Monday, August 25, 2014

I Once Was Blind

One of the more fascinating aspects of Jesus' healing ministry is the sheer number of the afflicted who lined the roads for the chance to cry out His name. And we often applaud these men and women for their faith - how they dared to believe that Jesus could heal them!

What we often fail to understand is that this was always more than faith. It was also about hope. And not the hope for sight for the blind man, noise for the deaf man, legs for the lame. This was hope from the very heart of the afflicted man. How do we know? Well, we have to put a few things together to get there.

Start with what the men so often cried out, particularly the blind men. Son of David, have mercy on me. Mercy. Mercy, you'll remember (if you've been reading along), is when a man does not get what he deserves. When these men lined the roads and cried out their affliction, they weren't just putting their sight on the line; they were putting their hearts on it.

Because under the old law, these men lived with the understanding that they were blind because they deserved it. They had sinned or their parents had sinned or they had known someone who sinned, and their punishment was blindness. At the same time they were praying for their eyes to be opened, they were praying, too, that it couldn't be true. That they couldn't be bound by sin forever. That they wouldn't have to live every day with the consequences of what they'd done. Culture, covenant, law told them their blindness was the natural consequence of their life, and when they beg, Son of David, they are in the same breath saying, I messed up.

Some of the religious among them even go so far as to ask the question in front of the blind man, heaping shame onto his present condition. Who sinned? they asked. This man or his parents? (John 9:2) There was, inherent in the broken condition, the understanding that brokenness was self-made. It was your own fault. 

The blind men that lined the roads (and the other afflicted with them) begged for mercy because they were burdened with the understanding they had brought this on themselves. Only mercy - not getting what they deserve - could heal them.

That's a heavy load to carry. And one that most of us are still toting around.

Every afflicted man, every burdened heart at some level has this nagging feeling that it's his own fault. Most of us know how hard it must have been for the blind man, daring to stand on the side of the road and cry out. We think about healing, too. We think about the passing Jesus and how badly we want nothing more than to see again. How we want a chance to see with new eyes. How we don't want to live every day in the darkness of some decision we made too long ago. How we don't want to live forever trapped in our brokenness.

And yet, we can't get away from knowing that at some level, it was our decision. It is our brokenness. We brought this on ourselves. Whether that's true or not, we feel like it is. We feel like it's our fault. This brokenness, this blindness...we fully deserve it. Crying out on the side of the road, longing for a passing Jesus, yearning for sort of feels like cheap grace. We know we're asking for something we don't deserve.  It feels unholy. It feels like a cop out. 

And it kind of is. Grace, in a moment like this, is unholy. Mercy, on the other hand, is quite divine.

That's the difference between today's burdened man and the blind man. The blind man knew what to ask for. We seemingly don't. Too many of us are wasting our time asking for grace and knowing it would be empty; the blind man knew he had one chance and asked for mercy out of a keen understanding of the reality of his predicament, at least as it was understood in Old Testament Law. He owned it, just long enough to hand it off. Just long enough to cry out. And he was rewarded for it.

Most of us won't own it. We won't take our story in our own hands. We won't admit to our shortcomings, our misunderstandings, our failures, our sins. We won't ask for mercy because mercy is hard. Mercy, inherently, is a confession, and we'd rather not see ourselves as sinners. But the blind man...he may or may not have been a sinner, but he cried out as one. He was willing to admit it might be him. He was willing to say this was his problem, and he was willing to own his part in it. He may have been tempted for grace, but what he longed for - the only thing that would reconcile his story to himself - was mercy. So he cried out for mercy.

Only to find that mercy is grace.

I once was blind, but now I'm free.

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