Give me back my sight

NB: I didn’t write out my Tuesday Evening Prayer reflection before delivering it, but wanted to record some of it, or at least my thoughts after giving it.

Lectionary Readings: 1 Corinthians 3:10–23; Luke 18:31–43

This week in between the ‘Feast’ of Christ the King and the 1 Advent really is liminal and strange. How is Jesus’ kingship, or our understanding and experience of it, shaped by Jesus’ encounter with Pilate one Sunday and readings about impending doom the very next? The Daily Office readings give us one sense of how to negotiate this space by backing up the story to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.

Before entering Jericho in Luke 19, Jesus foretelling his death and resurrection. Once again, the disciples are stymied: “in fact, what he said was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (18:34b).

Luke’s arrangement—foretelling -> healing—could be read as suggesting that the encounter and subsequent healing of the blind man interprets for the disciples Jesus’ prophetic words. Or to put it rhetorically, how much is that one healing event a microcosm of the greater healing and restoration that Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection works for the whole world? The blind man’s plea—”‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’”—ought to be our plea.

In fact, it is encoded in our liturgy: at the beginning of our eucharistic mass, we say Kyrie, eleison. Christe eleison (or, as we sometimes sing, “Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us”); and after the consecration of host, we say together

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

Jesus’ response is to the point: “‘What do you want me to do for you?’” It’s striking that Jesus’ response to a plea of mercy is to further inquire, “how can I serve you; what do you want me to do for you?”

And this got me thinking about something by Fred Rogers (yes, Mr. Rogers) that I had read recently. On the road to Emmaus, the disciples reflect on experience of the crucifixion, the tragic loss of Jesus. Rogers says,

These disciples were really sad… really discouraged… and when someone they thought was a stranger started walking with them along that road, they told him what they’d be talking about and even told him that some of their friends claimed that Jesus’ tomb was empty, and they didn’t know what to make of that. Well, the stranger began to preach to them about how the expected messiah had to suffer, how being a real king meant being a real slave first.”

We recognize Jesus not in his kingly glory, but rather in how we first came to know him, in that moment when he asks all of us “What do you want me to do for you?” We know Jesus in the service he renders us; we know Jesus as a servant. Or as Rogers says, “Being a real king mean[s] being a real slave first.”

The gospel of Luke introduces us to Jesus not as an adult, as Matthew, Mark, and John do, but rather as a vulnerable baby. Whether Luke intended this or not, I think one of the obvious theological consequences of such an introduction is to show us that God wanted to serve humanity to such an extent that God became human, not merely appearing as a human, but human to very core, experiencing all aspects of humanity, from birth to death.

And it is coming to Jesus first in this deep association and solidarity with humanity that we then come to see what it means to be a real king.

Jesus came to serve and save us, those who walk in darkness. We are all the blind man sitting outside of Jericho, crying out for mercy. And Advent is not simply those four weeks leading up to the joyous celebration of Christmas. Rather, Advent is the state of the world, waiting for mercy, waiting in expectation for healing, justice, and peace. We are an Advent people.

This Advent, I will be praying, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. Let me see again.

I encourage you all to take on a prayer like this, too. Make Jesus your light, and ask that in his light you may see again.