I know sign language and have a couple of deaf friends. I have sometimes wondered what it would be like if I were deaf. I could probably manage but it would be a radical change, especially since I have been able to hear all my life. But blindness…blindness scares me. Even when I have to wear a blindfold for a game or something, I don’t like it. The ability to see is such a precious gift that we too often take for granted. Imagine you have spent your whole life is darkness. By the time you are grown, it is business as usual; you are blind and that is your life. In Luke 18.35, we find a man in just such a circumstance. He has probably been blind since birth. His world is darkness. There aren’t many jobs a blind man can do so he is forced to beg. And he lives in Jericho…one of the towns Jesus of Nazareth is passing through on his way to Jerusalem.
The sightless one
Matthew’s gospel tells us there were two men (Matthew 20.29-30). Mark gives us a name: Bartimaeus (Mark 10.46). There are any number of explanations for hamonizing this and you, O constant reader, can judge which is best. But here is a blind man, on the side of the road, begging. Get that: he was begging. He was asking for something, anything to sustain him for the day. And now here is a chance to hit the jackpot – a crowd. He can practically hear the Roman currency bouncing in their coin purses. But its strange…there is a lot of commotion from crowd; so much in fact this man has to inquire (and the Greek implies he kept on asking) as to what was going on. He is told, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
It is interesting to note that the God we serve is a God who “passes by.” In Genesis 18.3-5 when God makes covenant with Abraham, Abraham asks God “do not pass by me.” In Job 9.10, Job in his affliction says the one who made the Pleiades and Orion is the one who “passes by me.” In Exodus 33.17-22, God, revealing his glory to Moses in the mountain, passes by the cleft of the rock. And here in Luke 18.37 Jesus is taking up that mantle as the God who passes by. Not wanting Jesus to get away without making his request, the blind man cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Notice, this is not just Jesus of Nazareth, but this blind identifies him as the one who was to sit on David’s throne and reign. He is the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. And certainly, as Messiah, Jesus can show him mercy.
Note the criticism of the people. Luke says specifically that they were the people “in front.” The vanguard of the crowd had made to where this blind beggar was and they chided him for his audacity. It may have been for his appeal to Jesus Messiahship they chided him. Probably, though, they were much like the disciples with the little children; the master is too busy for a blind beggar. But this man, it would seem, knows that if anyone can help him even regain his sight, it is Jesus the Christ. So he begins to cry out even louder, perhaps even shrieking at the top of his lungs, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Nothing will hinder him from seeing Jesus (pun intended).
The Sovereign One
If ever there was a man of mercy, it was Jesus. He is our model of mercy. And the God who passes by, when he hears the frantic cry of one of his children, stopped (v.40) and commanded that the man be brought forward. The blind man (probably led by the hand) came near. I think of James 4.8a which says “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (ESV). What a picture here is painted of us, blinded by our sin and begging for mercy, draw near even as this blind beggar did and finding mercy incarnate. Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v.41). Ever a servant, Jesus stood ready to do what they man, full of faith, desires of him. “Lord,” says the blind man, still appealing to his authority and sovereignty even over blindness, “let me recover my sight.”
You see the faith required for healing in the blind beggar. If he had faith but had not caused a ruckus, would he have been healed? If he had faith, but would not cry out to the one who could save him, there could have been no healing. No, the faith necessary for healing was a faith that acted. As James says, “Faith without action is dead.” He cried out and came near and thus Jesus speaks to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” There was absolutely nothing the blind beggar could to fix his condition, but when he cried out with faith to the Sovereign One with power to heal, he “immediately” could see the face of the Lord. He then became a disciple, a follower and glorified God, unable to remain quite about the great miracle that had been worked by Jesus. But this led to others who saw what had happened also praising God.
“I once was lost but now am found – Was blind, but now I see.” Amazing Grace, John Newton, 1779