As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. Luke 18.35-43.
Some time ago, one Sunday morning, I was visiting a church in Leeds that I had only been to once before. The church was crowded and I was half way along a side-aisle, well out of the way, when, half-way through the service, the pastor singled me out and said: “I see four windows and a shadow of someone behind the first. The Lord is passing by. If you avail yourself of his special presence through one of those windows he will remove something that has been hindering you and stopping you from fulfilling his purposes for you.” Then, when the service had ended, the pastor sought me out and told me that I must be on the watch for the Lord to become present to me in some special way. “You may miss him,” he said. “After it has happened, you’ll say ‘Oh, that was the time!’ But don’t worry — the Lord was saying that you’ll have four opportunities of letting his power come against whatever is standing in your way.”
I felt the authenticity of those words at the time and still do, even though they have not yet been fulfilled, and I hold onto them with expectancy. But why I share them this morning is that they illustrate a truth that is clearly presented in this morning’s reading … namely that, although Jesus is always present everywhere (that is one of his attributes as God), there are times when he is present to each one of us in a special way and those are times of wonderful opportunity that we must do everything we can not to miss.
The blind man by the roadside near Jericho would have remained a blind man had he not seized the opportunity presented to him when Jesus was passing by. Jesus was present to him then in a way that he had not been present to him the day before and would not be present to him the day after, but even so it was a passing-by presence not a standing-and-waiting presence. The moment came, and the moment was about to go, but in that moment the blind man’s cry reached Jesus and stopped him in his tracks.
I have written before about the significance of the term “passing by” when it is used of Jesus in the Gospels. In “The Passer-by” on 13 January 2009, I pointed out that it is first the language of Exodus 33.18, 21-22 — “Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ … And the LORD said, ‘Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.’” It is also the language of 1 Kings 19.8-9 and 11 — “And Elijah arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, … And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by …” And in both instances, it is the language of divine self-revelation; for when God “passes by” he does so to reveal his glory … to show himself to be God. And that is what is happening in the Gospels whenever Jesus “passes by.” A moment for the revelation of his glory has arrived; and in this morning’s reading, it is the blind man who is at the centre of it.
But only because he seized the moment. Only because he did not let embarrassment or shyness or reticence put a seal on his lips and keep him where he was by the roadside. Only because he did not let those around him discourage him or undermine his faith or put him off.
When he is brought to Jesus, the Lord asks him: “What do you want me to do for you?” Didn’t Jesus know? Hadn’t he spotted the fact that the man was blind? Of course he had. Of course he knew what the blind man wanted. But he wanted the man to spell it out. He wanted the faith that was surging within the man to be given concrete expression.
And where did the faith come from? “Not of yourselves” says Paul, “it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2.8). It is my firm belief, based not only on Scriptures such as that but on my own experience too, that when a moment of Jesus passing-by arrives and when he becomes present to me in a special way, a ready-to-reveal-my-glory kind of way, then faith is given to me that is fully commensurate with whatever it is that Jesus wants to do for me. All that is needed is my recognition of the moment and my willingness to seize it. Then I will hear the “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well” that seals the glory-episode that Jesus had in store for me.
I have had maybe half-a-dozen of these glory-moments in my life. And based on that word to me in Leeds, there is at least one more to come. But I need to be vigilant. I need to be expectant. I need to be ready for that moment when Jesus is passing by.