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“That the Blind May See”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Two or three times a month, I have the privilege of leading a brief service at a couple local nursing homes. At one of them there is a blind man who almost always attends. He listens and participates where possible. He doesn’t doze off like some do. And at the end he patiently holds up his hand, waiting for me to shake it, and he always says, “Bless your Holy Spirit.” I take that to be a reference to the Spirit’s ministry of the Word, like when we say here, “The Lord be with you.” “And with your Spirit.” I trust that this blind man sees and believes in Jesus.
However, sometimes those who can see have no real perception of that saving truth–like the disciples in today’s Gospel. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem to die. The road to Jerusalem led through the city of Jericho, a city best known for its miraculous capture under Joshua, when the army of Israel encircled the city, blew the trumpets, and the walls came tumbling down. The Hebrew name Joshua comes into our language as Jesus–a reminder that Jesus had come to break down the walls of death’s fortress and defeat our enemies by His holy death and resurrection. But even after Jesus clearly says all this to the disciples, it is written, “They understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.”
There’s a difference between knowing the facts about Christianity and seeing their meaning and grasping their significance. Many know the whole story about Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, but do we see what it means for us? Or is it just stale history that has no real connection to life? Knowledge is not the same thing as faith. Even demons have the knowledge; they tremble at it, James says. Faith has to do with an understanding heart that trusts in and relies on Jesus and what He has done.
The truth is, by nature, none of us are capable of having true faith. We cannot by our own wisdom or powers believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him. On our own we just don’t get it. It is written in II Corinthians, “The god of this age (that is, the devil) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.” And, more to the point, it is written in I Corinthians, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” In our natural state, we are blind toward God. We may have it all there right in front of us, but apart from the Holy Spirit we can’t see it or believe it.
Only by the working of the Spirit of Christ are we granted true spiritual vision, genuine faith, as we say in the Small Catechism, “The Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” All credit belongs to God for the fact that we are believers. He is the one who gives us sight. For the Scriptures say, “We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.” Only the Spirit of Christ makes the blind see.
For us to be true Christians and true believers, then, we must become like the beggar on the
The blind man heard a great crowd passing by and asked what it all meant. When they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was with them, the blind man cried out and shouted with a loud voice, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” By this prayer, the blind man showed that he already had faith in Jesus. For the term “Son of David” is a title that Jews used as a synonym for the Messiah.
This blind man believed the Word that he had previously heard about Jesus. His ears were his eyes. Seeing Jesus would not have helped the blind man believe in Him. For faith comes by hearing, not by seeing. Even without earthly sight, the blind man could see that Jesus was His help. Not only did he believe that Jesus could heal him, much more he believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior-King who had come to redeem His people.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” We would do well to remember this humble prayer, to have it always ready in our mouth, to take our place with the blind man and pray it without ceasing. It is a prayer for those times when words fail, when we don’t know what else to say.
This is the prayer of humble faith that looks to Christ to receive generous alms, His gracious gifts. That’s why it shows up so often in the liturgy. “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy.” “Let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.” “O Christ the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” This is a prayer that you can pray anywhere at any time, especially in time of need. If the situation permits, as I’ve suggested before, you might even wish to pray this prayer with empty palms facing upward, in the position of a beggar, confident that the Lord will fill the hands of faith with good things. Learn this prayer of faith well, that it may be on your lips in the hour of death, “Lord, have mercy on me.”
The crowds, however, don’t much like this prayer of the blind man. They warn him that he should be quiet. He’s being an annoyance. He’s not observing proper etiquette and protocol. It’s like those people who don’t mind that you’re a Christian, as long as you’re not too serious about it. “I don’t care what you believe, as long as it doesn’t bother me.” But when the exercise of your faith goes against the flow of their plans, or when the confession of your faith becomes a nuisance to them, that’s when people start telling you to shut up. However, faith is stubborn and persistent. Faith won’t let anything get in the way of life in Jesus or prayer to Him. Faith doesn’t care what people think or what they will say, because it seeks a gift infinitely greater than worldly approval. And so the blind man cries out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
No other prayer draws the attention of Jesus more than this little prayer does. For when the blind man spoke these words, it is written here that “Jesus stood still.” This prayer goes directly to His ears. It stops Him in His tracks. It turns Him around and draws His undivided attention. Jesus now tells the crowd to be silent and commands that the blind man be brought to Him.
Jesus asks him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Of course, Jesus already knows. God knows what you need even before you ask Him. He knows your needs better than you do. But He asks anyway in order that the blind man may exercise his faith with a specific prayer. The general prayer, “Lord, have mercy” opens up a whole world of particular prayers and requests. Jesus also wants to hear the specifics of your lives. He wants to hear from you in your own voice what is on your mind and heart, to say out loud what you want from Him, like a little child learning to speak to his father and use his words to ask for help. In verbalizing your prayers, they become concrete and focused. Prayer is one of the primary ways in which you exercise your faith, that you may learn to look to the Lord for all that you need and see that every good gift comes from His hand.
In response to Jesus’ question, the blind man answers, “Lord, that I may receive my sight.” Jesus says to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he can see. The blind man’s eyes are opened, and the first sight that he sees is the face of His Savior. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The blind man’s heart is pure, for it trusts in Jesus who alone is Pure. Through this faith he is made well; he sees God.
It’s interesting to note that the word for “made well” is literally the word “saved.” “Your faith has saved you.” This man received more than sight from Jesus; he received eternal life. He saw in Jesus more than One who heals eyes but One who gives unending healing of both body and soul. Jesus performed miracles such as these not just as a short-term fix that would end at the grave, but to show that the everlasting kingdom of God, the new creation was breaking in with His coming. In this holy kingdom, sinners are forgiven. And with that forgiveness comes the permanent restoration of our sin-cursed bodies. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised. Jesus came to reverse the damage of man’s rebellion and to restore Paradise.
Like all of Jesus' miracles, this healing would cost Jesus His life on the cross. There Jesus won the victory for us all by bearing our physical ailments and infirmities, our sin and pain and sorrow, suffering them all to death in His body. And He shares that victory with all who cry out to Him with the faith of a beggar. The One who healed the eyes of the blind man, hung on a cross in the darkness to bring the light of His resurrection to the world.
Know, then, that the Lord hears your prayers, even when they seem to go unanswered. Ultimately they have all been answered in Jesus’ dying and rising. For now we walk by faith in that truth; but on the Last Day our faith will turn to sight, just like the man in the Gospel. For on the Last Day every bodily disorder and disability that afflicts you will be done away with–sin and death itself will be eradicated completely, and the Great Physician will raise you in both body and soul to share in His own glory and life.
When the blind man received his sight, he followed Jesus. He walked with Him on the road to Jerusalem and the cross. As we prepare to enter Lent, let us also follow Jesus and walk with Him to the cross, to the place where His body and blood are given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins, that when the final Easter comes, we may hear Him say to us, “Your faith has saved you; receive your sight,” and behold with our own eyes the face of God.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
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