Sometimes insights and connections take me by surprise. One morning while writing in my journal, a single line from the Gospel came to me: “Son of David, have mercy on me.” That one line stirred something in me, and it drew me to the story of the blind beggar outside of Jericho. (Luke 18: 35-43) Then, one story led to another, and I began a journey through the healing stories of Jesus. That journey revealed my own deep need for healing and some helpful wisdom for how to respond to that need.
The blind man is begging by the side of the road when he hears a crowd going by. He asks what is happening, and they tell him: “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” The man shouts: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” When the crowd tries to silence him, he shouts all the louder.
Jesus stops, orders the man brought to him, and asks him a simple question: “What do you want me to do for you?” The man responds: “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus says to him: “Receive your sight, your faith has saved you.” The healing is immediate, and the man follows Jesus glorifying God. The crowd that witnesses the healing also glorifies God.
A pattern emerges in this story, and its themes recur in a number of other stories that describe Jesus’ healing ministry. Grasping the pattern encourages us to recognize our own wounds and brokenness. It also urges us to open ourselves to the healing power of God.
The first element in the pattern is acknowledging need. The story centers on the man’s need: he is blind, and his blindness has reduced him to being a beggar. The depth of that need compels him to shout to Jesus and to keep shouting even though the crowd attempts to silence him. He is desperate for healing, sees his chance, and refuses to give up. This theme surfaces in other stories – such as the lepers Jesus encounters who also cry out to him: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17: 11-19)
Like the blind man and the lepers, acknowledging our need opens us to the power of God. Years ago in a scripture class, Dr. Charlene McCarthy put it succinctly: “When we acknowledge our humanness, we let God be God.” Admitting our needs and weakness is a powerful acknowledgement of our humanness. By owning up to our wounds and brokenness, we open ourselves to the healing power of God.
The second element in the story is asking for healing. When the blind man comes face-to-face with Jesus, his need is obvious. It leads to a simple, direct request: “Lord, let me see again.” There is no subtlety or ambiguity in his request. He doesn’t argue that he deserves to be healed. He’s not bargaining. There is no promise of what he will do in return. The man’s request is simply a desperate plea.
The blind man’s request for healing models prayerful humility. It reveals the power of directness and simplicity in asking God for what we need. There is little need for words; the man’s need is obvious. When we enter into prayer, God knows what we need before we ask. There is no need to clutter our prayer with words, arguments, bargaining, and promises. The simplicity of the blind man’s direct request shows us a better way.
The next element of the pattern is more subtle, but it is critically important. The blind man has complete confidence that Jesus is able to heal him. He has a deep trust that Jesus embodies the healing power of God. It is not a question of whether Jesus has the power to heal him. The only question is whether Jesus will use that power to do so.
All too often, our confidence in God falters. We want to place our trust in God and try to do so, but we are nagged by doubts and uncertainty. All too often, I lack the profound trust of the blind man. In those moments, I am more like the father who brought his son to Jesus hoping he could heal him but not quite sure. When I am clouded with doubt, I need to pray with the honesty of the boy’s father: “I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9: 24)
The next element in the story is what Thomas Keating refers to as a word of wisdom.1 Jesus tells the blind man: “Your faith has saved you.” Keating describes a word of wisdom as a simple statement of fact. It is a spiritual truth or a life lesson that needs to be learned. For the blind man and the crowd, it is the “take away” from the experience of healing.
“Your faith has saved you” is also a word of wisdom for us. It is a lesson we need to learn and live. Jesus repeats it time and again following his healings. His repetition reinforces how important it is. Few of us are likely to experience the kind of dramatic, instantaneous healing the blind man experienced. More likely, our experience of the healing power of God will unfold more slowly and in subtle ways. It is faith – our utter trust in God – that opens us to God’s healing power.
The response to the healing is the last element of the pattern the story reveals. The man who was healed follows Jesus glorifying God. His response is also contagious – leading the crowd that witnesses the healing to join him in glorifying God. In other healing stories the response to Jesus’ healing isn’t so positive. When Jesus heals ten lepers, only one of them returns to give thanks. (Luke 17: 11-19) When Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, some who witness it believe in him. Others report him to the Pharisees – setting in motion the events that result in his arrest and crucifixion. (John 11: 1-53)
Our experience of God’s healing power – whether it unfolds slowly over time or comes to us in a sudden and dramatic way – invites a response. We need the eyes of faith to recognize God’s healing power, a receptive spirit to open ourselves to healing, and a grateful heart to give God thanks and praise.
A single line in the Gospel took me by surprise, and it began my journey through the healing stories of Jesus. Along the way, a pattern of themes and insights emerged that I am still trying to grasp and live. As we open ourselves to the healing power of God, we join the blind man and so many others who have been healed. From them we learn to acknowledge our need, ask with prayerful humility, and trust God’s power to heal. From them we learn to embrace Jesus’ word of wisdom and respond by giving God thanks and praise.
Questions to Ponder
Here are some questions to help you reflect on Jesus’ ministry of healing and your own need to be healed.
- What stories of Jesus’ healing most resonate with you?
- In what ways do you experience the need for healing?
- What elements of the pattern that emerges in Jesus’ healings have you experienced?
- Acknowledging your need?
- Asking with prayerful humility?
- Trusting God’s healing power?
- Embracing Jesus’ word of wisdom: “Your faith has saved you?”
- Giving God thanks and praise?
- In what ways do you need to internalize Jesus’ word of wisdom: “Your faith has saved you?”
- In what ways do you identify with the honesty of the father who said: “I believe, help my unbelief?”
- In what ways have you experienced healing? What response has that evoked in you?
Thomas Keating, The Better Part: Stages of Contemplative Living (New York, Continuum International Publishing Group, 2002), p. 18.