Then it happened, as He was coming near Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the road begging. And hearing a multitude passing by, he asked what it meant. So they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. And he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:35-38)
Great need calls out great faith. Here is a man, well before universal healthcare, sitting by the road, a beggar, unable to support himself or a family financially by reason of his disability. He is condemned to spend the rest of his life in utter poverty, dependent upon the charity of others, yet he has not given up hope especially when he learns that Jesus is to come his way. He cries out to the Lord in faith, not desperation: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” It is a short but heartfelt and sincere call upon the Lord’s mercy, repeated many times even when he is told to be quiet by the crowd. He will not be silenced. Our Lord deals with this situation right away and asks only one question, not that He needs to you understand, but because the blind man must speak plainly; therefore He asks: “What do you want me to do for you?” Now, we might think that this question has an obvious answer, yet Jesus asks it nonetheless. Why?
When we pray we must always take care to know what it is that we ask of God. To have faith is to be clear about what we need or want. In another place, when teaching about prayer, our Lord commanded us to ask, to seek and to knock (Matthew 7:7). Non-specific generalised waffle in prayer doesn’t cut it. Of course, God may say no or he may choose to answer in some surprising way, but nothing is to be gained by not being clear. We have a heavenly Father to relate to not a “guess your weight” machine where we just have a stab at it in hope that it’ll work out okay. I go so far even as to say that we must be bold in our prayer, as indeed the blind man was. He didn’t “uhmmm” and “errrh”; he did not equivocate. He said it straight. “I want to see.” Immediately our Lord responded and gave him what he sought, applauding his faith.
You see, we always want to make things more complicated. Imagine someone with an academic approach to theology. In the same situation he would probably want to write a learned paper on the philosophical and theological problems of supposing that intercessory prayer was effective, based on either the problematic issues of divine intervention from a rationalist perspective, or the troublesome aspects, to some, of divine selection and discrimination. In a word, why are some people healed and some not? It’s not that we shouldn’t question our faith on this basis but Christian believing is not naive or blind, neither is it based on what we think is possible, as Christ doubtless had to remind his disciples so often: “with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
Westminster Abbey (at least as it is now), is not a church of which I am particularly fond, but there may be found there an inscription that I saw as a young man, and which I shall always remember: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.” I believe that the Lord wants us to be daring in our faith. Why should we have small mean goals for our Christian lives if we are called to have such a faith as would move mountains? We’re not showing humility by refusing to ask God for the really big things. We don’t earn the right to be heard by cultivating a small voice and not expecting too much.
Look at the Scriptures; ordinary men and women became extraordinary by reason of their faith. Moses could barely bring himself to say anything to Pharaoh after the Lord spoke to him from the burning bush, but would rather have had someone else do the job. However, the day he stood before Pharaoh fearless, by taking his courage from the Lord, he became a man and the Lord used him mightily to set a whole people free. Jeremiah was a young man who tried to clamp his mouth shut when the Lord called him to speak in His name, but he found that he could not hold the word of God in within him. It burst out even though it was to cause grave inconvenience and even danger to his own life. The Lord preserved him to do this work. The woman who wiped her tears of repentance from our Lord’s feet with her hair did not hold back. Her great faith turned to great love, for she had known the power of love before coming to know Christ, but it had been distorted by sin. St Peter, apparently bold in his faith, but actually trusting in his own strength, came to grief after his betrayal of Christ, but ,when Jesus restored him after the resurrection, a miraculous transformation took hold and turned him into that real rock of faith that he was called to become.
Over and over again in the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church we are given examples of ordinary people called to be bold in faith, to trust God’s promises, to act as He calls. It may start when we call upon the Lord for divine mercy and healing, but it continues when we respond to his call to take up our cross and follow him. In the healing of the blind man the clue to this is in his response:- “immediately he received his sight, and followed Him, glorifying God.” (Luke 18:43).
I think we need to translate this teaching into a practical course of action for our Christian lives. First we should pray and call upon the Lord in the right frame of mind. If we doubt His power, be assured, mountains will not move. This of course is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Mountains do not move these days because so few have such faith. Did not Jesus Himself say that He could not do mighty works on His home ground on account of the faith destroying cynicism of those who thought they knew Him but did not? (Mark 6:1-6). Next, we should thank God for answering our prayers even before we know the answer. We do this because at this point, we trust Him with the answer even before we receive it so as to remind ourselves that the answer is right even if it is not welcome. Thirdly, we should ask others to pray with us, for did not Jesus say, that wherever two or three are gathered in His Name there He would be in the midst? (Matthew 18:20). Finally, when after due discernment we have received the answer from God, we must always do what He says, promptly. This emphasis on action, on “doing the word,” (James 1:22) is also an expression of faith. There is a Jewish tradition that the waters of the Red Sea only parted after Moses had dipped his feet into the shallows. Passive Christians, who only entertain the possibility that God will act, are not living out the fullness of faith, though of course God can use even these small beginnings, the mustard seed principle. We need to act on the conviction that God will act once we have determined what His will is. I repeat, we should be bold, practically bold that is, not theoretically bold.
In this way also, and in this spirit, the Church of Christ grows and flourishes bringing new life to mankind. Everything we have explored today is not only a practical course of action for our own lives but a practical vision for the growth of the Church, both spiritually and in numbers, in this place and in every place. The kingdom is God’s, the choice is ours. As Jesus said to the blind man: “what do you want?”