Reflections on Luke 18:35
“…a blind man was sitting by the road begging.”
If only I could talk to him.
“I was wondering, sir, how you got here this morning. Did friends bring you? Same ones each day? Or do you have to ask for that too? And where did you come from? Do you have a home? Do you sleep in a bed at night with a roof over your head, a fire in the fireplace, a warm meal every day? Do you have family and friends who surround you – care for you? Or are you, as I fear, homeless?
“Has it always been this way? Were you born blind or did it happen later in life? Maybe an accident of some kind? Did you have some good years or did you have to start begging even as a child? Have people been kind to you or do they make you feel less than human – an outcast, a burden on society, God-forsaken?”
I wonder how old he is.
I wonder why Luke doesn’t give him a name.
Mark said he has a cloak. I wonder if it’s his only possession. Is it his roof in the rain; his warmth in the cold; his knapsack to carry a beggar’s haul at day’s end; his one secret hiding place – dug deep under its cover – where he can dream of a world where he is known, honored, and loved? A respectable man! A Jewish man whose prayers at synagogue actually reach the throne of Almighty God.
I see him there, just outside Jericho. His office door now open for business.
He begs like half the world begs today. Half and more living below the poverty line in need of food, clean water, vaccines, basic health care, a sustainable job, and a kind remembrance that they, too, were once made in God’s perfect image.
He, like them, waits for someone to pass by and show mercy.
* * *
He irritated me.
I was attending a pastor’s conference. It was my job to introduce him as the keynote speaker that morning and open the session in prayer. Since I knew nothing about him, he provided a sheet of paper listing his accomplishments.
It was most impressive.
He was everything I am not. Tall, handsome, athletic build, lovely smile -- like he’d just been at a photo shoot for a magazine cover. He had a beautiful tenor voice, soothing and strong. As he began speaking, he oozed charisma. He was funny, engaging, self-deprecating and, at times, deeply moved by emotion.
The crowd laughed, cried and, at the end, rose in a standing ovation.
Afterwards, I overheard a pastor say, “That was the best ever! If I had half his talent, our church would be filled every Sunday.” Another said, “I could listen to him all day long – he was eloquent, entrancing, hysterical, and completely delightful!” A young pastor agreed, “He’s exactly what my generation needs.”
I was horrified. This preacher did what no preacher should ever do. He left us talking about him.
I vented with a friend over lunch.
“I think you’re jealous,” he poked. “The man’s a consummate performer. He’s got a huge church in the Midwest. People adore him everywhere he goes. Now what could be better than that? I bet most preachers dream of being like him.”
I was too agitated to poke back.
“There was a preacher from my grandfather’s generation,” I told him, “who pulled me aside one day and gave me sound advice. ‘Your job is to preach the gospel. Point to Him – not to yourself. Remember what the Apostle Paul said, “We preach not ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord.” But,’ he warned, ‘it won’t be easy. It will dog you your entire life. It’s subtle. It’s strong. It’s a deep pull inside all of us. We want the attention, the applause, the approval.’”
My friend said candidly, “He’s exactly right. I fight it all the time.”
“But you saw what happened today,” I urged. “This man’s job was to open the Scriptures to us. He didn’t do it. He told stories for an hour. And worse, a congregation full of pastors didn’t even notice. They didn’t care. They loved it.”
“Absolutely!” he smiled sarcastically. “He made us feel good about ourselves.”
I sat back, wishing he’d take this more seriously.
“So, you don’t wrestle with this?” he started pushing. “There isn’t a little tiny piece of you longing for recognition and praise? I don’t believe it.”
“Am I?” he said with a smirk. “Are you sure you’re not the least bit jealous?”
I did my best to ignore him.
But a few days later, I was home in my study. I was reading the story of the blind man in the Gospel of Luke. I wrote in my journal:
If I’d been there, I’d want to be in the company of disciples near Jesus as He walked the roads of Jericho. I’d want to see what He saw as the crowds swelled at His approach -- gathering from all over, young and old – lining the road, all vying for His attention with shouts, cheers and song. What thrill! What joy…
I stopped writing. My mind suddenly darted back to the conversation with my friend. It was as if he was there with me, still arguing his position, “You know the cheering isn’t for you, right? It’s for Him. Isn’t there a little tiny piece of you longing for recognition and praise? Don’t you wrestle with this at all?”
Again, I tried to push it away but this time it didn’t work.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always gotten a mixed message. I’m part of a denomination which asserts that pastors are to be servants to the people. We never exalt ourselves. Instead, we do as our Lord did and lead by serving.
“…but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.”
But it’s all mixed up. We say one thing and do another.
In our Church, we have the most elaborate ordination services. If anybody wants to be anybody in the Church, it’s best to be ordained. First, to deacon. Then to presbyter. For some, bishop and for a small few, archbishop. We dress in the finest of robes. We distinguish ourselves from people in the pew and tell them, in eloquent sermons from lofty pulpits, that we have come as servants.
I knew from an early age I wanted to be a minister. I had older pastors wisely teach me to always point people to the Lord – never to me. “We don’t step up the ladder of success,” they’d say, “we step down, just as our Lord did.”
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor…”
2 Corinthians 8:9
“But how do you handle all the attention?” I asked, knowing these pastors were wildly successful people, drawing large crowds to hear them speak.
“By keeping my focus,” one of them shared. “I simply remember how the Apostle Paul answered your question.”
“…so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed — God is witness — nor did we seek glory from men…”
1 Thessalonians 2:4-6
“If you’re out to please men – entertain them!” he went on. “Tell them a joke! Get them to love you. But if you want to please God, if you want His approval more than theirs, then do what He has called you to do. Preach His word. Point people to Jesus so when you’re done all they talk about is Him. Not you.”
So I did, as a young minister in my twenties.
But now, looking back over the years, I see what I didn’t want to see then. My reaction was profoundly mixed. As much as I felt called to do what they were doing, I wanted what they had. It was there, a small flame burning inside me begging for the same kind of success they had.
Begging for the attention, the applause, the approval.
I was young. I’d opened my office door for business. I believed, really believed, the cheering was only and all for Him.
With just the tiniest bit for me.
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