The Gospel. S. Luke 18. 31.
“Then Jesus took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted upon: and they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken. And it came to pass, that as he was come nigh into Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way-side begging: and hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant. And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by. And he cried, saying, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me. And they which went before rebuked him, that he should hold his peace: but he cried so much the more, Thou son of David, have mercy on me. And Jesus stood, and commanded him to be brought unto him: and when he was come near, he asked him, saying, What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee? And he said, Lord, that I may receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee. And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God”.
“Persistence”. What does that word mean to us? What does it mean to be “persistent”? When I ask myself these sort of questions, as you know, I always like to start with the good ol’ Webster’s definitions; “persistent”, “to go on resolutely or stubbornly in spite of opposition, importunity, or warning”, “to be insistent in the repetition or pressing of an utterance”.
So what does it mean for us to be “persistent”? Well, we certainly have plenty of examples; we have the persistence of our political candidates campaigning for public office. We see the persistence of sports teams as they work toward their championship goals. How many of us have witnessed the persistence of a child who wants their parents to buy them some special toy? All of these are examples of people who “go on resolutely or stubbornly in spite of opposition, importunity, or warning”, or are “insistent in the repetition or pressing of an utterance”.
But when it comes to our Faith, what does it mean to be “persistent”? Does it mean coming to Mass every Sunday? Does it mean serving on the Vestry? Does it mean serving at the Altar or in the Sacristy, or providing for the coffee hour? Well, of course, it means all of things, but it also means something more.
The blind beggar in today’s Gospel shows us what it means to be persistent. Remember that in Our Lord’s time people with handicaps such as blindness had no resource to help them survive other than their own ingenuity and the kindness of strangers. They couldn’t get a job. They couldn’t make money to support a family or keep a home. There was no such thing as government assistance. They were often left in the street to beg for anything that would help them survive. Just to be alive took a tremendous amount of persistence; to “go on resolutely or stubbornly in spite of opposition, importunity, or warning”. After all, they were begging for their lives.
And so, we know right off the bat that the blind beggar in today’s Gospel lesson is a persistent man. And it comes as no surprise that when he hears that this Jesus of Nazareth is coming, he continues to beg. He continues to beg for his life; only notice the differences here;
First, he doesn’t beg for food; he doesn’t beg for money. “Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me”. Of all the things that he could be begging for, he first puts forth this plea; “Have mercy on me”. Second, he is persistent in his plea. The people nearby try to get him to pipe down because Jesus is talking and teaching as he walked and they see this beggar as being disruptive and unruly. But we can almost hear the desperation in the man’s voice as he calls out again “Thou son of David, have mercy on me”.
Now here’s where things get interesting; because, notice what Jesus does; he stops (“And Jesus STOOD”). This is not insignificant because as I mentioned earlier, Jesus was likely talking and teaching the crowd as he walked, and he was probably in the middle of a lesson or parable or some other discourse, and upon hearing this beggar, this public nuisance, he comes to a complete halt. And he has the man brought to him. And he asks him; what is it that you want?
Notice the order of things here folks? This blind man, who had absolutely nothing in this world, begs Our Lord first and foremost, for mercy. He is “insistent in the repetition or pressing of an utterance”. And he continues this plea “in spite of opposition, importunity, or warning”. And his persistence in begging for mercy not only get’s Jesus attention, but it is now that Our Lord asks the man what He can do for him.
How many of us, I wonder, get the order wrong? How often do we think, “ask and ye shall receive”, but forget the “Lord have mercy upon me”? And are we more persistent in our requests for what we want or what we think we need than we are in our petitions to God for His Mercy?
Remember the dogged determination of that blind beggar. His pleas for mercy were about more than just a hope for the restoration of his sight. He wanted, needed, DESIRED, to be in the presence of Our Lord. He knew that being in the presence of Christ was the only way that he might receive a miracle. This was not a quiet, gentle longing, but rather an emotional, passionate, intense NEED that comes from the heart; a need that God will never ignore.
That is what we need to bring to our Faith. It starts with us calling to Christ with all our hearts for his Mercy. We must want, long for, DESIRE to be in his Presence; a desire that is emotional, passionate, that comes from our hearts. And we need to be persistent, “to be insistent in the repetition or pressing of an utterance”. We need to call to Him over and over and plead with all our hearts to receive his Mercy and his Grace.
When we do this, we remember that Our God is a God of action. He doesn’t have us uttering words just because He likes to hear us talk. When we call to Him, when we ask to be brought into His Presence, when we beg for His Mercy, He recognizes that our souls are in need. And He never ignores that need.
When we are “insistent in the repetition or pressing of an utterance”, He will not ignore us. When we “go on resolutely or stubbornly in spite of opposition, importunity, or warning”, in the proclamation of our Faith, He will ask what it is that we want, even though He already knows what we need. And He will take action.
In just a few days, we will begin the Lenten season on Ash Wednesday. During this forty day fast, we will prepare ourselves for Our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection by fasting and prayer. During this time, I urge you to remember the example of that blind beggar. Call to Our Lord earnestly and constantly, with all your heart, asking to be in His Presence and pleading for His Mercy. Be persistent in your Faith and be ready for God to take action in your life.