Something was different. As he shuffled through the papers on his desk, feeling them gingerly with his finger tips, I strained in the darkness to see what he was doing. Why doesn’t he turn the light on, I thought. Then I felt silly. My friend was blind.
Braille, seeing eye dogs, and other developments have aided the lives of the blind in modern times. They can read through their fingers. With eye dogs they can navigate even the largest and busiest of cities. Sometimes surgery can repair damaged eyes, or even replace eyes, allowing some blind people to see.
Life hasn’t always been that way for the blind.
In ancient times blindness not only darkened the eyes of the people who couldn’t see, it darkened the hearts of those who could. Any serious physical ailment was perceived as a curse from God. "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he is born blind," the disciples once asked. (John 9:3) Their question betrays a popular concept at the time that blindness was the result of sin. The Pharisees make this point when they tell the blind man, "You were steeped in sin at birth ..." (v.34).
The greater darkness the blind experienced was not the darkness of their eyes but the darkness in the hearts of the seeing people. They lived in a world of prejudice and bigotry. In Israel they weren’t allowed in the temple. Parents distanced themselves from their own blind children. Most forms of employment were denied them. Most were reduced to standing on a corner with a cup crying, "Have mercy on me. Please help the blind. Please make a contribution."
The blind man in Luke 18 lived everyday with the helplessness and hopelessness of being blind. He was begging on that fateful day when Jesus happened by.
Hearing the commotion he asked, "What’s going on?" Blindness handicapped his eyes but not his curiosity. "Hey, I hear all this noise and excitement but I can’t see it. Will someone tell me what is happening?"
"Jesus of Nazareth is passing by."
"Jesus? Is it really you? Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
We know this blind man by the designation "Blind Man," or "Blind Beggar." We don’t know his name. We wouldn’t have known his name if we lived then and walked by him. We might have glanced at his lifeless eyes, his unkempt appearance, his beggar’s cup, and passed by. We might have dropped a few pennies in his cup. Our children might have stopped and stared in curiosity. "What’s wrong with him, mom," they might ask. "Hurry along kids, come on. Just stay away from him." We wouldn’t want the sin of this stricken man to fall upon our kids.
That was probably the attitude of those who led the entourage Jesus was in. When they heard the blind man cry out for help they told him to hush up. We don’t know their words, but I think we know what they said. "Quiet man, Jesus doesn’t have time for you." Or, "Quiet, you blind old fool. Just sit there in your sin." Or even, "Why would Jesus, a holy man, take time for an old sinner like you?"
But the darkness in the man’s eyes didn’t mean there was darkness in his heart. The death in his eyes didn’t mean their was death in spirit. He cried out all the more, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Meeting the Blind Man
A story line that abruptly shifts gears is a sign that something important is about to happen. A movie signals an important event with intensified music. The music or the change in the story all kick our imaginations into high gear. "Pay attention!"
Jesus has just predicted his death (Luke 18:31-34). The disciples are baffled by this prediction and wonder what Jesus is talking about. They walk along to their next appointment with Jesus, probably debating in their hearts, and maybe among themselves, what all this means. Their minds are preoccupied with deep theological thoughts.
Then they are interrupted by the rude and vociferous crying of a blind man who should be quiet. That is what they tell him: "Be quiet!"
But Jesus stops. "Bring him here," Jesus says. They do.
"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asks.
"Lord, I want to see."
I spent a long time trying to figure out what he might mean by his statement: "I want to see."
- Jesus, there is an olive tree in my front yard that I have bumped into many times. Can you fix my eyes so I can see it?
- Mean kids trip me. Since I am cursed by God they aren’t nice to me. Why should they be if God isn’t? Will you give me sight so I won’t stumble and trip anymore?
- I want to see my mom and dad. They love me. But life is tough in a society that doesn’t like blind people. Jesus, when you heal my eyes you will also heal their hearts.
- Jesus, I want to see a girl. I’ve heard they are pretty, but I’ve never seen one. I want to see the sun shine in her hair. I want to see how a brightly colored dress enhances her beauty. I want to see her smile ... at me. I’ve heard the sneers and snickers. Now I want to see the smiles.
- Jesus, I want to be normal. I want to be able to walk into a crowd and not be ridiculed and stared even. I can’t see, But I can feel the stares and I can hear the snickers. "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Remove that pain.
- I want to see so I can know I am a child of God. Have you rejected me? Do I have less value because I am blind? These thoughts hurt more than blindness.
- Finally, Jesus, I want you to heal my eyes so there can be healing in my heart from the rejection and doubt that assails me everyday.
- Jesus I want to see. I want to see with my eyes and I want to see with my heart.
"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." (Vv.42-43).
The Bigger Story
The Blind Man was now the Seeing Man. He could see the olive tree, his mom and dad, and a pretty girl. He would now be normal and fit in with society. His heart would heal with his eyes.
But something bigger happened besides this man seeing with his eyes. He could now see with his heart. "Your faith has healed you," Jesus said. But what was a desperate, hopeful faith before is now a deep conviction. He began to follow Jesus and praise God.
But the bigger story continues. What Jesus did for the blind man he does for all Israel. When Jesus came, Israel was a defeated, occupied nation. Roman legions conquered the area and now rule it with an iron scepter. Israel is not a free nation, she is in bondage.
Since the time of Isaiah Israel has looked for a redeemer to free her from bondage. Isaiah 61 says,
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn ..." (Vv.1-2).
Jesus has come to free Israel from this bondage. The miracles he performed did confirm he was the Son of God. They confirmed that redemption was here. Jesus came to preach good news - that he would heal broken hearts, proclaim freedom, release the blind from darkness, announce God’s favor upon the faithful, comfort the mourners, and bring the vengeance of God.
In keeping with the theme of Isaiah, Jesus said to Israel, "God is here. Follow me. Leave your chains. Leave your darkness. Leave your stale, religious conceptions. Open your eyes. Follow me."
Did people get the point? Jesus announced he was going to die and rise again. His own disciples didn’t understand. Lost in their thoughts they coldly dismissed the blind man. Jesus says, "Wait, this is who I came for. Blind man, come here. You are blind no longer." The blind man sees and praises God.
This is what Jesus came for all of Israel to do: see and praise. See Jesus as the person of God who has come to rescue us from every chain that binds us, and to praise him for his greatness.
The blind man did. Did Israel. Do we?
The real blind people in the Gospels aren’t the blind people. Notice how many of the physically blind come to believe in Jesus. The real blind are those who think they see, who think they know about life, who think they know the Bible, who think they are right, who think they have God figured out, who think God will act sometime in the future and ignore what he has already done and is currently doing. The real blind are those who do not see Jesus.
"Receive your sight."
That is what Jesus said to all of Israel. Some listened, some didn’t.
This is what Jesus wants to say to all of us. Those aren’t just words to give sight to eyes. Those are words to heal hearts, restore relationships, and offer hope and a place to belong.
Jesus asks all of us, "What do you want me to do for you." I hope we have an answer for him.
May 24, 2009