This week we’re looking at the short stories in Luke 18, and keeping score as to who “wins” in each story. Here’s the recap so far in table form:
|18:1-8||Poor widow||Rich litigant and unjust judge|
|Total:||People of low status – 4||People of high status – 0|
Today, we have two stories. And at first glance, the first one seems to break the flow. The status-reversal pattern Luke has set up (see above) seems to be sidestepped when Jesus chooses this moment to again remind his disciples of his impending death.
So let’s begin with the second story, about the healing of a blind man.18:35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.
If you’re blind, you’re unable to work, hence the begging. And excluded from mainstream society. Long term illness or misfortune was often viewed as being somehow deserved – like Job’s friends thought he must have done something to be suffering in that way. So people tended to stay away. This is your classic outcast. Wonder how it’s going to turn out for him in this story? (By this point in the chapter, any sense of dramatic suspense is gone, isn’t it?)18:36-38 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Interestingly, the one who’s blind is the only one in the story who “sees” who Jesus is – the Messiah from the line of David. Again, the person of low status is the one who “gets it,” whereas the crowd just calls him “Jesus of Nazareth.” And they try to shut him up:18:39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Although they try to silence this marginalised, low status person, he persists. Just like the widow.18:40a Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him.
Take that, crowd.18:40b-41a When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
I’ll give you one guess, Jesus. Except I think he knows. Just like most of his other miracles, he waits and asks for an expression of trust before he fulfils the request:18:41b-43a Lord, I want to see,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God.
And that trust in Jesus leads to his healing. Predictably (by this point in the Gospel story), the crowd goes wild:18:43b When all the people saw it, they also praised God.
So once again we have a story where Jesus stops and pays attention to someone excluded by society. Poor blind man – 1; crowd – 0. Taking the chapter tally to 5-0 in favour of the poor, the outcast, the marginalised – those of low status.
Without having to spell it out for us, by arranging these stories together Luke has shown us what the kingdom of God is all about. It’s where those who are important and privileged in this life will miss out (like the rich ruler), and the underdogs will enter it. That’s been God’s pattern all along. As Hannah prayed in 1 Samuel 2:1 Sam 2:7-8 The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honour.
And as Jesus said back in verse 14:18:14″For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
It’s the way God works when he acts to rescue his people. Which is why the little interlude about Jesus’ impending suffering and death is not out of place at all:18:31-34 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.
The kingdom is about giving up power and status and wealth in order to bring rescue to those who are without power and without status and without wealth. The way in which Jesus was to bring about the kingdom was an embodiment of this pattern: giving up his own status, becoming a Messiah who wasn’t a conquering king, but a suffering servant. Something the disciples, at the time, couldn’t comprehend.
And something we, as Jesus disciples, often forget.
To think about
How have you embraced this central value of God’s kingdom – giving up power, status, and wealth in order to enter it, and using it instead to empower those who have nothing?
How do we, as the church, embody this attitude of humble servanthood as we seek to make God’s rule a reality in our world?