With a sinking feeling I eased the car into the left turn lane and slowed down to a stop, waiting for the advanced left turn light to go green. I saw the man pacing on the cement meridian dividing the lane from oncoming traffic, and grimaced – it was a panhandler. It’s not uncommon to see the homeless in the big city, but in our rural town it used to be a rarity. Yet, as our town has grown, so have the number of homeless.
I wince internally when I have to wait in a left turn lane while a panhandler paces by my window. It brings up so many questions. Do I make eye contact or not? Do I nod my head or shake it? Do I dig into my purse or keep a tight grip on the steering wheel praying for the light to turn green?
“What,” I wonder “is the right thing to do?”
Ever felt that way?
Jesus has a similar encounter (Luke 18:35-43). He is traveling south from Galilee on foot. He has been on the road for several days, and has attracted a crowd, as usual. He is heading for Jerusalem to keep a very important appointment. The Passover is imminent and He knows it will be His last; He knows His time has come to do for the world what He has ultimately come to do. He is a man on a mission, focused and single-minded in getting to Jerusalem to accomplish His task.
But just outside of Jerusalem, on the outskirts of the sleepy little town of Jericho, He has to pull into a left-turn lane of sorts. And there sitting by the roadside is a blind man begging. Neither Jesus nor the blind man can see each other because crowds of people are flanking Jesus as He walks along. But the blind man senses the commotion. He hears the crowd jostling by him and he asks the crowd what is happening.
“Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” someone answers.
It is one of those moments in life when everything slows down as the mind races through every option and comes up with one imperative: Act now or forever regret the lost opportunity.
“Jesus, Son of David,” the blind man suddenly calls from the roadside. “Have mercy on me!” Will Jesus hear him or will his voice be drowned in the sea of travellers who surround Him? Will Jesus turn to him or move away avoiding eye contact with the beggar on the fringes?
“Jesus, Son of David,” he repeats, shouting desperately now.
Jesus stops. He scans the roadside looking for that one voice. He sets aside His Jerusalem-bound agenda, for a social nobody, and in that moment communicates something very important for every follower of His: nobody is a nobody; everyone has intrinsic value – everyone is worth stopping for and inquiring into. Every life is precious.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus kindly asks the man who is brought to Him. This question reveals Jesus’ deep respect for the blind man’s humanity. He wants to know what this man values. He invites the man to verbalize what is it that he believes Jesus alone can do for him.
“I want to see,” he replies. It’s plain. It’s simple. It’s everything to the blind man.
“Receive your sight,” Jesus responds, and in a flash the man sees.
Looking deep into the man’s now-seeing eyes, Jesus commends him, “Your faith has healed you.” You and I did this together, Jesus is saying. I have the power and you have the faith. Faith pleases God immensely, and you have displayed this beautifully. It’s scandalous, but it’s true.
I’m not sure I know the solution to the panhandler on the meridian in my town. But now I know what Jesus thinks of him; He loves him, values him immensely, and wants to express that through me. That’s the framework for my new way of seeing the man on the fringes of my town. I have my list of things to do, all very important. But nothing is more important in Jesus’ eyes than pleasing the Father – and acts of faith do that. Instead of seeing an obstacle, I think I see an opportunity.
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Alex Proimos)