Sunday, March 22, 2015

March 22, 2015

Rev. John Watts

Nampa First UMC

 

BLIND BEGGARS

Luke 18:35-43

The fifth in a series of eight.

 

We’re going to get to the beggar who was blind, but we’re going to get there by going the long way.  There’s some territory we need to cover first.  Kind of like driving to Boise but stopping in Caldwell on the way.  Not exactly on the way, but if you’re going to go that way you probably have a good reason.

We’re going to get to the blind beggar by way of the Good Samaritan.  And I do have a good reason.  You’ll just have to be patient to see if you agree that it’s a good reason.

Actually we are going to start a few verses before the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  A lawyer asked Jesus a question.  This is a religious lawyer, an expert in Jewish law.  It’s been said that lawyers don’t ask a question unless they already know the answer.  This was that kind of a question.  It’s a leading question.  It sounds innocent.  It isn’t.  “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

But Jesus is pretty good at fending off trick questions.  He throws it right back at the lawyer.  “What is written in the law?  What do you read there?”  And the lawyer is only too eager to show off his Biblical expertise.  He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus told him he got the right answer.  Good job, lawyer!  And then Jesus told him one more thing:  “Do this, and you will live.”

That should have been the end of it.  This legal expert asks the question, he knows the answer, he gives the answer, Jesus tells him it’s the right answer, and then Jesus tells him what to do.  What more do you want?  The lawyer wanted more.  More talk.  More Q and A.  More talking about doing something.  Because he wasn’t ready to do what Jesus had so clearly told him to do.

So Jesus makes it even more clear.  There’s this traveler going down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  He is robbed and beaten half dead.  He is lying there on the side of the road.  His pastor approaches.  Wow, he’s in luck!  God has answered his prayer!  His pastor walks by like he isn’t even there.  Then his worship leader (that’s what Levites were) comes along and does the exact same thing.  What’s going on here?  The people he would expect to stop and help don’t.  And then along comes a Samaritan.  A hated, despised Samaritan.  He’d almost rather die than have a Samaritan be the one to help him.  But the Samaritan is the one who helps him.  He is the only one who is willing to stop and take the time to save his life.

Again Jesus has a question for the lawyer.  “Which one was neighbor to the one in need?”  And again this lawyer who has all the answers has the right answer.  “The one who showed mercy.”  Good job, lawyer!  But Jesus has one more thing to say:  “Go and do likewise.”  Almost exactly what he had said before.  “Do this, and you will live.”  “Go and do likewise.”  In other words, you know what to do.  Now all you need to do is do it.

The verse isn’t there, but here’s the verse I expect to read next:  “When he heard this he walked away sorrowful . . . ”  This legal expert walked away from his interrogation of Jesus.  He was sorrowful.  I’m pretty sure.  Because he’d rather be talking about doing the right thing than doing the right thing.

Micah in the Old Testament asked much the same question:  “What does the Lord require of you?”  And he had given much the same answer:  “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (6:8).

John Wesley said the same thing like this:  “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Jesus in Matthew said it like this:  “As you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” (25:40).

You know all this, right?  This is review.  You’ve heard all this before.  But are you like that lawyer who knew all the right information, who had all the right answers, but who didn’t do much with it?

Nobodies measure our faith.  The people we pass by, who we think aren’t worthy of our time and attention, test whether our faith is just talk or whether our faith is real.

When I came to this church not quite five years ago, I learned that one of my three worship services would be with developmentally disabled adults.  I remember my reaction.  I didn’t say it out loud.  I didn’t want to admit it to anyone.  But I was very uncomfortable hearing about this service.  A service like this just wouldn’t be my thing.  Surely there would be other people who could take this on.  Thank God there are people who have that kind of patience and empathy.  God bless them.  And God bless those who live such sad and unfortunate lives.  Just don’t ask me to be around them.

Well, it took about one Sunday evening for me to change my tune.  That’s about how long it took for me to fall in love with Amber and Ila and Magnus and John and Laura and all the rest.  They were just people.  People who need people who care about them as we all do.  Helen will tell you the same thing.  We look forward to Simply Worship each week.  We can’t imagine our lives without these new friends of ours.  They give us far more than we could ever give to them.

So a lawyer asked Jesus a question.  “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And after some discussion and a story, we end up with an answer to the question.  The answer basically is that knowing the answer to the question is not the answer to the question.  The answer isn’t what we know.  The answer is what we do with what we know.  The answer is showing mercy to those we might be inclined to ignore.

Skip ahead eight chapters.  This time it isn’t a lawyer.  It’s a ruler.  He’s often called the rich, young ruler.  He has a question for Jesus.  Can you guess what the question might be?  “Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (18:18)  Except for the word “good” in front of the word “teacher”, it’s word for word the same question that was asked eight chapters earlier.  I had never noticed that before.  It’s an echo of that earlier passage.

There are differences, but there are some striking similarities.  The rich, young ruler doesn’t like the answer Jesus gives either.

“When he heard this he walked away sorrowful . . . ”  That’s the verse I expected to read before.  I expected it because I had remembered it from here.  That’s one similarity.  Another comes when we read this:  “As he drew near to Jericho . . . ” (18:35).  Remember Jericho?  “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho . . . ” (8:30).  That’s the lead-in to the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  And one more similarity.  There is someone on the side of the Jericho road who desperately needs some help.  This time it is a blind beggar.

So finally we reach the blind beggar!  We’ve taken quite a detour to get there, but I hope you can see why we took the route we took.  We went to Boise by way of Caldwell, but not because we got lost.  I think when Luke wrote this, when God inspired him to write it the way he did, he wanted us to see in the story of the blind beggar an echo of the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

Except this time it isn’t just a parable.  It’s real life.  “As [Jesus] drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging” (18:35).  Jesus is about to play the role of the priest and the Levite.  He is about to walk on by and do nothing.  Not because he was ignoring this blind beggar, but because he didn’t see him.  He didn’t hear him.  He was travelling with an entourage after all.  Jesus, champion of the nobodies, is recognized as a somebody by now.  He’s not a one man show anymore.  He has his people walking along beside him.

So this blind beggar “hearing a multitude going by, inquired what this meant.”  He didn’t see this multitude go by.  He couldn’t see.  But with that many people and that much excitement they were making some noise.  He wasn’t deaf.  He knew something unusual was happening.  So he asked about it.  “They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.'”

Now remember, Jesus is no longer a nobody.  He is a somebody.  Anybody would recognize his name.  Even this blind beggar.  He heard the name, but he heard more than a name.  He heard hope.  Hope even for his hopeless situation.   He couldn’t see.  Therefore he couldn’t work.  Therefore he couldn’t eat, unless people had mercy on him and dropped a few coins into his basket.

So his words to Jesus are interesting.  “Have mercy on me!”  I’m sure he yelled it out.  But Jesus couldn’t hear him.  And Jesus had these handlers who were helping him keep to his schedule.  They knew Jesus didn’t have time for this interruption anyway.  It was just as well that this nobody on the side of the road had been unsuccessful in getting Jesus’ attention.  We are told that they rebuked him.  They told him to be quiet.  Mind your own business.  Jesus after all is far too important to take time for you.

I love it that this nobody didn’t believe that.  He not only knew the name of Jesus.  He knew the heart of Jesus.  The word was out.  Jesus is not too important for anybody, and certainly not too important for a nobody.  Nobodies were his favorite people.  So he ignored the handlers and he cried out all the louder:  “Son of David, have mercy on me!!”

This time Jesus heard, and stopped, and spoke.  “What do you want me to do for you?”  The man said, “I want my sight.”  Jesus said, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well.”

Your faith?  What faith?  The faith that made him know that Jesus could help him.  The faith that made him yell out, not once but twice, and the second time even after he was ordered to be quiet.  The faith that made it possible for him to see, even before he could see, who Jesus is and what Jesus can do.

Jesus had mercy.  Not the mercy of tossing a few coins into a basket.  The mercy of sight.  The mercy of a whole new life.  He could see.

But that’s not the best part of the story.  The best part of the story is that he was not the only one who could see.  Everyone else could now see, too.  Here’s the way the story ends:  “And all the people when they saw it, gave praise to God.”  All the people saw Jesus doing the merciful thing and then they could see, too.

That lawyer never could quite see.  Neither could the rich, young ruler.  But now that Jesus had demonstrated what he was talking about with a deed of mercy, the eyes of those who saw it were opened as they had never been opened before.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Now they knew.  Not head knowledge.  Heart knowledge.  Now they were ready to do what Jesus had said to do earlier:  “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).

It’s often helpful in these Bible stories to choose a person to identify with.  This can help draw out the meaning.  The way I’ve been presenting this so far, we’ve been identifying with Jesus.  Jesus first told us and then showed us what to do.  Now it’s up to us to go and do likewise.  Go and be merciful.  Whatever roads we travel, to be aware of the people lying on the sides of them.  That’s a good message to take home.  But that’s not the only message here.

What if we identify with the blind beggar?  What if we imagine that we are the one lying on the side of the road, helpless, hopeless? And then Jesus passes by.

Jesus very likely wasn’t going to pass by again.  This was his moment.  If he had retreated into helplessness and hopelessness and done nothing, Jesus would have passed on by and he would have still been a blind beggar.  His moment would have come and gone.  It would have been lost forever.  What a sad story that would have been.

Jesus is passing by right now.  Right in this moment as we worship.  This could be your moment.  Jesus is near.  Don’t let this moment slip away.

There were those who were actively trying to discourage that blind beggar from reaching out to Jesus.  “He’s too busy for you.  You’re too small and insignificant for him.   He can’t help you.  What makes you think he can or would?   Be quiet.  Suffer silently.  Don’t make a scene.”  That’s what he was told.  Those may be some of the same messages you are getting.  Those may be some of your excuses.  It’s easier to make excuses about why you’re not going to do something that it is to do the thing you know you need to do.

The blind beggar would not be silenced.  He would not go away.  He would not let his moment slip away.  He said, “Jesus, have mercy on me!”   Not in a whisper, but in a loud voice.  Not once, but twice.  He had faith.  His boldness in seizing that moment proved that.  Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well.”   And then this healed man, a blind beggar no longer, got up and followed Jesus.

I want us to pause right now before I close with a prayer.  Jesus is passing by.  We don’t want to let this moment slip away.  I want to invite you to pray a silent prayer in your heart.  Maybe that same simple prayer, “Jesus, have mercy on me.”  Maybe your own prayer that says what’s on your heart right now.   That asks for the healing you most need in your life.  Jesus will hear that prayer.  Jesus will answer that prayer.  Jesus will say to you as he said to the blind beggar, “Your faith has made you well.”

 

(A time of silent prayer.)

 

Lord Jesus, you are a good teacher.  For you not only tell us with words but you show us with deeds how we are to live.  We are to reach out.  Reach out to those we pass by who need our mercy.  Reach out to you, for each one of us is in need of your mercy.  Help us to learn from you this lesson for life.  To follow you means action.  Not just thinking about it or talking about it but doing it.  And to follow you means faith.  A faith that isn’t afraid to ask you for help.  That’s how we are to live.  That’s how we are to inherit eternal life.  Not just in the hereafter, but in the here and now as well.  Amen.