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Naming

Naming

As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’ The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!’ Jesus stood still and called them, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him. — Matthew 20:29-34 (NRSV)

Three of the four gospels record similar healings of blind men (Mk. 10:46-52, Lk. 18:45-53). Matthew even puts another healing of a blind man (9:27-30). What I found interesting was that the stories had so many similarities even though there were differences — one man, two men, surrounded by a crowd, on a roadside etc. One thing common to all of them (other than their healings, of course) was that each time, Jesus was not just called by name but by title, “Son of David.”

Names were important. Knowing the name of something or someone gave a person a certain power, authority or even just a kind of equality with and over the named. Doctors quite often refer to patients by their first name, ostensibly to promote a feeling of comfort, ease and “I’m going to be your friend and help you out of whatever is bothering you” but seldom do patients return the favor. It has to be “Doctor” so-and-so and that puts the patient in a more inferior position. Using “Jesus” would have acknowledged their equality, “Lord” put them in the position of petitioners, but by adding “Son of David” they appealed to not only Jesus’ ability to heal but his authority. Since all the stories contain this detail, it must have been a very important one.

In England and France during the Middle Ages and a bit beyond, those afflicted with a disease called scrofula, a tubercular swelling of the lymph nodes, primarily in the neck area, called it the “King’s Evil.” They believed that only the touch of the monarch could cure it. Kings (and queens) held public ceremonies where literally hundreds of people would be touched individually by the monarchs and then presented with a coin called an “angel” as part of their healing. Even though David did not have such powers and Jesus’ power came from God rather than from the anointing that would have made him a terrestrial ruler, still, appealing to the ruler or monarch or his descendant would acknowledge the power and authority, and demonstrate their faith in his ability and power to heal.

When we pray, we are told that whatever we ask in Jesus’ name we will receive it (Matt. 18:19, Jn. 14:13-14). That’s our justification for using “through Jesus Christ, our Lord” as part of our collects and prayers, whether we are asking for something or giving thanks. Unlike the blind men, we don’t ask for help in the name of the Son of David because, as Christians, we acknowledge that the power comes from of God directly.

Most of the requests I make of God, Jesus and the Spirit are about things that are important to me but not all that much an impact on the greater scheme of things, as the world would view it. I ask for help finding my keys, getting through an unpleasant situation, help for a friend or something on that order. For the blind men, it was asking for their very lives – their ability to be productive members of their families rather than dependents, their ability to take their place in worship and move about without having to rely on pure memory or the kindness of a neighborly guide. Theirs were important requests, for themselves and their families anyway, and so they pulled out all the stops, all the titles of Jesus that they could. For their reward, they were healed, made able to return to a full, normal life.

For me, I often find my keys, get through the situation more or less intact or see my friend helped. The answer isn’t always “Yes,” but I do try to remember to say “Thank you” when it does. Maybe my faith isn’t as strong as theirs or my need as great. Still, if it doesn’t work out, I look at it not as “No,” but as “Well, it’s like this…” I don’t see prayer as a test for either me or God and the result being the grade on my report card. It’s more an exercise in trust, in humility. Asking for help is often very hard, but is anything ever really improved by trying to do it all myself? I may never ask the “Son of David” for assistance, but I will have to think more about asking at all.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter

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