A blind man sat by the road near Jericho begging (Luke 18:35). What do you think he was begging for? Money, right? Or food. Or clothing. Or perhaps a place to stay. He was not begging for his sight, surely. That would be a strange sight, no? A blind beggar by the road begging for sight? Whereas most of us have encountered beggars begging for money and food, I expect. People tend to ask for something they think they can get. And who could expect to get sight or healing of any real and lasting kind from random passersby. The gospel doesn’t tell us what the blind beggar is begging for before he hears that Jesus is passing by, but I think we can infer.
Begging is rather like prayer. In fact, the Latin word meaning “to pray” – orare – also means “to beg.” In archaic English also, you might hear someone say, for example, “Please, I pray you, give me something to eat.” We don’t really talk that way anymore, but it shows the relationship between these ideas.
So, this gospel passage is about prayer, from the very beginning. And the prayer of the beggar at the beginning – his begging – has a lot in common with the prayers that we sometimes pray. We ask God for what we want, and for what we think we need, and for what we think we can get.
The prayers of our liturgy are not so timid. For example, at every Divine Liturgy, and also at Vespers and Matins, we pray for peace in the whole world. When has there ever been peace in the whole world? And yet we go on boldly praying for it every day. And we’re right to do so. It is the earnest desire of our hearts, which we are to express to the Lord in prayer.
Sometimes, we don’t get the thing we explicitly pray for. Whether it is peace on Earth or winning the lottery or a Hail Mary for a football pass. Sometimes, we don’t even get the healing we ask for. My father asked God to heal my mother of cancer, and yet, she died anyway at the age of 52. And believe you me, he was explicit in what he God asked for in prayer. And this is good. I maintain, this is good to express the earnest desires of our hearts to the Lord in prayer. To beg him for healing.
The blind beggar raised his begging to a higher caliber when he heard that Jesus was passing by. He began to beg, not for mere money or food, but for mercy, crying out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Crying this out ceaselessly, even when those around him tried to make him stop. Do we go on with our prayer, even when those around us discourage it? How long is it been now since we began to tuck our tails and cease our prayers in schools and public places? Have we internalized the heresy that religion is a private affair? The gospel and the faith are to be proclaimed in every nation, even this one, believe it or not. So let us cry out all the more when we are asked to be silent, “Jesus, have mercy on us.” Let us move, from the stage of timid begging, which represents a less mature prayer, to boldly crying out for mercy with faith.
In response to his bold crying out, Jesus then asks the beggar, what do you want me to do for you? And the beggar asks for sight. “Lord, let me receive my sight.” Now this is a prayer offered in faith. We continue to beg for what we think we can get, so a prayer for something as great as sight indicates faith that Jesus is a giver of good things that not just anyone can give. Surely the beggar didn’t ask the random passersby for his sight, but he knows he’s now speaking to someone who can make him see.
That takes faith, which is the ability to see things as they really are. By faith, the beggar could see who he was talking to, even while he could not yet see with the eyes of his body. When we come to appreciate something of the majesty the power and the glory of the one to whom we pray, we can get a little bolder in the things we pray for. There’s nothing wrong with that asking God for little things, but let’s remember who we’re talking to, to the one who gives us life, who can deliver us from oppression, who can heal our diseases and drive out demons, who can give us everlasting life. Let’s ask him for the healing we seek and all the true desires of our hearts. Just as this blind beggar did outside of Jericho. And also just as my father did for my mother. And also, just as Jesus did himself in Gethsemane, when he prayed to his Father, “Let this cup pass from me.”
To our eyes, the outcome for the beggar looks different than the outcome my father got. The beggar received his sight but my mother died of cancer. But also remember that first petition of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The outcome of that prayer looks more like the one my father got.
Here’s the thing: we pray for what we want, for the healing our heart desires, and our Lord God is listening to the true desires of our true hearts, which he knows better than we do ourselves. He’s the one that made your heart. He knows what it really is – unclouded by the passions. And he made it to desire one thing.
All our pure desires are reflections of the one true desire of our hearts. They are like rays of light bursting through the clouds of our passions. And they are to be venerated as glimpses of that one true desire, which burns as bright and hot as the sun behind the clouds. And that one true desire of our hearts is God himself.
You want healing – he is healing. You want life – he is life. Even the small things, the seemingly petty things we want, he is the true fulfillment of all that represents. You want wealth – the wealth of this world is garbage next to the mansion he has prepared for you in his house. You want food – he is your food. He becomes your food and drink today.
He is the true desire of your heart. And he will answer your prayer the same as he did for the blind man in Jericho – the same as he did for his own son Jesus in Gethsemane. If we see the outcome for Jesus and for the blind beggar as different, it’s because we are blind and do not yet see with the eyes of faith.
When we look at our suffering, our poverty, or our illnesses from which we desire to be healed – when we look at the cross, we see death. And we rightly abhor death, which is our enemy. That is a glimpse of our true desire. Our true desire is life, which is Christ. So when we pray for a way around the cross, as Jesus did, that is like a shadow of our hope for life. And God is going to give you life. He is giving you life right now. And he is giving you life unto the ages of Ages. And he is giving it to you – through the cross. Through your cross and his. Not around it but through it, the true desire of your heart will be fulfilled.
May the Lord give us sight to see it, the faith to know it, and thanking him for it as already received, let us glorify God and give him praise.