Disruptive Mercy

Luke 18:35-43

Alpha and Omega, Good Shepherd, Immanuel, King of Kings, Prince of Peace, Bread of Life, Son of God. There is power in a name, and Jesus is called by many — each one referring to a role, a title, a quality, some indication of the divine revelation and Christ’s relation to God and the world. There is power in a name, especially in a name well known, and Son of David is no different.

On the outskirts of Jericho with Jerusalem in his sights, Jesus walks the road with a gathered crowd that seems overly concerned with making good time. As they near the city, a blind man begging street-side learns it is Jesus passing by and calls out to him with the name, “Son of David” — only to be hushed by the crowd for fear he might disrupt the flow of traffic. In his desperate persistence, the man defies his ordered silence and calls out to Jesus again, once more with the name, “Son of David.” Over the rustling of scuffled feet and the groans of a crowd on a schedule, Jesus finally hears the man and halts the motley procession, inviting the blind man to be brought to him front and center.

No casual, misguided remark — to call Jesus the “Son of David” was an intentional and loaded association of Jesus with the messianic expectation of the Jews. It was a proclamation of Jesus as the descendent of King David and heir to the Davidic throne — the anointed one to come. In other words, when the man says, “son of David,” what everyone would have heard was, “messiah.”

Even though he is blind, this man see Jesus for who he is, and Jesus responds to the name — indirectly confirming his identity as the expected Messiah to be.

So, what kind of Messiah does Jesus come to be?

Congregational Response

  • Jesus is responsive
  • Divine involvement
  • Participation in our own healing
  • The subtle workings of the Spirit
  • Those most cast out are most centered in Jesus’s ministry

Theological Reflection

If you’re looking to buy a car at a great price, look no further than Carolina Ford, where they have a special promotional deal going on! For every vehicle purchased, you will also receive a Bible, an American flag, and a voucher to the local gun shop where you can pick up your new AR-15 rifle!

This was an actual promotion at an actual car dealership in South Carolina in 2019. They posted the announcement of this deal on social media under the title, “God Guns and America,” complete with a photograph of a man holding a Bible in one hand and an AR-15 rifle in the other with an American flag and Ford pickup for a backdrop. Naturally, it was received with mixed emotions. Some praised the deal as just another reason to buy a Ford, while others strongly opposed it as ethically muddy and theologically questionable. What’s clear though is that it represents a not too uncommon association between Jesus and militant might. For many, nothing screams capitalist America quite like Jesus and guns, and nothing screams Jesus quite like nationalism and a violent show of force. At least, that’s what promoting faith in such proximity to a firearm seemingly implies. As far as the expectation of who the messiah was supposed to be, though, it’s not entirely off base.

The Jewish tradition asserts five things about the messiah: the messiah will be sovereign and rule over the land of Israel; will gather together all Jews from all over the world; will reinstate the full observance of Jewish law; will bring about global peace; and lastly, the messiah will be a descendant of King David himself. As mentioned before, when the blind man calls Jesus the, “son of David,” he is, in effect, placing Jesus directly within this Jewish tradition as the anticipated messiah to come. However, associating Jesus with the messianic tradition came with all kinds of other associations as well.

When we hear the word, Messiah, our contemporary mind immediately jumps to the spiritual nature of the title. When Jews in the first century heard the word, messiah, though, it wasn’t just about the spiritual. Remember, part of the expectation was that the coming Messiah will be the sovereign ruler over the land of Israel. In that sense, the messiah served not only a spiritual purpose but an explicitly political purpose as well: as leader of the oppositional forces against the oppressive enemy, which at that time was Rome. To be the messiah was just as much a political role as it was a spiritual role that came with the duty to assume military control and establish Jewish sovereignty over the Jewish people. That’s the association that would have come to mind in the first century when someone heard, “son of David.” However, that’s only half of what the blind man says; he also makes a request.

Tossed to the side of the road just as he was likely tossed to the side by society for being visually impaired, this man calls out to Jesus, exclaiming, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Afraid of interrupting the flow of the crowd and of inconveniencing Jesus, those at the front of the procession ordered the man to be quiet. Refusing to be silenced, though, in an act of faithful defiance, the man calls out again, “son of David, have mercy on me!” Hearing the cries of the man over the orders of a calloused crowd, Jesus stops everything and has the man on the margins brought to him at the center of everyone gathered around — restoring his vision and proclaiming that his faith has made him well.

The man who was blind, now with sight front and center at Jesus’s side, saw something in Jesus, the Messiah, that others perhaps did not — for the man had faith in Jesus’s mercy not his force, and it was such a faith that made him well. Whereas the crowd perhaps considered this walk to Jerusalem as a battle march of Jesus the Commander, the man relegated to the curb recognized it as a processional of Jesus the Compassionate — identifying the son of David, the messiah, with mercy not with military conquest. And those on the frontlines tried to silence him for it. The crowd orders him to be quiet for fear of disrupting Jesus but, perhaps, really, for fear of disrupting their own understanding of what kind of messiah Jesus has come to be — one that does not take power but, rather, gives it away, relinquishing control and risking vulnerability for the sake of relationship.

Though the crowd attempts to quell the man’s plea, Jesus steps in and sides with the sidelined — concerned with the movement of the spirit not the movement of soldiers and praising the faith of a man who understood. Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me — a Messiah bound not for the wood of a bow or handle of a sword but the wood of a tree.

In the end, Jesus does not put his enemies in his crosshairs; he puts himself on a cross even for his enemies — displaying for all to see in horrific and holy humility that the Kin-dom of God is ruled by disruptive mercy, not destructive might.