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.
This passage of scripture from the Gospel of Luke is one of many healing stories recorded in the gospels in which Jesus enacts a miracle and radically reorients the life of one who has been on the margins of society. In the ancient world, living with a physical or intellectual disability or a stigmatizing illness (like leprosy) would have been incredibly lonely. Disabilities and illnesses were often believed to be a result of one’s sinfulness, and therefore those who were sick or had special needs were isolated, marginalized, and forgotten by society. Time and time again, Jesus reaches out to see, touch, heal those whom society deemed unworthy.
Certainly, Jesus’s ability to restore the sight of a blind man is miraculous, and yet this is not just a story about healing. Notice the way this interaction unfolds: a man who has lost his ability to see is sitting by the road to Jericho and begging when he senses the commotion of a crowd passing. When he hears that Jesus of Nazareth is proximate, he shouts with fervor: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Even when the crowd tries to shush him, he continues to shout, “have mercy on me!” This man who is unable to see the world around him cries out to be seen by God. Hearing this man’s cries for mercy, Jesus stops and sees the man. Jesus acknowledges him and cares for him. In stopping, seeing, acknowledging and caring, Jesus- God incarnate- embodies the mercy of God.
Throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus embodies God’s mercy. In this same chapter, Jesus tells a parable in which he exalts a tax collector who is humbling himself in the temple by beating his chest and saying “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18: 13-14). Just a chapter later, Jesus calls up a tree to Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector who is burdened by his position and wealth. Jesus stops, sees, acknowledges and cares for Zacchaeus, and thus embodies the mercy of God.
Even as he moves toward the cross, Jesus shows mercy to those along the road, and this mercy is rooted in being seen and acknowledged.
In the harshness of the ancient world, mercy was a gift that Jesus gave time and time again to those who were forgotten, marginalized, or in need of care. In this passage, we see that mercy begins with simply seeing one who is in need, with hearing the cries for mercy.
We know that the world is no less harsh today, for we have experienced pain, loss, isolation, and loneliness. We hear cries for mercy echoing in our own families and communities, and many of us are crying out for mercy.
We are all in need of God’s mercy. Each one of us needs to know that we are loved, claimed and seen by God.
Notice how this story ends: the man who has been shown mercy by Jesus expresses gratitude and beings to follow Jesus down the road. When we are the recipients of God’s incredible mercy, we are reminded that we belong to God, and therefore it is only natural to respond by following. In this Lenten season, we seek to let go of the burdens that hinder our movement and to cultivate practices that allow us to flourish in faith. Receiving mercy as a gift from Jesus allows us to follow; in following, we are given the opportunity to grant that mercy to others.
Dear God, help me to know that I am loved, claimed and seen by you. Empower me to share that same mercy with others. Amen.
about the author
Rev. Jessie Light-Wells is the Monie Pastoral Resident at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church. She completed her Master of Divinity at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and a Chaplaincy Internship at Children’s Health in Dallas.