This post is an edited manuscript for my sermon on Luke 18:35-43.
Jesus comes near Jericho. If you’ve been keeping track to our sermon series this is actually an event which happens before the story with the wee little man up in a tree 1. I think the lectionary switched the order around because of a theme shared with the passage we read last week, I’ll point that out in a bit. Right now the important thing for us is that as Jesus came near Jerusalem a blind beggar discovered Jesus was nearby. There was a crowd following Jesus around, probably making a great deal of noise, and this blind man who was begging by the road detected a large increase of traffic along the route. When he asked the crowd what was happening he was told, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” This is when a broken man pleaded for mercy.
He wasn’t broken because he was blind, though in First Century people may have thought that, but broken because was alone. He had been reduced to begging for the food which sustained him. When a known healer passed through his town, no one came to take him to Jesus. He was just the guy you passed by on your way to something else.
When this broken man heard Jesus was coming near he screamed for him, “Jesus, Son of David. Have mercy!” (the “have mercy” is the theme we also saw last week, in case you were wondering). He screamed and screamed and screamed. Maybe he grew louder as the crowd increased, hoping that as he passed Jesus would have mercy on him.
When the “no-ones” stand up and get noticed, however, the someones often try to set things back to “normal.” As the man cried out for mercy the crowd told him to be silent. To me that’s kind of a Keanu Reeves “whoa” moment. Jesus had a reputation for being a healer, but when someone who was in obvious need of healing cried out, the crowd wanted him to go away. To those folks, being a great healer and teacher made a person too important to deal with what we now call “the salt of the earth.”
The beggar, however, didn’t agree. He had heard Jesus’ reputation and thought, “Here is someone who dares to change things for the weakest of the earth, like me.” The crowd told him to be silent and in response he cried louder, “Son of David, have mercy!” This is when Jesus broken in to his story. I can almost picture the people who told the man to be quiet glancing back to rebuke him, only to turn back and find themselves face to face with Jesus himself. What did Jesus do at that moment? Did he ask why a beggar was disturbing his grand entrance? Did he tell the crowd to redouble their efforts to keep the riff-raff away? Nope. Jesus stopped near the man and said, “Bring him to me.”
When the man came forward Jesus had one question for him, “What do you want me to do for you?” All the man could say was, “I want to see, Lord.” So Jesus declared, “Receive your sight, your faith has saved you.” The man did receive his sight, and followed Jesus praising God for all he had done. It’s a beautiful scene.
Now, there’s a host of angles from which to preach this text. Today, I want to talk about the crowd which was following Jesus because it plays several roles in this story.
At first they are the moderately helpful information booth. The blind beggar asked a question and he received a response (notice, though, that the crowd doesn’t ever consider bringing him to Jesus).
The crowd then becomes the villains of the piece. Not only do they not think to bring a man in obvious need to Jesus, when he tries to draw the master’s attention they rebuke him and tell him to keep quiet. He was stepping outside his socially designated role, after all.
After the man receives his sight, however, the crowd joined in the celebration. Now, there enough cynicism in me that when I read this verse I think, “Didn’t they just try to shut that guy up before Jesus heard him?” It’s not quite a fair mental question, though. The people who told the man to be quiet were not necessarily representative of the larger crowd, nor were they likely the same people who were praising God after the man received his sight. The former beggar followed after Jesus along the road, after all, he could have left those rebukers far behind.
Still, the roles the crowd plays make me think. I look at my life and I realize I’ve shown every aspect of the crowd’s behavior in my own spiritual journey. Sometimes I’m the somewhat helpful information booth – I give advice but forget to be a presence. Sometimes I’m just the villain, wishing people would stop having needs so I can be left alone look for Jesus 2. Other times I join in the praise of what God’s doing right in front of me – acts of mercy which are sometimes done in spite of my presence rather than because of it.
I think we’re all like this, actually – and so are our churches. If this is the case then one of our spiritual calls is very clear. If Jesus is at work all around us, and I do believe he is, then we must be a people who deliberately keep our eyes looking for his work. Why? So that when something wonderful does happen in our midst we won’t be the moderately helpful, or the villain, we’ll be the celebrants of God’s amazing deeds. Actually what we might find is, when we live in a posture of expectation, we won’t just see Jesus at work around us – we might actually be Jesus to others, doing wonderful things in his name. For the body of Christ, that’s when things get really fun. Amen.