So he shouted out, “Jesus, Son of David! Show mercy to me!” Those in front began to rebuke him into silence, but he shouted even more, “Son of David! Show mercy to me!” Jesus stood still. He ordered that the man be brought to him. When he had come close, he questioned him: “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Master, I want to see again.” Jesus said to him, “Regain your sight. Your faith has saved you.”
Luke 18: 38-42
The man in today’s gospel is not only blind but is also a beggar. To be a beggar, in Jesus’ time as now, is shameful. Thus, it is shameful and embarrassing that this beggar shouts out, probably in the crowd’s view to seek alms from Jesus. The crowd attempts to shame the man into silence, but, in response, he shouts out all the louder.
The horror of the terror and killing this past weekend in Paris, as well as the mass graves being discovered in northern Syria by the liberating army of Kurdish militia, are powerful reminders of the profound pain and pathos of the human condition. As a people, we long for peace and for healing but never seem to realize it. We long to know the forgiveness and love of God but it remains, for all intents and purposes, seemingly eternally distant. To remain in that longing for mercy, love, and peace is to suffer more acutely the shame of our sinful and impoverished human condition. It is to realize that our pretense of human progress is an illusion. Our deepest needs are not something we alone can ever satisfy and, for all our efforts to realize our promise and to build our world, we shall always be beggars by the side of the road pleading for God’s mercy.
As we age and apparently mature, it becomes increasingly difficult to truly answer the question that Jesus poses to the blind man: “What do you want me to do for you?” We are troubled and preoccupied by so many things. Most of us work very hard to meet the various demands and responsibilities of our lives. In order to do all that, however, we have had to develop some distance from the deepest desires of our hearts. A lifetime’s experiences of disappointment have led us to forget, if not repress, that love and communion for which we so long.
This distance from our heart’s desire is what constitutes one of our deepest problems in prayer. Healing comes to the blind man, Jesus tells him, because of his faith. When Jesus asks him what he wants from him, the man is able to give a direct answer: “Master, I want to see again.” He believes, despite a lifetime’s experience to the contrary, that Jesus can return his sight to him. For all the demands of the crowd, the social conventions, to stifle his desire, he continues to cry out to Jesus, trusting in the love and power of Jesus to heal him. So often in prayer, our minds are full of the distractions of our personal and social responsibilities. Most of the time when we attempt, as Mary, to sit still with Jesus, our minds are, rather like Martha, busy and anxious about the affairs of our lives. Yet, at those moments when from the depth of our heart’s desire for God we dare to open ourselves and trust God with our fearful and disappointed vulnerability, we realize that we are already and always being given that for which we long.
Simone Weil says that “God waits as a beggar for our love.” If we are to meet God we must, for our part, not allow our hearts to close in disappointment and despair, but rather, as the blind man, to cry out with all we are for the attention of the One who is our true life.
Now you have to stand in desire, all your lifelong, if you are to make progress in the way of perfection. This desire must always be at work in your will, by the power of almighty God and by your own consent. One point I must emphasize: He is a jealous lover and allows no other partnership, and he has no wish to work in your will unless he is there alone with you, by himself. He asks no help, but only you yourself. HIs will is that you should simply gaze at him, and leave him to act alone. Your part is to keep the windows and the door against the inroads of flies and enemies. And if you are willing to do this, all that is required of you is to woo him humbly in prayer, and at once he will help you. Call upon him then, and let us see how you get on. He is always most willing, and is only waiting for you. So what are you going to do? How will you move him?
The Cloud of Unknowing, Chapter II
Beautiful reflection, John. From my own “sitz im leben” (as Brother Leonard used to call it), I wonder whether another deep reading for us of the beggar’s request has less to do with physical sight than with spiritual insight. Yes, for a blind man and a beggar, the gift of physical sight was a primary need. But for us, who are in the Top 1% of those gifted with ctizenship in a protected and independent nation, and with material well-being to boot (three squares and a chapel for some of us), perhaps the wisdom we might find in this scripture involves our need for right seeing.
When affronted by illness, rejection, or relentless pressure to perform, we often lose sight of the relative insignificance of our predicament in a world teeming with suffering. Right seeing urges us to create a place of peace and happiness in the corner we inhabit, and to remain aware and responsive to the suffering of others.
My former brother-in-law once told me of a time when he was driving with his three daughters through downtown Richmond, VA, when they passed City Hall. Frank said to them, “You know, girls, that is where your mother and I were married.” Priscilla, the youngest at four-years-old, replied, “Oh, Daddy, I used to know that.” That is how I feel as I read your sharing for us this week. There was a time I used to know that. Like the blind man in the Gospel, I say, “Lord, I want to see again.”
Thank you John.
Your brother, Tom