What do you want me to do for you?

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church
August 23, 2009

Luke 18:35-43

Blindness is a popular image in scripture. The psalmist tells us:

The LORD opens the eyes of the blind.

The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;

the LORD loves the righteous.

And Isaiah is fond of using blindness as a metaphor:

We grope like the blind along a wall,
groping like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
among the vigorous as though we were dead.

But Jesus uses blindness to describe people who may have sight, but clearly have no vision. They have the tools to recognize the Messiah, yet they don’t understand. In Matthew he says,

You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

I understand why it is such a popular metaphor in scripture. We still use blindness and the verb “to see” metaphorically. When something is made clear for us, we say, “Oh, I see.” How strange must that sound to new English speakers when they hear someone say, “I see” over the phone.

But I have a difficult time approaching these “blindness” texts only metaphorically.

Because I know about real blindness. My father went blind when I was a little girl. He had multiple detachments of both of his retinas. He still has some vision, but is legally blind. I may have some ideas about what it must have been like for him, but I can only really say what the experience was like for me.

Things changed. He couldn’t work as he used to. So he became “Mr. Mom” and my mom had to go back to work. Many more dads stay home with their children now, but I was the only kid I knew whose dad was home when we got home from school. He wouldn’t have chosen that, I don’t think. It wasn’t what the men of his generation were doing. But it worked well for me. I think I got to know my dad better than a lot of my friends knew their dads. His blindness gave us time to be together. So there was grace in the midst of it.

But it also brought challenges.

In any case, having experienced how blindness affects a person’s life makes me a little sensitive when it gets thrown around metaphorically. “You’re so blind!”, we might tell someone when they overlook something obvious.But not being able to find your car keys on the kitchen counter is not equal to actually not being able to see what your children look like.

So, I approach this text cautiously. I will speak of blindness metaphorically, but know that I do not lightly use someone else’s disability as an object lesson for us.

So, we encounter our biblical blind man on the road. He’s begging—an occupation common for people for whom society can find no other employment— and he hears a commotion.

What’s going on?”, he asks his neighbors.

Jesus of Nazareth is coming by”, they tell him.

Son of David, have mercy on me!” he cries out.

And then the paradox of community comes in. The same people who helped him by answering his questions and telling him that Jesus was coming are the same people who now try to quiet him.

As a community will support an individual, even if only by answering his questions and allowing him to beg on the side of the road, the same community tries to control its image. “Jesus is coming. We want him to see the nice parts of Jericho. We don’t want him to know we have beggars. And certainly not beggars who bring politics into the mix!

Because the blindman didn’t just call out Jesus’ name. He called out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

He’s connecting Jesus to the throne of David, which was both a political threat to Rome and a connection to the Messianic claims and hopes of Israel.

I hope that we, as a community, take note of this piece of the story. Because we, as a community, help individuals. We do what we can when we hear of the needs of individuals. You just helped fill 404 backpacks for kids in this community, after all! And if I mention that the food pantry is low, you fill it up within a week.

But do we also, like the people of Jericho, try to silence people who voice things that make us uncomfortable?

The blind man in our story, and the ones in our lives today, both real and metaphorical, will not be silenced.

Son of David! Have mercy on me!”, he yells even more loudly.

The man doesn’t have his sight. He doesn’t have a job. He doesn’t have much. But he has a voice. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your voice.

And he knows where to go for help.

Jesus! Have mercy on me!

Jesus stops.

What do you want me to do for you?”, he asks.

I love this question.

It reminds us to stop and consider.

Jesus is clarifying the issue.

“What does mercy mean for you?”, Jesus wants to know.

Is the man asking for money?
Does he want attention?
Is he asking forgiveness?
Help?

Or, perhaps more likely, Jesus knows what the man wants, but wants to make sure the blind man knows what he wants.

And as people to whom this question is being asked, it calls on us to clarify our own thoughts too.

What do we want Jesus to do for us when he finds us by the side of the road?

I would have to stop and think about it for a while.

But the blind man knows.

Immediately.

I want to see again.”

And this is where the physical healing and the metaphorical healing overlap again.

I do believe Jesus healed people. There are too many stories of his healing for this story to be seen only as a metaphor. But even as I believe in Jesus’ power to heal, I can’t begin to tell you why this particular blind man was healed while others were not.

But the blind man’s response, “I want to see again” is supposed to be our cry as well.

Since most of us are not legally blind, as is my father, this may not be a literal request we’re making.

What do we want to see again?

Do we want to see God at work in the world in ways we haven’t seen in a while?

Do we want to see restored relationships?

Do we want to see a future with hope?

Do we want to see justice?

Do we want to see Truth?

Or, do we want to see our own truths?

I confess that I have plenty of illustrations I could share here this morning about people in our society who are blind. I think we should have a conversation about health care. And I don’t expect that everyone would agree with the plans on the table, but when I see people making posters of Obama looking like Hitler, I confess that all I see is their blindness. “How can they not see the truth about the need for affordable health care?!”, I want to scream out when I see those ‘townhall’ pictures. I can find the blindness in politicians and TV personalities. I can find the blindness in people with whom I interact.

But I have a harder time finding my own blindness.

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

“What do you want from me?”

“Lord, let me see again”.

Did you notice the “again”?

In this passage, it is a word of hope and promise for me.

It means that the man once had sight and he wants it back. Again.

It means that he once could see and he values what he has lost. Again is a word of hope, because even though he’s lost his ability to see, he believes it is within him again to do so.

I had an “again” moment yesterday. The Presbytery met yesterday, for the first time since the meeting in April when we voted on the amendments to the Book of Order. If you recall, I was a little frustrated after that vote. I was, honestly, frustrated with some of my colleagues and was hurt by some of the things they said when we were discussing the amendments. Their blindness was apparent to me, let’s just say.

And yesterday, when I walked in to the meeting, those same people greeted me, asked me how my first year has been at Southminster, and genuinely welcomed me in friendship and as a colleague. During the meeting, when they raised their hands to speak, I confess that I braced myself for what they might say. But they made insightful and compassionate comments, leading the conversation in good ways. And I realized that I was seeing again.

I don’t pretend that our theologies line up on all points, and I still want to work for justice and inclusion in the church, but yesterday I realized I had more colleagues than I was aware of.

Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

This week, after you’ve asked for mercy, I invite you to prepare for Jesus’ question:

“What do you want me to do for you?”

And be prepared to see again.

Amen.

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24 thoughts on “What do you want me to do for you?

  1. I am new to your blog, and I like it. Can you, please, help me understand where you get the right for a woman to be a minister/pastor? I don't want to debate or rebutt. I am seeking knowledge.Terry Finleyhttp://psalm51ministry.blogspot.com/

  2. Terry, Thank you for your comment and question.I'm not sure I can give an exhaustive answer to your question, but let me begin…I grew up in the Presbyterian tradition, which has been ordaining women to Ministry of the Word and Sacrament for over 50 years. My gifts for ministry were called out by the congregation in which I served as Youth Director. So, in that sense, my "right" to be a minister grew out of the faith community in which I lived and served. Because of the guidance of the people around me, I heard and answered God's call (which took 10 years, by the way) and went to seminary.I suspect, though, your question is less about my particular right to be a minister and more about how women can be ministers because of your understanding of Scripture. I don't think God would have given me the calling if God didn't want me to do the work–this is the short answer. I don't lightly disregard scriptural texts that prohibit women from speaking. But I also realize that the Bible was written at a time when women were valued slightly less than cattle. In a world where women were property, it is also striking to me that the Bible gives women rights of inheritance (in the absence of sons). And women are named. Miriam, Deborah, Dina, Shiprah and Puah, etc. It is really quite remarkable that the stories of women were preserved in such a patriarchal culture. And then the New Testament comes along. Jesus considered women to be his partners in ministry as well. His interactions with women are as respectful and challenging as his interactions with men. He calls women to higher Kingdom goals–it is Mary sitting at his feet and learning who does the "better thing" and not Martha, who is busy in the kitchen, after all. The woman at the well in John 4 is one of the world's earliest preachers–"come and meet a man who told me everything I've ever done. He can't be the Messiah, can he?" She left her water jar and brought people to Jesus.Paul constantly mentions women and thanks them for their support of his ministry. Paul also reminds us that "in Christ there is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male and female".(Gal 3:28) Does that help? Blessings to you in your ministry.

  3. "Right" is probably the wrong word.I have some more questions. If I may, I will ask later.Thanks for your time and answer.I do like youl blog.Terry Finley

  4. "I don't lightly disregard scriptural texts that prohibit women from speaking. BUT I also realize that the Bible was written at a time when women were valued slightly less than cattle."Just asking. I do want to understand. Your admitting that Scripture prohibits women having authority over men leads me to ask what does the rest of your statement have to do with what I asked. Is the Bible the Word of God or not. It prohibits such BUT man (women) decide to do differently. What does the state of women at that time have to do with the authority women take that God prohibits. And what do all the women in the OT and the NT have to do with this. None of them ever held an office in the church in the NT.Again, I am trying to understand. We are facing this problem in the Church of Christ now.It is either right or wrong; it can not be both.Thank you for your ear and for helping me understand better.Terry

  5. Terry, What I was trying to get across is that I see scripture in a "catholic" sense. Not Roman Catholic, but in the Greek meaning "according to the whole". Which means that I don't just read one verse in the Bible. All of scripture, with its many different voices, combine to give us a clearer picture of who God is and who we are than any one of the voices in scripture. So, yes, there are a few voices that silence women. But there are also voices which show that women were not silenced and were active and integral parts of ministries. For that matter, there are also verses that justify slavery, or stoning people, or all sorts of things that we don't practice today.The point I was trying to make about the state of women at that time is just how remarkable it really was to have any women mentioned by name and to have any rights for women delineated so clearly–considering the heavily patriarchal society in which these texts were written. I do believe that Scripture can be authoritative and be God's most challenging Word to us, and still be a product of the context in which it was collected and written.I also believe that God is so much bigger than we can comprehend God to be. Shouldn't it make sense that God's Word to us should also be bigger than we can comprehend?One of the trajectories I see in both the Old and New Testaments is toward greater inclusion. People are always having their preconceptions shattered. Jesus' genealogy includes a woman from Moab, for example. Gentiles are included in the family of God. Jesus eats with sinners and tax collectors. He talks with foreigners and foreign women.The challenging power of the grace of God is that we can't control who receives it. Again, and again in scripture, that is the message. So, if you consider that greater message of Scripture, does that help you see how I humbly answered God's call?

  6. Thank you, again, for being patient with me and providing your insight. Answer this, please. It sounds like you are jumping to conclusions and making assumptions the Scriptures do not justify. You are going from generalizations which you conceive and coming to specifics which are not stated. You are trying to make the Scriptures say more than They say. Is that what you are doing?I am a retired army chaplain and worked with lady chaplains and have been a hospital chaplain and worked with female chaplains. It always amazed me what they used to justify their holding official positions in their churches.Thanks for helping me. I look forward to your further explanations.

  7. Terry,I'm not sure I can give you any more help. If you see what I'm doing as jumping to conclusions and making assumptions, then I'm not sure what the value is in continuing this conversation. I am not sure what other answers I would have to give you that wouldn't be seen in the same way.If you are interested, I can direct my Twitter and Facebook friends to your blog and see if they can give you better answers than I have. Let me know.Blessings to you.

  8. Thank you for being so kind. I would like to see something substantial and not your opinion or personal conclusions. In the New Testament there is no evidence or a lady holding a church office or even any implication. That is what I would like to see. Proof.I wish you could show me something and it could end this problem for me. Then I could continue my ministry in places I desire, with lady ministers.Again, thank you so much.Terry

  9. With all due respect to your call, that is based on your feelings which are subjective and no proof at all.Please, show me where the Bible authorizes a woman to hold a church office.I really am seeking for THE answer.Terry

  10. I have other sources to study on this subject. thank you and the best to youI checked out the church's website and plan to listen to some of your sermons.Terry

  11. Terry, One last comment. You refer to my call as only being "my feelings", when in reality, the call was first noticed and supported by my community. I did not just decide, one day, to become a pastor. The calling was nurtured by the Holy Spirit through my faith community.And while there were no female ordained church leaders that we know of in scripture, I'm not sure what that proves about God's will for us today. There were also no cars, yet we drive them. They didn't have hospitals, yet you've worked in them. They didn't have soccer teams, yet my children are on them. They didn't have computers, yet you have a blog.I'm assuming you don't live your life only by what is in Scripture? Do you follow the levitical codes?And if we really want to focus on what is said in scripture, Jesus spends a lot more time talking about feeding the poor and giving justice to the oppressed than he does talking about the role of women in the church. Shouldn't feeding the hungry take up more of our energy than worrying about a woman's "right" to answer God's call in her life?The power of God's Word, for me, at least, is that it can speak truth to our lives TODAY even though it was written thousands of years ago.I do hope you are able to find the answer you seek. Sorry I haven't been able to help more. Blessings.

  12. If I may, I will share my understanding of some of your statements. May I?In the mean time will you help me understand I Tim. 2:8-15? This is not a historically contextual statement. It is a theological statement.Feeding the poor, cars, computers, etc, etc, have nothing to do with this converstation. They are only ways to throw off the conversation.Even if your church helped you FEEL the call, it is still only subjective.If women can be pastors/ministers/chaplain, I want to know so that I will not be wrong about my understanding and my own personal ministry.Thanks…Terry

  13. Marci, I have been following this discussion over the last 2 days – may I suggest that you do not waste anymore time responding to this person. Behind his polite & respectful questions lies a man with some sort of chip on his shoulder about women in ministry. You have answered well but there is no convincing of people with such deeply held views and I would fear that he is trying to bait you for some weird selfish satisfaction! …. Steven

  14. Steven, I am glad you can read my heart through the computer. I can not do that.Marci has not given a Biblical justification for women in ministry. Society and culture do NOT set God's standards. She has danced around with somethings that solve her mind, no arrogance intended, Marci. Where the Bible says women should not have authority over men, Marci says they can. Now, truthfully, whom am I to trust, Marci or God?Again, not trying to be smart, just being honest.I wish she could show me.Tell me, Mr. Steven H., can you show me where the Bible authorizes women to hold offices in the church? I wish you would go ahead and do it. I invite you to.Thanks…TerryPS–I have nothing against women. It was not me that stated the rule; it was God Himself. Now man is trying to change that because women are now "liberated". That is not good logic or theology.

  15. I'm late to this thread, but cannot resist addressing it, as it is one of my favorite (or maybe least favorite) discussions.It's hard to imagine how Terry's question must sound to a woman who was raised within a religious tradition that accepts women in ministry. It would be like someone at work asking me why I thought it was okay for women to have jobs. I'd probably be too insulted by such an absurd question to respond graciously.As a former Baptist, I wrestled with this question in depth (though I have no desire to be a pastor, brrrr) and have discussed it with many women who also came from non-inclusive traditions to a place where we see that God does not discriminate based on sex — and really never has. The author of this blog has probably never wrestled with it quite as much, since her calling was supported rather than denigrated within her community of faith.Terry, if you are still around, Marci has given you a pretty substantial list of references for women in ministry. (And more graciously than you deserved, imho.) Each woman/reference in that list could be discussed in depth, and there are people around who would love to have those discussions with you. Here is a good blog that addresses topics surrounding women in ministry & egalitarianism:http://complegalitarian.wordpress.com/Then of course there's the Egalitarian Christian Alliance which has a great forum full of helpful & talkative folks. Christians for Biblical Equality is also a great resource.

  16. There is nothing in the NT that authorizes, suggests, or implies that women hold church offices.There is a far cry from doing ministry (ie, service) and being a church office holder.Again, I simply ask where is the authorization in the NT?Even in the Old Testament a woman never was a priest. Sure many fine women ministered (served), but that is not the same as being a priest.Again, all I am seeking is where in the NT does it authorize women to hold church office. Holding church offices is NOT the same as ministering (serving).Thanks you…Terry

  17. Jeannie, thanks for your comments. I'll check out those websites as well. As for Terry, I suggest you don't reply to him again. He doesn't seem to need any answers other than the ones he already has. And they seem to work for him, so that's a good thing, I guess.

  18. I would be very careful not to do what is not authorized by God.My last comment.There is NO authorization in the NT for women holding church offices. If you hold to the whole cultural argument, you could throw out the entire Bible and do (or do not) as you please.All I have asked is for Bible authorization for women to hold church offices. Since you are not going to show me any. I will move on.The best to you all.

  19. Marci, I suspect you are correct about Terry's intransigence. I'm sorry if I revived a headache; just thinking of the lurkers.What interests me in Terry's posts is the insistence on making an argument from silence. Do women *need* a direct authorization from God in order to minister? Do Asians, or dwarves, or blondes? If Terry wants to continue the conversation, I've told him where he can find willing sparring partners.Thanks for your patience,Jeannie

  20. I am not interestd in sparring.I AM interested in Marci.The argument of silence, like that of culture, opens the door to anything and everything.Your comment about Asians, blonds, and dwarves pegs the whole question (they can all be females).Marci, I did not revive this discussion. However, I am interested in you and your MINISTRY.Your statement: I don't lightly disregard plain Biblical statements for women to keep silent in the worship service, BUT. It is the BUT that will get you in trouble. It puts your wants and desire over those of God Himself.There plainly is no authorization in the Bible for a woman to be a priest, apostle, elder, or any church office. The only thing remotely close is the case of Deborah, and her function was political and not religious.The only thing for sure you can say is that God allows one woman to be a judge and that is all. NO other women held religious/church offices.It is not a case of what YOU want or feel; it is a case of what does the Bible say.I wish you the best, Marci. I am worried about you, however.Terry

  21. What about female prophets?There are four noted in the NT (see Acts 21:8-11). There is nothing in the context to suggest or imply they had any authority in the church or held any office.However, when Agabus came along, Luke saw fit to discuss his words of prophecy. Enen Agabus did not have any authority or hold an office in the church.I suppose with your hermeneutics and take on Biblical authority, you believe there are still prophets and God is still imparting His Word to us today.I am still waiting to see some NT proof that women can hold a church office and that any woman ever did hold such an office.Terry

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