Reading today’s Gospel, Luke 18: 31-43 it jumped out at me. That wonderful juxtaposition. Jesus tells his twelve what is to happen to him, horrific in detail except for his rising again, which in itself is almost incomprehensible. I winced at the flogging part. And then there is the blind man.
There are all kinds of blindness. Those closest to Jesus, the inner circle, the chosen twelve, were blind and deaf to what Jesus had predicted. We are told it was hidden from them. But I could imagine that either it was too horrible, too crazy, or too unthinkable for them to hear it. Don’t we all not hear things because we don’t want to? Or because we already have something, some other image, some other desire, fixed in our minds, so that the reality of what we are hearing doesn’t get through? Even if what we hear is unthinkable, or strange to us, we become unable to say, simply, “Would you unpack that? I don’t get it.” We just ignore it. Or worse, stew on it. Or even come to false conclusions which can lead to false gossip, accusations, or we generate feelings, good or bad, about another person without any reason. Those twelve had come to love Jesus. They didn’t want their rosy picture upset by having to acknowledge that Jesus was going to do something that wasn’t in their vision. They couldn’t hear it, because they didn’t want to.
And then there was the blind man. Yes, you see where we are going with this. Jesus is with a crowd. His twelve? Or more he has picked up on the road to Jericho? Whoever, they are making enough noise to be heard by the blind man. A blind man who asks a question. He does not sit in silence wondering. He speaks up, and asks what is happening. This isn’t just some casual thing for us. In all that we learn in our formation into the mind of Christ, we should learn to be straightforward with God despite our confusion, doubts, blindness. It is the ground of self examination, of standing before the Holy One in prayer and confession. If we are not honest, we are spinning our wheels, and grinding ourselves deeper into the mud of our own doubt and delusion. And so our blind man is told that Jesus of Nazareth is passing. And he shouted out loud, not knowing where Jesus was, near or far, but he shouted so that Jesus would not miss his cries. As we do when we call upon him in great need. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” And he kept shouting. He knew that Jesus was of the line of David, the line of the promised Messiah. He had been paying attention, although he knew no more than anybody else did that that would mean death and resurrection, all that Jesus tried to reveal to his twelve. But he didn’t need to know all this. His was blind faith. And he asks for mercy. Not for sight or alms. Just mercy. Charity, healing, care are not about the stuff. They are about the compassion. About mercy that is our cry to the Holy One in prayer when in need. The details of the mercy will be up to Jesus. But I am ahead of our story.
And what the crowd say to him? They tell him to be quiet. To shut up. To stop being embarrassing. Beggars should know their place. Who is blind then? Blinded by social convention? Blinded by fear of change? Blinded by clinging to the status quo? But the blind man keeps shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Then Jesus stood still. Sometimes Jesus stops without the cry of pain directed at him. The widow of Nain’s mourning cries called to Jesus, and filled him with compassion. And he bestows on her son his greatest gift, the gift of life (Lk 7; 11-17). Sometimes someone will reach out to him without words, as did the woman with the hemorrhage (Lk 8:43-48). Her faith in Jesus, son of David, son of God, was strong enough for her to seek him without words, so sure was she of his mercy. And he turned and sought her. And then there was our blind man. Jesus ordered the man brought to him. He called and Jesus answered. “What do you want me to do for you?”
Think about that for a minute. God, the second person of the Trinity asks us “What do you want me to do for you?” We don’t always get what we ask for. Sometimes we don’t know what to ask for, or we have been like the twelve who weren’t ready to hear, so didn’t know what to ask. But our blind man knew exactly what he wanted, and said it simply and clearly. “Lord, let me see again.” And don’t we all need to pray that, sighted or not, as our sight, our spiritual sight is often clouded. We are human. We are imperfect. And Jesus says, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you,” Sight is a gift. And Jesus knows that it is faith, not just the asking, but the believing and hoping for this gift, this impossible gift that makes it happen. And the blind beggar, now no longer is blind, and no longer a beggar, but a follower of Jesus, gets up and follows him, glorifying God. As Jesus says, his signs glorify his Father. And the praise of this new disciple, both eyes open, is picked up and magnified by the astonished crowd. Which also points to discipleship. When a seed is sown the next step is the harvest.
What astonished me by this reading is how simple it seems, and what riches it contained. There are reasons I go back to Scripture to study how Jesus acted and spoke and taught. In that jumble of redacted bits and pieces, remembered stories and sayings from the Apostles and first disciples, cobbled together into a canonical anthology, there really is, as we confess, all that is needed for salvation. It is there, truly there, if we can but see it.
What has this to do with Pentecost? We are entering the long green season, sometimes called “ordinary times.” With Trinity Sunday, in the tradition of the English universities, this was sometimes called the Trinity season, the time when it all comes together, Advent, Christmastide, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide, Ascension, and the descent of the Holy Spirit. It is a long time to live normally, meditate, take a deep breath until the next year’s round of holy seasons. But also a time to grow in simple faith, in imitation of Christ’s mercy and compassion. A time to integrate all that these past seasons have taught. And a time to learn to hear the Holy Spirit within us, our gift of Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit. A time to pour out our gratitude to Jesus for his love, for his giving us his Advocate, and for bringing us to his Father in adoption. It is a time to live as children of God.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.