Tag Archives: compassion

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)

Psalm 41 The One Who Cares for the Poor

 

Artistic Reflections on the Beatitudes of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Stephanie Miles. Image from http://agatheringatthewell.blogspot.com/

Psalm 41

<To the leader. A Psalm of David.>
1 Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble.
2 The LORD protects them and keeps them alive; they are called happy in the land. You do not give them up to the will of their enemies.
3 The LORD sustains them on their sickbed; in their illness you heal all their infirmities.
4 As for me, I said, “O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.”
5 My enemies wonder in malice when I will die, and my name perish.
6 And when they come to see me, they utter empty words, while their hearts gather mischief; when they go out, they tell it abroad.
7 All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.
8 They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me, that I will not rise again from where I lie.
9 Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.
10 But you, O LORD, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them.
11 By this I know that you are pleased with me; because my enemy has not triumphed over me.
12 But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.
13 Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.

The final psalm in the first book of the psalter (Psalms 1-41) begins with a beatitude (Happy/blessed are…) just like the first psalm in this collection. Psalm 1 begins by stating “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…but their delight is in the law of the LORD” and now closing this section of the book of psalms we hear, “Happy are those who consider the poor.” The structure of the book of psalms wants to encourage us to hear the connection hear between a life that avoids the way of the wicked and delights in the law of the LORD with a life that considers the poor. Looking back at the previous forty psalms that comprise this first section of the psalter it becomes clear that one of the central messages is that God hears those who have been oppressed or isolated from their community and so the one who considers the poor models their path after the God who hears the cries of the poor and neglected of the world. This psalm begins with the one who considers the poor being able to count upon the LORD’s deliverance in their own time of trouble. A life that is blessed is one that in following the law of the LORD hears the way in which they are to be a community which cares for the weak, the widow, the orphan, the alien and all the others who are vulnerable in society.

The similarity between the beginning of this psalm and the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5: 3 (or Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6:20) is just one of many places of resonance between the psalms and the message of Jesus. Jesus vision of the kingdom of God reflects the law of the LORD which imagines a society where the wicked no longer take advantage of the weak. The psalms, along with the law and prophets, the gospels and the letters of Paul as well as the rest of the bible attempt to imagine for the world a different kind of community. I’m reminded of a story that the New Testament scholar Mark Allan Powell shares about the parable of the prodigal son in Luke’s gospel. He asked his American student why the son who goes to a foreign country ends up starving and they almost all point to him squandering what he had, the son’s life was his own responsibility. When he had the opportunity to ask students in Russia the majority pointed to the reality that in the story there is a famine in the land, that the person’s peril was due to external conditions in the environment. Perhaps most interestingly for the reflection on this psalm was the answer he received when he was in Tanzania about why the son was in danger of starvation: “Because no one gave him anything to eat!” and they went on to explain that:

The boy was in a far country. Immigrants often lose their money. They don’t know how things work—they might spend all their money when they shouldn’t because they don’t know about the famines that come. People think they are fools just because they don’t know how to live in that country. But the Bible commands us to care for the stranger and alien in our midst. It is a lack of hospitality not to do so. This story, the Tanzanians told me, is less about personal repentance than it is about society. Specifically, it is about the kingdom of God. (Powell, 2007, p. 27)

This is the type of society that this psalm attempts to help us imagine, a world where the poor are considered and cared for, but the psalmist doesn’t live in that world. Just because the poet believes that God delivers those who care for the vulnerable they also are honest that attempting to live righteously does not exclude them from the challenges of life or from feeling the exclusion that the poor often feel.

The poet spends most of this psalm reflection on how their own community was not a blessing to them in their time of trouble. The LORD sustains those who care for the poor on their sickbed, but now the psalmist community has only the LORD to call to for healing on their own sickbed. Perhaps their community believes that the illness is a judgment from God and therefore they are justified in their exclusion of this one. It may also be that the illness demonstrates the true nature of the community. The community seems to be a place where only those who can actively contribute are valued and where people are actively waiting on the death of the psalmist to inherit his property. At a time where the community was needed the most for the poet, they found themselves a member of an unjust society that does not consider the vulnerable and weak. The community of the speaker has become warped and close friendships revealed as fading and shallow. Yet, the LORD can bring the one who has a deadly thing fastened to him back to life.

Like in Psalm 38 the psalmist wrestles again with a connection between sin and sickness. On the one hand many modern Christians too quickly dismiss any connection when there are times when one suffers because of one’s own actions or choices. Yet, there are other times where both people too quickly and tightly assume a connection. As Rolf Jacobson shares from his own life:

Even modern agnostics or atheists prove themselves capable of making this assumption when they assume that a person’s poor health is automatically the result of poor lifestyle choices. In my own life, when I was diagnosed with cancer as a teenager, a well-meaning but misguided neighbor remarked to my mother that it was a shame she had not been feeding her family the proper, high anti-oxidant diet, or her son would not have developed cancer. Besides being incredibly unhelpful, this comment was simply wrong—the type of cancer I had is not lifestyle dependent. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 390)

Regardless of whether a person’s plight is caused by personal actions and choices or whether they simply find themselves among the weak, sick, injured, poor, or otherwise vulnerable the psalms imagine a community that can respond differently than what the writer of Psalm 41 discovers in their community.

The psalmist asks to be able to ‘repay’ those who have not acted as a supportive community in their plight and unfortunately in English we lose the double meaning of this phrase. On the one had the psalmist does desire that their health would be restored so that those waiting on their death to claim their payment from their property would have no inheritance because the psalmist continues to live. But the word translated to repay comes from the noun shalom and has the connotation of making complete, restoring, to recompense or reward. (Brueggeman, 2014, p. 200) The poet may also be pointing to being a person who can demonstrate what a righteous life looks like by in the future caring for those who failed to care for them in the present.

The LORD has cared for the one who has cared for the poor. The righteous one can point to their own life as a witness to the LORD’s action on their behalf. Even when their community failed them God proved to be faithful. And they end this psalm and this portion of the psalter with a blessing to the God who has avoided the way of the wicked, who has delighted in the law of the LORD, and who has cared for the poor.

Soft Hearted

love me forever by syntheses on deviantart.com

love me forever by syntheses on deviantart.com

We enter into a world full of broken people and shattered stories

Am I my brother’s keeper? Who is my neighbor and who can I ignore?
Can’t I just send the crowds away with their insatiable appetite and needs?
Or ignore the foreigner on my doorstep who cries out for her daughter?
Who can I, in my mental and physical fatigue, exclude so I don’t see?
 Where can I go to escape the cries of creation that fill my ears?
In the highest heaven they ascend to God rending the creator’s heart
And they echo from the walls of the endless abyss creating a hell of brokenness
 
I don’t want to see, I don’t want to care, I want to block it out
To plug my ears, cover my eyes, harden my heart and distract my mind
To hear no evil, see no evil and to feel no compulsion to speak back to evil
To wall my broken heart away behind immense walls of cold stone
Some safe shelter where I can isolate myself from the needs of the world
To buy in to the promise of despair, that in giving up hope I can save myself
That the promises of the kingdom of God are not worth the birth pangs of creation
And that by pulling away and shutting out the world that the pain may simply cease
 
From a young child I was taught to hide the feelings, the emotions, the pain
That to be a man was to be like some distant unloving picture of a god
Who was unaffected and unattached to the world around him
Whose heart did not break, but rather this deistic god was unmoved
And to live a life in that stoic god’s image was not to feel, not to love
For in feeling there was fault and in love there was weakness
And to be weak was to fail and to fail was to be worthless
It was a god that seemed to demand nothing and to give nothing
But its sacrifice was the very marrow of life, it sucked dry the bones
Exchanging the risk of love for the a hollow security of disconnection
For in love there is joy and pain, in losing there is loss and gain
And I could never exchange the fleshy heart in my breast for a stone one
Yet, from a young child I was taught to hide the feelings, the emotions, the pain
 
As a man I began to realize the pain and cries of a loving God
Foolish enough to love the world, to cry for its hurts, to enter its rejection
A God of crazy dreams of new creation that emerges out of the brokenness
Where shattered shields and broken spears become the instruments of harvest time
Where even in the midst of death, life can emerge from an unending well of love
That the world in all its broken people and shattered stories can be taken in
That it can be loved, not because it is loveable but because that is what the softhearted do
And that perhaps, in a company of bumbling fools who dare to hope and dream
Who put aside the false promise of despair and have the courage to love God’s beloved
That perhaps in those moments where stones slowly removed change mountains
We see the hope that the creation has long been waiting for
The instruments of God’s work being those who can take up the sensitivity of a child
To see the world as it is and to dare to believe that it can be better
And that the discomfort I feel is not weakness, but the strength of a soft heart
A heart not content to be locked behind walls of stone separate from the world
But rather that sees the evil, hears the evil and dares to speak and name the evil
And perhaps to do my small part in the struggle, for the dream of a better world
A world of compassion and justice and joy and love, the world that could be
To dream and speak that world into being one small act of love at a time
A world where hearts of stone are replaced by soft fleshy hearts
That dare to love, the courage to hope and the audacity to dream
Of a time where tears are wiped away, where pains are healed
And we can enter into a world of healed people and mended lives
 
Neil White, 2014

The Givers

There are those people who are born with an innate sense of compassion
Whose oversized hearts sometimes lead again and again to painful paths
Where they enter into another’s life and struggles and bear their burdens
But in those moments where their heart is broken and their spirits sag
Rarely do those whom they walked for days with journey a mile in their shoes
Perhaps they wonder if it might be easier if their soft hearts were turned to stone
And their ears could become deaf and their eyes blind to the need that surrounds them
 
Yet, sometimes the hardest lesson for a giver to learn is the most important
Somewhere in their journey of learning to care for others and to pour out their souls
They come to believe that everyone else is more important than their life
They become deeply wounded healers trying to pour out of exhausted vessels
In believing in the value of others they forgot to value themselves
To have the compassion for their own blemishes that they have for others
And to learn to trust their own heart and mind to seek out those who give to them
Who see in them, not the person who is the soul mender
One whose life is consumed by the endless hunger of the wounded
But the companion, friend, and the ones who see in them the beauty
They struggle sometimes to see in their life
 
Neil White, 2014