March 20, 2022
• Rev. Nicole Caldwell-Gross
Human history is chock full of great debates, arguments and questions that shaped our view of the world and our place within it.
Scientific questions like: does the earth rotate around the sun or is the earth the center of the universe?
Political questions like: Should people be governed by kings and queens are should they have the right to choose their own leaders?
Religious questions like: Should people only hear the Bible in Latin or have copies of the Bible in their own homes?
Sociological questions like: We didn’t start the fire- it was always burning since the worlds been turning- ok- billy Joel but then who did- inquiring minds want to know?
Sports questions like: was it the enduring spirit of competition that made Tom Brady come back to the game after 2 months of retirement or was it 2 months at home with his children- as a mother of three- I’m guessing it’s the kids. There’s no debate having several 250 pound plus men running full speed to flatten you is a lot less scary than full time parenting.
And while these are just some of the great questions of our human history there was another in 2015- that captured the attention of 16 million people. You may remember it as DressGate. A an unassuming Facebook user uploaded this picture to his account with the simple question: what color is this dress? Little did he know people in 27 different countries, across the globe and in dozens of different languages would see two totally different things! Some people swore that the dress was blue and black others asked if all of those people were blind because the dress was clearly white and gold to them!
For days this image was the most google searched image and people were fascinated by the fact that depending on filter or the setting, color and even the shape of their retinas- people literally saw something totally different.
I think faith is a lot like that. Faith is a filter that changes the way we see the world and even the way that we see Jesus.
Depending on our angle, our soul settings the saturation of faith and the light of Christ that filters through our lives- we literally see the world and even Jesus differently.
In our text this morning we are given front row seats to the life changing perspective an encounter with Jesus creates.
Now there are three main characters in these verses: Jesus and two blind beggars. These blind men were following Jesus and when he went into an unnamed place indoors they approached Jesus and exclaimed, “ son of David have mercy on us!” Now you’ll remember from pastor Rob’s teaching in this series- that what people call Jesus is an indication of their understanding of his identity. The disciples originally called Jesus teacher or rabbi but over time and experience with Jesus they transitioned to calling him lord. The Canaanite woman that we met in last week scripture called Jesus son of David-a messianic Jewish moniker and that reflected an understanding of Jesus as a savior sent for the Jews. But she not only grew in her understanding of Jesus- she even pushed Jesus to expand his understanding of who could call on his name.
We see that same transition in these verses as this pair of blind men shift their addressing of Jesus from son of David in verse 27 to Lord in verse 28.
But unlike the disciples these blind men haven’t seen Jesus at all. They have not sat in a boat and watched as Jesus commanded the wind and waves to cease. They have not stood within arm’s reach and watched Jesus respond to the cries of a Canaanite whose daughter was ailing. They’ve never even seen Jesus face in order to assess if he looks lordly at all! They’ve seen none of this but somehow, somewhere they- have grown in their understanding and faith that Jesus is not just the son of David- the promised messiah of the Jews but Jesus, Jesus is Lord.
We can’t help but wonder what happened between these two verses? What shifted their understanding of who Jesus is? Well, the answer didn’t happen by what they saw but by what they heard. You see this story is part of a pericope or collection stories with a very similar structure. Before Jesus met the blind man healed a paralyzed man who he told to to get up and walk. After that, he healed a woman who’d been bleeding for 12 years and then Jesus raised a little girl from the dead. After each healing the gospel writer Mathew tells us that news of Jesus was spreading throughout the region. In other words, long before dress gate or Tom Brady’s retirement announcement or unretirement announcement - Jesus had gone viral. News spread around the region that there was a savior who could heal what has been broken for over a decade, who could restore activity to the limbs of the paralyzed and who could command the dead to live again-this man was not just a son of a David this man was The Lord!
And so we learn the first lesson of this text: we don’t have to see Jesus to know Jesus. Our faith can be started, shaped and stirred up by the witness of others. These blind men never laid an eye on Jesus but because of the stories and experiences that other people had of his power- they come to know that Jesus is Lord. That’s why we gather each week in communities of faith whether virtually or in personal because here we share stories and songs and prayers that witness to the power of Jesus in our lives.
It’s why we connect to small groups, classes and serving teams. Because in those spaces we share the power of Jesus working in our lives with others.
So what does that mean for us today? It means that question may not simply be is your faith growing but are you sharing that faith so that it grows others? So that it encourages others? So that it equips people to see Jesus for themselves?
Because our witness to the power of Jesus can empower other people to faith. And we see this not only in these verses but in our world today. Think about what’s happening in Ukraine. Ordinary people: teachers, postal workers, artists, doctors, lawyers, stay at home dads, writers, bankers- even grandmothers- are making Molotov cocktails and standing at homemade checkpoints to protect their communities and their country. And in Russia you won’t find any of these images- not on television or in the local newspaper. Because hearing other stories of persistence and Hope has the power to inspire other people to Faith that they can win this war!
And people all over the world, people in our neighborhoods, people on our jobs, people in our pews are fighting battles. Battles of faith, fear, doubt and uncertainty. Battles they feel like they are losing. But when they hear about the power of God working in your life, and your life and your life - it just may empower them to faith and to see Jesus as Lord.
That’s what happened to the blind beggars but that’s not all. They respond to Jesus with Lord after Jesus asked them this question: do you believe that I am able? Before Jesus restores their sight Jesus inquire as to whether their faith backs up their request.They respond with certainty: yes Lord. Now, I have read the scripture backwards and forwards and wondered why Jesus would ask this question.
Does it really make a difference if we believe Jesus is able to do what we ask? I wasn’t so sure the answer to this question until I stumbled across an old video. Our son Joshua is 10 years old now but when he was five he believed deeply in the trinity: Spider-Man, Batman and Superman. Amen! You could not tell him superheroes were not alive and well swinging their webs around the city and saving lives from tall building. And so one day absolutely assured of their power and their abilit- Joshua grabbed me and said “Mom I need to be a part of their team!”. Seriously he sat me down I and said “ I want you to record an interview and send this into super hero headquarters. This was his interview:
Now, If there is a superhero headquarters they never returned our call. Maybe it was the asthmatic power kick I’m not sure. But you did hear me lose it when he coughed explaining his -over kick right? I tried to cover it up with a well placed cough but I was I was working overtime not to laugh in my child’s face.
But here it is: what you don’t see in this video is that immediately after Joshua got up from that couch he grabbed his nunchucks. You remember the ones that he referenced in his superhero interview? He went out in the backyard and started nunchucking. Is this how you nunchuck? I’m not really sure -but let’s just pretend that it is. He started nunchucking because he was so certain in the power of the superheroes, he was so assured that they were able to respond to what he was asking that he started preparing before they ever showed up!
He fully expected the trinity: Spider-Man Batman and Superman to arrive at our home any day and so he was already preparing to receive what he had requested. Here’s the spiritual lesson for us today:
When we believe God is able we begin to respond with expectation despite evidence.
We say yes Lord if are two blind men Even though we’ve never seen Jesus do what we’re asking Jesus to do.
We start nun chucking in the backyard if we’re a five-year-old superhero fanatic-Despite the fact that there are no webs, capes or that gadgets to be seen.
We’ll start worshiping God for the healing when all we have is the diagnosis
The difference of believing God is able is what it inspires us to do before God does anything.
These blind men believed God is able and inspired them to see Jesus was lord before he restored their sight. And I don’t know what you’ve been praying for. I don’t know who have been the five people in your 531 challenge. But I’ll simply ask you what Jesus asked: do you believe that He is able? Because if you do you not only begin to to expect what you have no evidence of but you discover how we participate in our own healing.
Let’s go back to the text: Jesus asks do you believe that I am able? And these blind men who hve never seen Jesus say YES LORD! But then Jesus says, “ it will be done to you according to your faith”. Now, this phrase according to your faith has been presented to generations of Christians as a spiritual quid pro quo. It is this idea that we only receive from God what we have faith to receive from God- so if we don’t have faith then we don’t receive any healing or blessing from God.
Yet, all we have to do is read some other scripture and see that’s not quite right. There are scriptures that attest to the fact that God blesses and uses people who are without faith and even people who we might consider evil.
Matthew 5:45 says that God causes the the rain to fall on the just and the wicked. So then we can’t earn or be deserving of God‘s healing so then what does this phrase mean? It means is that we receive blessings according to how faithful we are but according to what we can recognize.
Because remember faith is a filter that changes the way that we see Jesus.
So the issue is not whether we earn Jesus’ healing but whether we recognize Jesus is comes from.
Because think about it: everybody in the crowd, people that can actually have 20/20 vision could be asking Jesus for healing. Yet, their faith filter doesn’t yet recognize that Jesus is able or that Jesus us Lord. So these blind man see by faith that who Jesus is and they receive healing from God because they’re able to recognize who and what God is able to do in their lives.
They become participants in their own blessing Not because of their merit but because of their faith. That’s what Jesus means by according to your faith.
Just consider for a moment all the people you know or what’s heard of who experienced unexplainable healing, miraculous blessings and some will say: I’m just lucky. But others will say, according to their faith: it was the power of Jesus working in my life. It was the Lord.
What will you say?
As you consider your response to that question I want to offer the last spiritual lesson I think we glean from this text. Because after the blind men have had their sight restored according to their faith- they do something that all people who have an encounter with Jesus do. Look at the closing verses: Jesus tells the blind men, “don’t tell anyone about this” but they left and spread it all around the region. In other words Jesus said can you just keep your mouth shut and the blind men said: not a chance!
Here it is: when you experience the power and healing of Jesus in your life it changes how you see God. God is not just some tradition or cultural inheritance God is Lord of your life. It changes the way you respond to God before God even responds to you. And changes where are you see your healing coming from. Yet, the last thing it changes is you.
In ancient near eastern culture during the time of Jesus- people who had experienced physical ailments did not talk about them. The dominant theological understanding was that if someone was born blind, mute or was bleeding for 12 years or had a child who was stricken by death then they had done something sinful and God was punishing them with these conditions.
So to have healing was to have that sin removed and people didn’t go around shouting it from the rooftops. Because then they have to except the judgment or the questions as to why they needed healing in the first place. But not the blind men. Not nearly every person who has an encounter with Jesus in the gospels. In almost every healing narrative we read Jesus asked people to please keep it on the DL but they can’t stop sharing it.
They are willing to risk peoples judgment, discomfort or questions about their healing because when you have an encounter with Jesus it transforms you from a receiver to a risk taker. These blind men are willing to take the risk and go all around the region and tell anyone who would ask about the healing they received from Jesus. They don’t care how people may look at them they don’t mind the follow up questions that may come they have been transformed by Jesus and they’re willing to take the risk.
And thousands of years later - the risk of telling people about Jesus are just is high.
You tell people about Jesus today and they will respond in one of three ways:
number one here’s a crystal I’m spiritual but not religious- so get away from me.
number two I do not ascribe to organize religion. I know all of the horrible things at the church has done in the past and they even still be doing today and get away from me.
or my favorite number three I knew you before you knew Jesus so you shouldn’t be telling anybody about Jesus. Worry about yourself and get away from me.
When we hear these kinds of responses it’s hard to take the risk. We can’t solve people choosing different faith expressions, or the institutional pain the church has caused or our own past mistakes and missteps. And so we dodge the question, we change the subject because We don’t want to offend, we don’t want to be pushy and we don’t want anyone to feel judged.
Yes here’s what’s really at stake: these blind men would never have been healed or come to faith if someone would not have taken the risk and told them about Jesus. In other words, when we encounter Jesus we take risks because the possibility of someone else knowing him is always worth it.
So who will come to Faith because of the risk you take today? Who will meet Jesus through you and learn that he changes everything? Let us pray.