“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 18:35-43)
This passage of Luke is all about questions. It might not seem like it on first glance, but there are two very important questions in this story, each of which we will approach in turn. But, before we can get to the heart of these questions, we have to understand what a question is in the first place.
The Gospel is full of parables, which seem to be Jesus’ preferred teaching method, but another way that Jesus addresses the people is through questions. Have you ever thought about the questions that Jesus asks? Sometimes when we pray with Scripture, we pick up the book already bogged down with questions, seeking answers; and, rightly so, because Jesus says He is the Truth itself. But what does it mean that the Truth with a capital “T” seeks, questions, interrogates?
A question is a very peculiar thing; in the asker it admits or creates a space, emptiness, a need. It says, you have something that I do not have and cannot provide for myself. A question necessarily creates a connection with another because of its inherent external reliance. At the same time, it creates vulnerability. In order for the asker to receive the answer, he must be capable of exactly that: receiving. He must remain open for the other to enter. And, the other is perfectly free to choose to not do so, causing a door meant to be closed to remain open and a need to remain unfulfilled. Thus it is also the greatest form of dialogue because it requires reciprocity. I ask, you respond and vice versa. It is the greatest form of relationship because it leaves the other his complete freedom and because he responds out of complete freedom, he too must be vulnerable. Not only does it create space then in the asker, but also in he who responds because he gives a part of himself away, he reveals a part of himself.
We all have questions in life. “What is God’s Will?” is probably the most asserting question. The same question could take various forms for each of us: what am I supposed to do about my job? is she the one I should marry?; should I buy it? Or it could take a deeper form like: what is the meaning of my life? Or, why did I have to suffer? Maybe sometimes we turn to prayer looking for clarity, as if we come before God out of our own free will looking for responses. But, when we pray it is really the Lord who draws us to Himself because He has something to say. He has something to tell each of us today, right now, in this passage from the Gospel of Luke.
“35 As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.
Who is this blind beggar? He has no name. In the Gospel of Mark, we hear of a similar episode but the man’s name is Bartimaeus. The story is completely different in the Gospel of Matthew and in John’s there’s the man born blind but we know that in Luke’s version the man has been able to see at one point in time. So, why does Luke not name the man? The blind man represents each one of us.
Each of us can be blinded in life – by our sin, by not trusting in God… And we find ourselves sitting, stuck, on the side of the road because we cannot see the right direction to take. We do not know where to go or what is happening to us. Maybe we are weighed down by daily life. Day after day, life passes us by without our realizing it. A person, an event goes by and because we are no longer capable of realizing the infinite value of each moment, that face, that happening becomes like all the rest. It does not matter if it is a friend, a relative, a king, or Christ that approaches when we can no longer see the purpose, goal, meaning of our life. That is what the blind man is begging for: meaning.
When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening.
What is happening? This is the first question of our Gospel passage. It hardly goes noticed and yet do we not think that the question about the meaning of life is the most important? Who am I? What am I doing here? What is God’s Will for my life? They are all synonymous but here they are nearly in-existent. We all think that our burning questions are terribly important. I must find an answer! But, the important thing is to live those questions.
Earlier we mentioned that a question can be considered an external sign of a deeper need. Here the Gospel is telling us that the important part is not the answer to that question, but the important part is to have the need. Why? It creates relationship.
Prayer is not about finding an answer. It is about a relationship with Christ. That means that prayer must be continual. The same is true for God’s overarching plan for one’s life, also known as a vocation. Even if Christ reveals one’s “vocation,” which is a terrible way of looking at it – and we will see a better way as we go along – it is constantly developing. One does not magically become a “sister” the moment she take vows, even if she has had five years of formation. Someone does not become a father or a mother the moment their child is conceived; like the child in the womb that needs to develop into the person that he or she will become, so too the mother or the father. That mother or father becomes such living day-to-day with their child, learning all along. We need to return to Christ again and again to hear Him tell us what His will is for us today, and the next, and the next. And the questions that arise in our hearts remind us of that need to constantly return to Him.
They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
The courage of the blind man to fully live his questions results in his understanding that he has a need, and a need of Jesus. He has not yet found an answer to the question of meaning that he was looking for, but he is invited to go deeper in his heart to discover what he desires.
Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
The blind man recognizes that this is his chance. There is a man that is about to pass by that could possible change his life forever. What is he going to do? He shouts.
The blind man’s faith is really surprising. Jesus tells him, “Your faith has saved you.” But, what faith? He did not even know Jesus. He did not know that he was the Son of God, that He would be killed for his sins and that He would have raised from the dead. He only knew that this man might be able to make him see again. He wanted something material and that is it. And yet, that was enough faith for Jesus!
The blind man literally starts yelling. He has no idea what he wants. He knows that he has a need. He has heard about this man and the wonders that he performs. So, he starts yelling. He screams for mercy, which is almost the equivalent of saying: I have a need! Basically, he wants to take advantage of the situation in any way he can.
We are like the blind man: opportunists. We take advantage of Jesus. But it is enough for him! Jesus is the God of abundance. He is gratuity. Our little faith, our cry for mercy is enough to save our lives. This man knows that he desires – something – and that desire makes Jesus stop in His tracks. His desire stops Jesus in His tracks! Our desire, even misled as it is, stops Jesus in His tracks and makes Him call for us, makes Him come to us. And even more than that, Jesus not only gives the man physical sight, but also spiritual sight, salvation. He gives him above and beyond that for which he asked.
As said before, the wrong way of thinking about a vocation is like an answer to a question, a vending machine vocation: put in money and out pops a vocation. One asks: what is my vocation? And God says: priest. Instead, a vocation is a passionate love story. Jesus says, what are the desires of your heart? What do you want more than anything? I want to give it to you and everything else along with it. A vocation is the fulfillment of our deepest identity. It is already inherent in each person. It is not external, but one’s most intimate self. Jesus invites us to go there. Come with me, He says, show me your deepest self and the desire for happiness that lies there so that I can fulfill it; I want your happiness even more than you do.
“Jesus does not ask first of all for renunciations or sacrifices, he does not ask you to immolate yourself on the altar of duty or of effort, he asks above all for you to enter again into your heart, to understand it, to know what you desires the most, what makes you happy, what goes on in your most intimate depths.” (Ronchi)
Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him and when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”
That brings us to the second and most important question of our Gospel passage, Jesus’ question. This question is so important and so relevant that it needs to be lived. Try placing yourself in the blind man’s shoes and entering into the scene in your imagination.
You are sitting on the side of the road and you hear the chaos of the crowd getting closer. You hear the footsteps of many people and many voices blending together. You can feel the excitement of the moment. Something important is about to happen. Out of desperation you ask: what is going on, what is happening? No one listens to you. Who is it, you ask. Someone to make you be quiet says that it is Jesus. Jesus? Who is Jesus? You had heard talk of him. Is he the healer? It is your chance! From the depths of the earth you cry out towards the heavens. Everyone tries to make you be quiet but you yell even louder; now or never. Before you realize it you are suddenly up and walking. All of a sudden there is a change, there is a presence. There is complete silence. You recognize that you are not worthy to be in this presence. You do not know if you want to stay or run away but the crowd is at your back pushing you forward and onward and there is no turning back. And then, a voice: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Listen to that voice. The Lord, in this very moment, is close to you. It is not a trick question. Really, what do you want? He wants to give it to you. Like the blind man, ask for the most mundane thing, your most immature desire, the most useless longing. He truly wants to know what it is because He is a gracious God. Everything He gives, He gives freely and completely. He wants to give you everything. You want to see? I will give you sight and salvation, He says. Are you hungry? I will give you bread but also my body. What do you want me to do for you?
He said, “Lord, let me see again.”
Lord, let us see again. I want to see.
Let us open our eyes with the blind man, and like him, the first thing that we will see is the loving face of Jesus, the Jesus who wants to give us everything, who already has; who has given His body and blood, who has a plan for each one of us that He cannot wait to reveal to us, like a lover asks questions of the beloved to get to know her more and more.
and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.