As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
It is interesting that Luke places the account of Jesus healing the blind beggar in close proximity to a parable Jesus tells about a religious Pharisee and a tax collector. The parable is introduced this way: “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable…” The parable condemns the self-righteousness of the Pharisee and praises the humility of the tax collector. Immediately after this parable, Luke writes about a little scene in which people are bringing Jesus their children. The disciples rebuke them, but Jesus says, “Let the little children come…” Following this is the account of the rich man who could not let go of his material possessions for the sake of his own soul. He was materially rich, but spiritually poor.
There is this sense as you read the chapter that Luke is highlighting the paradox of the Kingdom of God. For it truly belongs to the poor in spirit. After portraying Jesus as bestowing worth and value on those that most thought were undeserving, he places the account of Jesus healing this unnamed blind man. This man is physically blind, but his faith shows that he is spiritually aware. He is materially impoverished, but spiritually rich. The Blind Man Among Us
Unfortunately, we often relate to the crowd in the story. To be blind was viewed as a curse. “What must this person have done to offend God?” would be a common thought in people’s minds (John 9:1). To be blind and unable to provide for one’s self was also viewed as some sort of cosmic justice. To be a professional beggar was despicable. Hence, when the blind man calls out to Jesus, the crowd tries to hush him. He is not worthy of this miracle-working prophet’s attention. Yet he persists.
The persistence and clarity of his plea is remarkable. He is calling out to Jesus, the “Son of David.” This is Messianic language. Though this man is blind, he sees that Jesus is not just “Jesus of Nazareth,” “the Rabbi,” or the “Prophet.” He is, Jesus, the promised Messiah. What is interesting is that the people who are apparently following Jesus are the ones in the story that are rebuking this man.
But Jesus… stops. He allows himself to be inconvenienced by this roadside beggar—a pathetic excuse for a human being. There is significance to the rest of the narrative: the question Jesus asks, the answer the blind man gives, and the healing that follows. Most interesting is the Greek word Jesus uses in reference to his healing. It is the word sozo which means “to save.” While all these details of this story are important and interesting, I am challenged by the reality that Jesus stops and affirms this man’s worth. This is remarkable and totally counterintuitive to our normal reaction to people like this blind beggar. Gregory Boyd, in his book Present Perfect, writes:
“Our programmed old self sizes up everything and every one in terms of whether they will add or detract from our own sense of worth and significance…
…Instead of ascribing worth to others, at cost to ourselves, we tend to feed our hungry souls by ascribing worth to ourselves, at cost to others.”
If we had any sense of honesty we would have to admit that this is true about us. We tend to evaluate the value of other people based on what they can do for us. Yet, the cross of Jesus and the call of the Christian life is all about what God has done through Jesus for others and how He desires to continue that work through His Body, the Church.
A Man Named Mike
It is really easy to judge the poor, the addicted, the dirty, the shameful, and the marginalized. Many of them have made decisions that have largely influenced their current circumstances. It must be their fault. This is America. If you are poor it is because you are lazy. If you are an addict it is because you are immoral. While I do not at all neglect the reality that people are responsible for their decisions, my experience with people’s lives has shown me that it is not that simple. Some people have stories that are pervaded by brokenness, trials, and injustices that have been done to them and are outside of their control.
I am sometimes ashamed of my failure to look like Christ—specifically as a pastor. Many people assume that I have these spiritual encounters with God all of the time. I don’t. I experience apathy, temptation, depression, and doubt just like anybody else. But, if there is one area that I know God has transformed within me it is my compassion for people who are broken, lost, and hopeless.
My heart breaks for the blind beggars that we so often do not have the time of day for. My heart breaks at the reality that many people I have met on the streets in various cities would NOT be welcomed in our churches. We don’t mean to be unwelcoming to them. It is just that we don’t know how to not recoil at their appearance, their smell, the lifestyle, and their brokenness. We don’t know how to respond to them. This is largely because we do not have the capacity to love like Jesus does unless God does something in our hearts to transform our selfish inclinations.
I was humbled a few weeks ago by a man named Mike. Emily and I were in Indianapolis for a youth leader’s conference. Before the first session we wanted to go to Panera Bread to get a bagel and some coffee. But, I left my wallet in our hotel room. Some other youth pastor friends of ours were there and our hotel was just across the street, so Emily stayed with them and I ran across the street to retrieve my wallet.
On my way back, as I was about to walk into Panera Bread, a man who was clearly homeless approached me. He was wearing a big coat that looked as if it had seen better days and his hair was disheveled and face unshaven. He asked for some money for some food. I replied that I did not have any cash, but I was going into Panera Bread and would be willing to buy him a bagel and coffee. He gratefully accepted.
As we stood in line, I asked him if he was a person of faith. “Yeah, I believe in my God”… “I only hope he can forgive me for the things I’ve did”… “What about you?”
“Yes… I am a Jesus follower…”
With a tinge of affirmative excitement he said, “Yeah, yeah that is who I believe in too…”
Is Mike’s doctrine and theology nice and tidy? No. Is Mike’s life likely free of addiction and brokenness? Probably not. Would most church people easily receive Mike on a Sunday morning? Not typically. Do I think Mike is dearly loved by God and that his little measure of faith and his sincere desire to be forgiven is enough to rescue his soul? Yes. Mike reminds me of the tax collector in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18. The Pharisee is thanking God that he is not like other sinners. The tax collector’s prayer is simply, “God have mercy on me a sinner” (v. 13). Jesus says the tax collector, not the righteous Pharisee, is the one who is justified before God (v. 14).
On my darkest days, when my questions and doubts are reminiscent of King David’s in Psalm 22:1 -2:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
I still cannot escape the burden God has given me for people who are overlooked and hurting. Do not get me wrong. It is hard for me sometimes to be inconvenienced by difficult people. I struggle a lot with relating to people who are socially impaired. I hate smells and dirtiness. I am prone to judging. But, there are moments when my heart and emotions are overwhelmed in an indescribable way with a compassion for hurting people.
My prayer is that I will continue to see the value and worth in other people. That I will see people as God sees them, not as men see them. I want to, as Gregory Boyd writes, to “consciously choose to make [my] primary goal to love every person [I] encounter… [To challenge myself] to remain awake to the truth that each person [I] encounter has unsurpassable worth, not because of anything worth-while [I] happen to see in them, but because their Creator thought them worth dying for.” (emphasis mine)
As Emily and I left Panera Bread that morning, we were approached by another homeless man that we saw sitting with Mike in the restaurant. He was even more unkempt than Mike and his teeth needed some serious dental attention. But, as he approached, with a smile and almost a reverent demeanor he said,
“I don’t mean to be creepy or weird or anything…but my brother (Mike) and I just wanted to say that your wife is gorgeous.” He, almost like a little boy, sheepishly chuckled. “Thank you, yes she is.” I responded.
Emily was flattered and we could not help but notice how genuine, how human this man’s compliment was. It was not creepy. I cannot tell you why it wasn’t, but it was just a genuine, refreshing compliment from a humble homeless man. I became profoundly aware that this man was a person with a story too. He was a human, created in the image of God, and in that moment, he reminded of what kindness looks like.