Reflections on Luke 18:38-39
“And he cried out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
Luke 18:38-39 (ESV)
I see him there – clutching his cloak, hunkered down in survival mode, praying to God for the crowds to pass and leave him alone.
But at the sound of His name, all that changes. It’s Jesus. He’s here, soon right in front of him, maybe even feet away, and between them a thick wall of people rising above him. Jesus will not see him. Nor will He hear him, how could He? Everyone’s getting louder the closer He gets. But still, He’s here!
Jesus is here!
He tosses the cloak down in front of him and shoots straight up. Up on his knees. His hands stretching toward the sky. His head lifted up and his mouth wide open as he blends his voice into a sea of voices crying out for the Nazarene to stop.
"Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" He yells it over and over, again and again. But the more he yells, the louder he gets, the more he irritates the wall of people in front of him. One of them explodes in anger, turns and rebukes him.
“Shut up! Do you hear me? Shut up!”
It ignites the others and, for a split second, he feels the whole crowd in front turn and slap him down by the force of their words -- strong, almost violent, demanding his immediate silence. He falls back like someone pushed him back.
These voices, he knows them. They are his people, from his town, the same ones who pass by every day and show him mercy. Mercy with a coin or two. Mercy with a word of kindness and pity. These are the ones who keep him alive. He needs them. So why won’t they show him mercy now? Why won’t they lead him to the front and let him be seen by the One who can make him see?
Mercy on their terms. Mercy tomorrow if he does what they tell him to do today. Mercy not from his equals but from his masters – they give him no choice. He’s got to please them. It’s business. It’s politics. It’s survival. Play the game and win. Resist and suffer the consequences. It’s a beggar’s life. It’s how mercy works.
Always slapped down. Left in the dust, hidden and buried from sight.
As Jesus passes by.
* * *
“These are Eric’s issues, not mine,” I try and tell myself, but I know different. It doesn’t take me long to prove the point. Frustrated with myself, I write Eric.
Had coffee at a diner with Dana yesterday. Did you hear he lost his job again? Third one in eighteen months. He’s taking it hard. Poor guy has zero self-image. His ex-wife is breathing down his neck for money. She tells him he’s a failure at everything he does – husband, father, provider – and he feels every bit of it.
All I know is he knows Jesus. All I want to do is encourage him.
But what happens? Bobby Taylor comes over to our table. Great guy, impressive guy, pastor of the Baptist Church in town. He just got back from India where the Lord powerfully used his team to bring tons of people to Christ. He was beaming with excitement as he told a few stories from his trip. I asked if he could stay.
I couldn’t help myself. I told him some of the amazing stories we’ve had at our church recently. I wanted him to know the Lord has been answering prayers in miraculous ways. As I talked, his face lit up. He slapped my hand with a “high-five”, wished us both well, and was gone. It made me feel really good.
I turned back and saw Dana hunched over the table and staring blankly into his empty coffee cup. “You ok?” I asked stupidly.
“What do you think?” he blurted, not even looking up at me.
“I don’t know,” I said quickly.
He then fired a piercing gaze right through me and I knew I’d hurt him. “Too bad you’re here with me,” he said, his eyes still fixed on mine. “If one of those miracle stories were here, you could have impressed him even more.”
“That’s not true!” I reacted. But it was.
He was right. I did everything I could to impress Bobby Taylor. I wanted that “high-five” and got it. But why? Why did I need his approval so badly? And why do it in front of Dana? How could I have forgotten him? His suffering? He already feels like a failure. What was I thinking? I made him feel worse about himself.
Just like the crowd did to the beggar. Those in front overpowering those in back. And I wonder, who’s the real blind man in this story?
Eric wrote back, “Mind if I share this with Missy?”
“Go right ahead,” I said, and to my surprise, Eric’s wife wrote next.
Thanks for letting me read what you wrote Eric.
I can’t believe you froze the frame on the blind man when he was rebuked by the crowd in front of him. Did you know most of us never recover from that?
We get pushed down and that’s our place. We spend the rest of our lives there. We do what the people in charge of us tell us to do. If we please them, it goes well for us. If we fight back, we may gain some ground. But not much.
Eventually, we learn it’s easier to stay put and be quiet.
Every once and a while, warriors come along. They fight the system. They stand up and push back those who pushed them back. I have a dear friend like that. All her life, she’s been ruled by strong men. Her father’s voice is the loudest. He loves her but he believes women have their place in society and in church.
She disagrees. She fights him on it and he fights back with the deadliest weapon of all. He stops loving her. So she pushes harder. She became a leading activist in the church for women to have equal voice in leadership and ministry. There are many who support her, many who do not. Her father stopped speaking to her.
And then he died.
“I want you part of this movement,” she tells me over lunch.
Part of me wants to. I actually agree with much of what she says. But not like this. I am not a warrior. I don’t believe the Lord wants us to fight those who slap us down and push us back. If we do, they define us. They steal our hearts. I won’t let them have that kind of power over me. At the same time, I don’t believe I’m supposed to just sit there in the dust and do nothing. Pushed back and stay back. There’s another way, a better way, and again I tell you, most of us never see it.
“But I am part of this movement,” I say to her, as I hold up a glass of cold ice tea. “I’m your friend!”
She smiles, clinks her glass to mine, and says, “Yes, you are!”
Somewhere deep inside me, I doubt if she’ll ever recover. The wound of her father is real and deep and decades old. But I stay close. For I too have a mission. I have a cause and for this, I guess you could say, I am every bit a warrior.
I point her to Jesus.
I tell her He’s passing by.
And then I pray that maybe today, maybe for a second or two, she’ll take her eyes off her oppressors and put them on the One who can heal her tired soul.
+ + +