READ : Luke 18:37-38
They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Luke 18:37-38 RSV
I’m thinking today of a moving and beautiful story from real life. It happened long ago and far away, but is strangely contemporary. It’s about a man very different from most of us, yet one in whom we can recognize something of ourselves. Here’s the account. I’m reading from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 18, verse 35.
As he [that is Jesus] drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging; and hearing a multitude going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped, and commanded him to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me receive my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
AN APPEAL FOR HELP
Reflect with me now about this event. I see here first the simple tale of a man who appealed for help. He was a blind man. This was a very common affliction in the first century Near East. Sometimes it was a result of small pox or ophthalmia. Flies, the glare of the sun and the dust in the air could complicate various infections of the eye and thus destroy vision. Some children were born blind, some had been blinded by accident or by malice. Such people were to be found everywhere in the world of Jesus’ day.
We note also that he was a beggar, and that was probably because of his blindness. How else could such a person survive, if not surrounded by loving family members? Who would employ the blind? It was not then as it is now. Since Helen Keller’s day, blind people have had new opportunities in education, in job training. They have been able to use their skills in a variety of fields. But in ancient times, the blind were totally dependent on the protection, good will and provision of others. This man’s begging was a poignant expression of that.
His appealing for help was not especially remarkable. He heard a commotion going on around Him, asked what it was about, and then cried out for attention and healing. It was what a thousand others might have done in the same circumstances.
But now something distinctive appears. It’s the way in which he addresses Jesus. Twice he called out to Him, “Jesus, Son of David!” No one in the crowd had suggested that name to him. They simply said, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” How did he come to use this exalted title? Why did he call him great David’s greater son? Had he heard of Jesus’ mighty works and the claims about Himself that made the religious leaders so angry? We don’t know about that. But this beggar knew at least that Jesus was of David’s lineage, that He was born to be king, and that He could do for people in need what no one else could do.
I’m impressed also by his unabashed persistence amid discouragements. The people around were rebuking him, telling him to be quiet. No one in the crowd seemed interested in his plight. They didn’t want to be bothered by his loud appeals. But that social pressure didn’t affect this man in the least. In fact, he cried out all the more vehemently over their protests. He refused to be squelched or intimidated. I get the feeling that he had been hoping to encounter Jesus for a long time. He wasn’t going to miss his chance now.
A REMARKABLE RESPONSE
How would Jesus react to this? By now He had traveled extensively. This sort of thing must have happened to Him hundreds of times: blind people, beggars, supplications for help. But this incident tells us about His remarkable responsiveness to such cries. It stands in sharp contrast to the attitude of the crowd around Him. The gospel writers record that when Jesus heard this man’s cry, He stopped.
It’s easy to miss the full significance of that. Since the ninth chapter of his Gospel, Luke has been recording for us the fateful journey Jesus took to Jerusalem. He knew that rejection, suffering, humiliation and death awaited Him there. But still He set His face like a flint to go to the holy city. Nothing could dissuade Him or deflect Him from that course, not the temptations of Satan, not even the remonstrances of His friends. He was moving ahead with such evident determination that His disciples were awed by it. Now just outside the city of Jericho, a blind beggar cries out to Him and Jesus stops. The momentum toward His high destiny is interrupted. There He stands, waiting.
Jesus told the onlookers, some of the very ones who had tried to discourage the beggar, to bring him forward. Jesus didn’t plan to deal with him at a distance, He wanted to meet him. He asked the surrounding community to cooperate with His concern. Maybe this was a kind of rebuke to their heartlessness.
Bartimaeus and Jesus are together. What will happen now? Jesus asks the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” That wasn’t clear from what the blind man had shouted from the fringes of the crowd. Did he want money? After all, he was a beggar. Did he want forgiveness? He had appealed for mercy and was surely a sinner. What did he most want? What was behind this urgent pleading?
When you pray, if you do, are you in touch with your deepest longings? If the Lord were to interrupt your prayers and ask, “What do you want Me to do for you? What’s the one great thing you need?” would you know what to ask, or would you have to think a while, sort out, prioritize? Not this beggar. With him, there was no hesitation, no uncertainty. He had prepared his lines. He had waited for this moment a long time. “Lord,” he said, “let me receive my sight.”
We don’t know exactly what the title “Lord” meant to him. It could serve in those days as a title of respect and honor like “sir.” It could mean “master,” “teacher.” Or it could have an even greater depth. To call a person “Lord” sometimes meant to offer divine honors. It could be worship, a recognition of the presence of God. I have a hunch it meant that to this man because of the request that followed. Who but God could make a totally blind man able to see?
Jesus had known what the man needed and could have healed him at a distance. Yet he wanted this face-to-face exchange. Remarkable, isn’t it! Such interest in one poor blind man, a beggar at that! Such individualizing attention and concern for a man others regarded as a nobody!
For some of us, that attitude of Jesus is enormously encouraging. I say “some of us” because I mean those who believe that Jesus really is the image of God, God wonderfully present in a human life. What all of us long to know is how the Lord of the universe feels about us. We’d like to believe that we matter to Him, that He has time for us, that He hears and cares. And here in Jesus, we find that to be so – more than we could have dreamed. God really is the God the Psalmist sang about. Listen: “Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth?” (Ps. 113:5-6). This God of infinite majesty, high above us, also “raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap” (v. 7). He is lofty, yet He cares for the lowly. He is the God of majesty and of mercy.
WHOLENESS THROUGH FAITH
This is also a story about a person being made whole through faith. When Bartimaeus said, “Lord, let me receive my sight,” Jesus responded, “Receive your sight.” Request granted: his exact words. “This is what you want, here it is. As you have desired and asked, so be it. Take the gift.” No conditions here, no strings attached. Pure grant. Then these words, “Your faith has made you well.” That was the way Jesus put it again and again, wasn’t it? “According to your faith, be it unto you.” “As you have believed, so be it.” Where there was no faith, nothing happened. No mighty works. Unbelief seemed to block a channel for the flow of God’s power. But where there was faith, even a tiny grain of it, wonderful things followed.
How did the man’s faith become evident? Was it in the titles, “Son of David” and “Lord”? Was it in the persistence of his heart cry? Was it his clear, specific sense of what he wanted? Or was it in his simple confidence that Jesus could do anything? This is not a multiple choice exercise. We don’t have to pick only one. The answer is “all of the above.” The man’s view of Jesus, his importunity, his definiteness, his trust – faith like that made an enormous difference. That confidence, said Jesus, actually made him well.
And notice the happy results of this healing. Bartimaeus followed Jesus. That tells us something more about his faith, doesn’t it? It was more than confidence in Jesus’ healing power. It was for him a trust that involved commitment. It led to grateful surrender and joyful praise. Others beholding this were stirred to bless God also. What a happy ending!
SEIZING THE MOMENT
But there’s one more thing I want to lift up for your thought and attention today. This story, it seems to me, is a classic instance of what we might call “seizing the moment,” making the most of an opportunity.
Try to put yourself for the moment in the place of blind Bartimaeus. He’s sitting in his accustomed place outside the city. He senses excitement in the air and asks those around him what’s going on. All that he heard then, in his utter need and hopelessness, was the simple report, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” That’s what makes him like us, like you, like me.
There was a time perhaps when we wondered, “Why this interest in Christianity? What is the Church really all about?” We ask too, “What’s going on here? What’s happening?” I don’t know a better way to put it to you today than just this way: “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” It’s the same Jesus Bartimaeus met, but also the One who since then died for our sins, rose again on the third day, and is exalted to the throne of the universe. He’s alive, and He still has a way of turning up among us, of passing by where we are.
That happens in the Bible that’s available to you, at least to most of you. If you pick it up to read with a seeking heart, Jesus will be there. It happens also in people who know Him, trust Him, love Him. Maybe you have met some of those. There’s about them something that reminds you of Jesus Christ. In your associations with them, He comes near. But I’ll make it even more specific. In the word of the gospel that is preached and taught in your hearing now, He is passing by. He is coming your way. And that makes of moments like this “open doors of opportunity.”
Think of it, Jesus is near enough now to hear your appeal. You can get His attention, you can bring Him your need. That can lead to the greatest things that have ever happened in your life.
I was reading just this week a number of famous sayings about opportunity. One especially struck me. “Opportunity,” they say, “has a forelock [that is, hair in front], but is bald in back.” When it’s coming toward you, that is, you can grasp its mane and hold on. But after it has passed by, you reach for it in vain. That’s why it’s so important to know that Jesus is about to pass by, so that you won’t miss your chance. Think of Bartimaeus. If he hadn’t cried out when he heard the news, would any of these marvelous events have taken place? It’s hard to see how they could have.
Whatever is true about that, let me invite you today to call upon Jesus Christ in your need. “Seek the Lord while He may be found,” says the prophet. “Call upon Him while He is near.” Just see if He won’t stop everything just to minister to you. See if it doesn’t happen that your faith in Him will make you a whole person, and have you following and praising Him the rest of your days. What a happy ending that will be!
Prayer: Father, let everyone sharing this program recognize that Christ is passing by and seize the great opportunity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.