January 26, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 18:35-43 (NRSV)
As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.
When we ask God for mercy, we’re rather like several characters in Luke 18: the desperate widow seeking justice, the tax collector crying out for forgiveness, the babies being carried to Jesus, the rich people who cannot save themselves. We come before God’s throne of grace, not based on our power, accomplishments, status, or worthiness. Rather, we come to recognize our neediness, weakness, and utter dependence on God. We pray to realize that God is full of mercy. God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23).
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
The last story in Luke 18 develops themes introduced earlier in the chapter. Luke 1:1-8 portrays a widow who in her desperation keeps asking an unjust judge for justice. Her persistence got this judge to grant her request. Verses 18:9-14 describe a self-righteous Pharisee and an anguished tax collector who pray in opposite ways. The Pharisee praised his own righteousness while the tax collector pleaded by saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). According to Jesus, the tax collector’s prayers were answered. Then Luke tells the story of the disciples trying to keep people from bringing their babies to Jesus for a blessing (18:15-17). Jesus corrected them, pointing out that the kingdom of God belongs to those who, like babies, are dependent and culturally excluded. Next, a rich ruler asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life (18:18-26). Jesus replied that only God is good enough for this, and that God can do the impossible by saving even those who, because they are wealthy, are apt to depend on themselves and not on God.
In the final story of Luke 18, we meet a blind man who, like the widow with the judge, is desperate and keeps on crying out to Jesus for help. Like the tax collector, the blind man begs for mercy. And like the babies brought to Jesus, the blind man is relatively helpless, dependent on others, and culturally discounted.
The blind man was sitting by a road leading to Jericho. (The Gospel of Mark [10:46-52] tells us the man’s name was Bartimaeus; Luke omits this detail.) When this man heard a crowd nearby and learned that Jesus was in the crowd, he started shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:37). The bystanders tried to shut him up, but the blind man cried out even more loudly. Then, Jesus had the man brought to him and asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” (18:41). When the blind man said, “Lord, let me see again,” Jesus healed him, commenting that his faith saved him (18:41-42). Having regained his sight, the blind man began to follow Jesus, glorifying God as he walked along (18:43).
I am struck by a couple of things in this story. First, here we see once again that many of the people with Jesus were out of sync with his priorities. We don’t know exactly whom among Jesus’s associates tried to get the blind man to shut up, but what they did resembles the actions of the disciples who tried to prevent parents from bringing their children to Jesus. From the perspective of some with Jesus, the blind man was a nuisance to be silenced and ignored. From the perspective of Jesus, he was a human being worthy of attention, kindness, and healing.
The example of Jesus challenges me to think about whether there are people in my world whom I’d like to silence or ignore. These might be people whose lifestyle, politics, or theological eccentricity bothers me. They might even be people in my neighborhood, church, or family. I know that I tend sometimes to write off certain kinds of people. Who knows, had I been there with Jesus outside of Jericho, I might well have ordered the blind man to button his lip. The example of Jesus challenges me to examine my own biases and to revise the way I think of and act towards certain kinds of people.
The second thing that strikes me in this story is the blind man’s prayer. It’s so basic, simple, and fervent. It’s a prayer of desperation and neediness. It’s a prayer that does not assume the person praying is worthy of consideration. The blind man did not pray, “Jesus, Son of David, I deserve to be healed by you.” Rather, he cried out for mercy, knowing full well that Jesus could walk by without giving him a thought.
I grew up in a Christian tradition that did not practice asking Jesus for mercy. I expect we were so convinced of the fact of his mercy and grace that we didn’t bother to ask. We assumed we had them. This differs from many other Christian traditions in which asking Jesus for mercy is common and promoted. In Catholic and Anglican worship services, for example, worshipers regularly pray something like “Lord, have mercy” and “Christ, have mercy.” For centuries, followers of Jesus have sung “Kyrie Eleison,” which is Greek for “Lord, have mercy.” Christians in the Eastern Orthodox Church have built their relationship with God on what is called the “Jesus Prayer.” It has various forms, but the most common is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The request of the Jesus Prayer, “have mercy on me, a sinner,” echoes what we have heard in Luke 18. Remember the tax collector who prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” and the blind man who cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (You can learn more about the Jesus Prayer in the Orthodox church here.)
In the last ten years, I have been learning to ask the Lord for mercy. Often I do so by using the Jesus Prayer, repeating it quietly or silently. I do this believing that our triune God is merciful beyond anything I can fully comprehend. According to Psalm 51:1, God has “abundant mercy.” In Ephesians 2:4, God “is rich in mercy.” Thus, Hebrews 4:16 urges us to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” When I ask God for mercy, I’m not approaching some unjust authority, like the woman in Luke 18 who pesters the godless judge. Rather, I’m asking for mercy from the One I know to be utterly, ultimately, and wisely merciful.
When we ask God for mercy, implicitly we’re putting ourselves in the place of several characters from Luke 18: the desperate widow seeking justice, the tax collector crying out for forgiveness, the babies being carried to Jesus, the rich people who cannot save themselves. We come before God’s throne of grace, not based on our power, accomplishments, status, or worthiness. We come to recognize our neediness, weakness, and utter dependence on God. We pray to realize that if God were not merciful, we’d be out of luck. But our God is merciful, that is, full of mercy. God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23).
Have you ever asked the Lord for mercy? If so, when? Why?
In what ways have you experienced God’s mercy in your life?
What do you think might happen in your relationship with God if you began to pray regularly for mercy?
Try an experiment in praying for mercy. For at least a day, longer if you wish, ask God for mercy many times throughout the day. You can use the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Alternatively, you might use prayers from Luke 18, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” or “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Pay attention to what happens in your heart as you pray this prayer.
Lord Jesus, thank you for showing mercy to the blind man by the side of the road. Thank you for showing mercy to those who cry out to you . . . including me.
Confident in the wideness of your mercy, I pray:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner! Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Best of Daily Reflections: The Jesus Prayer
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.