Monday, June 8, 2009

Son of David, have mercy on me!

Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.’ But they understood nothing about all these things; in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and ordered the man 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 see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

- Luke 18:31-43

The first part of today's reading (which follows directly the passage on Saturday) is the third prediction Jesus has revealed to his disciples about his crucifixion. It's significant, to my mind, to note that they still can't take it in. They don't comprehend what he's saying - their minds simply can't understand. This is not as strange as it sounds. My physician (who, besides being a practicing general physician is also a highly-respected oncologist) once told me himself that this is his constant experience giving bad news to patients who are suddenly hit with the news of unexpected illness. Our minds don't necessarily accept something we have not foreseen in our plans, especially tragically unexpected news. It is incomprehensible. Perhaps our physician Luke understands this quite well also.

The next part of the reading is the story of the blind man who repeatedly calls to himself Jesus' attention, despite being told by the crowd to pipe down. Our blind man is well-endowed with the ability to speak, as we shall see. This is Jericho Jesus approaches, and we remember the shout that brought down its walls. In commentary I read that it is significant that this is the last miracle before Jesus enters Jerusalem. Jesus allows this man to address him as "Son of David" - a Messianic title. Preparing for his imminent entry into Jerusalem and his confrontation with the religious rulers, Jesus' identity is revealed in this form of address. This blind man apparently realizes who Jesus is... and Jesus allows the revelation - rather than telling the man not to speak about it (as he has done when others understand his identity), he chooses to allow the man to address him in front of all the crowd. So, we have a poetic juxtaposition in the passage for today: the apostles cannot see the predicted destiny for Jesus, but the blind man understands who Jesus is.

Jesus calls the man forward, and asks him specifically what he requests. Again, a note in commentary I read says that faith must be specific. I don't quite know what that means, exactly, but what I understand or interpret this action to teach us is that we always must remember to pray - that faith requires of us (especially when we have no Lord in the flesh) to remember that we are in relationship. We maintain that relationship through communication, through prayer. We lay our lives out to that reality that is within us that is so much greater than we are, and that has knowledge of our needs. But perhaps we also need to "see" that reality for what it is; faith - as illustrated through so many stories in the gospels - is in that recognition. We pray for mercy, for love (or "lovingkindness") and we remember eleos, the healing balm. This is our relationship to the Lord, and we must remember that. The blind man's specific prayer is answered: the one who "sees" Jesus for what he is has his sight restored as per his specific request.

When we pray, "Lord have mercy," we should remember that we are asking for relationship, a relationship of loving kindness - which also includes teaching us what is best for us. In the telling of the same story in Mark 10, the blind man, when making his request, addresses Jesus as "Rabboni" (teacher). Personally, I use the Jesus prayer as my prayer practice; I find it allows me to pray for mercy both for myself, and whatever other way the world seems to need that mercy. Our simple phrase, "Lord have mercy" we must remember is a prayer for healing whatever ails us, whatever need we have. Let us remember, when we pray, that this is a reciprocal relationship of love, and remember mercy as healing. The irony to me is striking that, as Jesus prepares for confrontation and crucifixion, he establishes a relationship with this man by granting his dearest, specific wish. It's a lesson I take to understand that what we go through in life may not give us what we expect or desire, but within that relationship our experiences may serve a higher, better purpose, in which mercy is shared for the greatest good. We should remember to let our shout for mercy be heard, and not to fear approach in prayer; our prayers may be more powerfully effective than we understand.

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