and focused. Prayer is one of the primary ways in which you exercise your faith, that you may learn to look to the Lord for all that you need and see that every good gift comes from His hand.
In response to Jesus’ question, the blind man answers, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Jesus says to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he can see. The blind man’s eyes are opened, and the first sight that he sees is the face of His Savior. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The blind man’s heart is pure, for it trusts in Jesus who alone is pure. Through this faith he is made well; he sees God.
Now this doesn’t mean that if God doesn’t give you 20/20 vision when you ask for it, then you don’t have enough faith. It's best not to focus on your believing, but on the One you're believing in. Faith in Jesus receives everything as a gift, not as a demand that He has to fulfill. Sometimes God says “no” to what we ask for because he wants to teach us patience or make room for greater gifts. Sometimes He knows that what we are asking for will harm us and endanger our salvation. We can’t know the mind of God ahead of time. So we pray trusting that Jesus will hear our prayers and do what is truly best for us.
Like all of Jesus’ miracles, this healing wasn’t just talk or an easy wave of the hands. It cost Him his life on the cross. There Jesus won healing and restoration for us all by bearing our physical ailments and infirmities, our sin and pain and sorrow, suffering them all to death in His holy body. And He shares that miracle with all who cry out to Him in beggar faith. Jesus hung on a cross in the darkness, blinded by death, in order to bring healing and the light of His resurrection to the world.
Know, then, that the Lord hears your prayers, even when they seem to go unanswered. Ultimately they have all been answered “yes” in Jesus’ dying and rising. For now we walk by faith in that truth; but on the Last Day our faith will turn to sight, just like the man in the Gospel. For on the Last Day every bodily disorder and disability will done away with–from failing vision to poor hearing, from arthritis to paralysis, from heart disease to cancer; sin and death will be eradicated completely, and the Great Physician will raise you bodily to share in His own glory and life.
When the blind man received his sight, he followed Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and the cross. As we prepare to enter Lent, then, let us follow Jesus, too, and walk with Him on the way of sacrificial love. And let us also remember what happened afterwards on that first Easter evening. The Emmaus disciples walked the road with Jesus and talked with Him without recognizing Him, blind to who He was. But when Jesus broke bread with them, then He was no longer hidden to their eyes. So it is also now. Here your eyes are opened, and Jesus is made known to you in the breaking of the bread. His body and blood are given and shed for you. His forgiveness covers your past and your former blindness. When the final Easter comes, you will hear Him say to you, “Your faith has saved you; receive your sight.” And then you, too, will behold the face of God.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠