December 5, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 20:29-34.
As they left Jericho, a great crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “[Lord,] Son of David, have pity on us!” The crowd warned them to be silent, but they called out all the more, “Lord, Son of David, have pity on us!” Jesus stopped and called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They answered him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” Moved with pity, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight, and followed him.
Matthew and Luke drew this story from Mark’s gospel except that Matthew includes two blind men rather than just one, which is a common habit of Matthew according to the New American Bible notes. Another interesting distinction is that Mark, the earliest gospel, does not have the blind man address Jesus as Lord while both Matthew and Luke do, an illustration of how believers were thinking out just who Jesus was, thinking out both their theology and Christology. Further, Mark and Luke have Jesus telling the blind man that his faith has saved him while Matthew omits that significant statement. Only Mark gave this blind man a name — Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus.
However, all three gospels tell us that the blind man/men called out repeatedly to Jesus in spite of disapproving comments from the crowd. It is also significant that this story in all three gospels occurs just before Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem just fifteen miles from Jericho and that the blind man/men call out to Jesus as Son of David, the awaited Messiah. That title stood in their minds for power and majesty and glory, the claimed hope of all Jews. It was their expectation that Jesus, the Messiah, could do anything he wished with the powers that God had conferred upon him.
In response to their cries, Jesus gave them everything they had expected, “What do you want me to do for you?” It was like the genie in the bottle bestowing three wishes upon his its liberator. The story can be taken both literally and metaphorically as with much of the gospels. Jesus was the light; he brought people out of darkness into light. He opened the eyes of the blind so they could see beyond themselves; they could be released from their habitual ways of thinking and behaving.
But what do they blind men do that is different from some of the earlier miracle stories? They follow him instead of running off to tell family and friends, to revel in their newfound faculty. They follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, on the road to suffering and death and resurrection. That seems to be the point of the story and why all three included it in their gospels. Of course, they didn’t know that that’s where the road would take them.
I have the benefit of hindsight which these men did not have. I know how the story of Jesus’ life turns out. I have a faith based on Christology that they did not have. And yet they disregarded everything else and chose to follow him. What did they see that I don’t see? That’s a pretty big question for myself. I believe that he has had pity on me, that he has answered my prayers, that he has opened my eyes. Knowing how the story turns out is sort of a stumbling block for me, I think. It’s not death that troubles me so much, I don’t think so at least. It’s suffering, whether mine or others, that is hard for me to accept, let alone embrace. I admire those like Benedictine priest Michael Santa who cheerfully has accepted his debilitating multiple sclerosis. But it’s a high hurdle for me to embrace my own suffering, though.
Matthew tells us simply, “they followed him.” isn’t that what Jesus asks me to do? Isn’t it just that simple? Just follow him wherever it may lead me. Love him, trust him, follow him. Follow him into suffering, death, and resurrection. I am blind, but I want to be like the blind men and ask Jesus to open my eyes. To let me see only him and his beckoning embrace, his encouragement, his solace, and ultimately his glory in heaven. That needs to be my repeated prayer ignoring the disapproval of the crowd around me.