Reflections on Luke 18:36
“Now hearing a crowd going by, he began to inquire what this was.”
I’m guessing he heard before anyone else saw.
In the distance, he picks up a sound that’s different – but what? Like a storm way out on the horizon whispering its terrors, something was there. He strains to hear above the conversations and movement around him. It has all the feel of a swarm of people, their collective voices making a sound he can’t distinguish. Are they coming here? How many and why? Will they see him and respect his space?
The sound like thunder grows louder.
“What is coming?” he cries, wanting someone to see for him.
Soon enough, the ground underneath tells another story. He feels the vibration of people running in his direction. He hears voices, high pitched with excitement and knows a crowd is forming around him. Whatever it is, they see it now.
“Somebody tell me what’s going on!” he shouts, but still no one answers.
The sounds near him drown out the sounds in the distance. The roadside is swelling with people. He feels them brushing by. I wonder if he’s scared. Masses of people on the move endanger the blind. They’re looking elsewhere. They don’t see him. They don’t look down. They push. They fight for the front. They can’t see their frenzy to see is trampling down those who can’t see.
He shouts all the more. Not for mercy. Not for alms. Just to survive. If they hear him, maybe they’ll see him and not hurt him.
It’s close now. He reaches out and grabs someone tight. “What’s happening here?” he demands. A voice comes back, young and surprisingly kind.
“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
* * *
I sent a note to my friend.
Your question has haunted me these past few days. Does the tiniest piece of me wrestle for recognition and praise?
Yes, I guess I do.
I’m spending time these days in Luke’s story of the blind man. As I pictured the large crowds around Jesus, I couldn’t help hearing the sounds of their cheers. Of course, they were cheering for Him. But I was suddenly struck by your question and wondered if I needed a sliver of those cheers for me.
I see it when I look back on my life – clear as day. I wanted the popularity and success of the preachers I studied under. Ask me then, I’d have denied it.
Am I denying it now? Talk to me?
A few days later, he responded.
The story of the blind man is helpful.
I told you I fight this all the time. There are a host of reasons why. The first is the most obvious: We are fallen people. Our hearts are empty. We need the One who made us to fill us and nothing else but Him satisfies. But we do what we always do and push Him away, filling our hearts with other things we think will work.
They never do. We need Him. I need Him.
My story is simple. I crave attention. Always have. But, for me, it’s more than the size of the crowd or the sound of their cheers. I want to know who’s in the crowd. Is somebody famous going to hear me preach? Somebody with reputation and well-known in the community? That’s when I feel the cravings come back.
I want somebody who is somebody to think I’m somebody too.
So, if I were in Luke’s story, I’d be studying the crowd. I’d be looking for the well-dressed, the dignitaries, the community leaders.
I’ll take their cheers. You can have the rest. Deal?
Like always, he surprises me, digging deeper than I want to go. I read it again and think, “Who does this? Who openly confesses, ‘I crave attention?’”
I wonder, is that me too?
I don’t think I’ve ever talked to anybody about this subject before but, even if I did, I’d probably say what Eric just said. Jesus is the only One who satisfies our deepest approval needs. No one else can. I knew that. Eric knew that.
So why does he press so hard?
Odd to remember it now, but George came to mind. Eric and I attended his retirement party after fifty years serving as a clergyman. All George could talk about was George -- endlessly. For well over an hour, we sat there listening to all the places he’d been, all the people he’d met – world leaders, presidents, senators, newsmakers – making it sound like they were all his closest friends.
“Don’t let me get like that!” I whispered to Eric as George droned on. He rolled his eyes, pitched his nose haughtily in the air as we made fun of old George.
“A clear case of M.A.D.” Eric whispered back.
He twisted up his face like a Halloween mask, “Massive Approval Disorder!”
I laughed -- as quietly as I could -- until I cried.
“Yeah, probably shouldn’t have said that!” Eric admitted when I got him on the phone a little later and reminded him of that night with George. “Especially since I’m dealing with M.A.D. too!”
“Not like him,” I said, reassuringly.
“A lot like him,” he shot back. “The only difference is I know I have a problem and I’m trying to work through it.”
When he heard my silence on the other end of the phone, he continued. “You know my story, right? My aunt and uncle raised me. I call them ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’ but they’re not really. My parents didn’t want me. They split up, went their separate ways, my aunt and uncle took me in and raised me with my cousins who were pretty close in age. I’ve never even met my parents.”
“I think you told me that once.”
“Ever since, I’ve had this longing inside craving attention, needing to be needed, wanting people that matter to see me, recognize me, like me. It’s why I first went into ministry. I met a lot of pastors like George – adored by crowds, recognized by the elite of society. I wanted that in my life, same thing.”
“That’s how you got into ministry?”
“I came to Christ three years after I was ordained.”
“Yeah, all because of this. It’s like the Lord helped me see the abandonment I felt as a child, that sense of being tossed away by my parents, was profoundly controlling me and, worse, hurting others. Honestly, if I needed someone’s approval, I’d stomp over anybody just to get it and I really didn’t care.”
“So what did you do?”
“I called a friend.”
“Is that how you met Christ?”
“Sort of,” he laughed. And then he painted a picture that, once again, quietly stabbed at my own heart. I put his words in my journal late that same night.
“If we could climb back into Luke’s story of the blind man,” Eric said, “then you’d see the change that happened in me. I stopped pretending I was a disciple of Jesus. I stopped needing the cheers from the important people in the crowd.
So picture me as one of the faces in the crowd. See me as one of the lucky ones who pushed, shoved and fought my way to the front so He could see me when He passes by. I’m the one screaming at the top of my lungs for Him to stop and pay attention to me. Just me. Nobody else.
Especially not the poor blind man behind me. The one I just stepped on to get here. The one who calls me his storm.
The distant thunder that came and rolled right over him.
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