Matthew 20: 29-34 Opening Eyes on the Way to Jerusalem

Jesus Healing the Blind From 12th Century Basilica Catedrale di Santa Maria Nouva di Monreale in Sicily.

Matthew 20: 29-34

Parallel Mark 10: 46-52; Luke 18: 35-43

29 As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30 There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31 The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” 32 Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33 They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

Matthew is a careful narrator bringing together the pieces of Jesus’ story in a way that illustrates connections across the gospel and bringing enhanced meaning to each individual scene. The first disciples called to follow Jesus are two sets of brothers, (4:18-22) and the last who follow are two blind men enabled to see. Just as the request of the demons possessing two men make a request of Jesus (8: 28-34) is closely followed by the previous healing of two blind men (­9:27-31) so this healing of the two blind men is preceded by the formal request of the mother of James and John (see previous section). This pattern of twos provide clues to the oral structure underlying Matthew’s narration and provide signposts that allow the hearer to pay attention to commonalities in the stories. This narration of healing the two blind men outside of Jericho closes the gathering of Jesus’ followers in Galilee and on the road to Jerusalem. Its use of the Son of David title for Jesus recalls the previous usages of this title in the gospel[1] and prepares us for the crowds proclamation of this title as Jesus enters Jerusalem.

Jesus begins his final approach to Jerusalem making his way up from Jericho and a great crowd is with him. The crowds, like the disciples with the children, are a barrier for these two blind men to be in the presence of Jesus, but the use of both ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David’ in their address to Jesus prepare us for Jesus’ eventual granting of their request. Previously when Jesus healed two blind men he ordered them to be silent, but instead they go and spread news about Jesus to the surrounding district. Here, the great crowds attempt to silence the two blind men only results in the blind men shouting greatly for mercy from the Lord, the Son of David. Matthew uses Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” as a key to understanding a merciful interpretation of scripture,[2] and just as the merciful are blessed and will receive mercy, Jesus responds with healing to numerous requests for mercy.[3] Jesus responds to this request for mercy with compassion.[4]

In contrast to the previous scene where the audacious request of the mother of James and John for a position of honor for her sons is met with a paradoxical partial fulfillment which points to James and John suffering, in this scene the request for mercy is met with healing. The response of Jesus to both the mother of James and John and the two blind men is and identical “What do you will (Greek theleo). There is irony in these two stories placed next to one another where disciples are unable to see what they ask, where these blind men are aware of their blindness and ask to be able to see. Despite the attempts to silence them by the crowds, they are invited into the presence of Jesus, touched by him, and have their eyes opened. Unlike the previous healing of blind men where faith was a primary portion of the story, the question of faith is unaddressed but assumed by both the titles used and the persistence of these blind men who become followers on the road to Jerusalem. Ironically, the words that the crowds attempt to silence from these two blind men becomes their shout as they surround Jesus to enter Jerusalem.

[1] The two blind men in 9:27 and the Canaanite woman in 15:22 use this title asking for healing and the crowd wonders could this be the Son of David in 12:23. For a fuller discussion of the use of the Son of David title see Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man Titles in Matthew’s Gospel.

[2] See 9:13 and 12:7

[3] 5:7 in the Sermon on the Mount; healings after requests for mercy: 2 Blind men (9:27-31), Canaanite woman (15: 21-28), Father of the moonstruck son (17:14-21) see also the request for mercy in the parable of the unforgiving slave (18:30-32)

[4] Previously Jesus has had compassion for the crowds (9:36, 14:18, and 15:32) but not for individuals. Compassion also is the expected action of the unforgiving slave in the parable (18:27)

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