Matthew 20:29-34 – The Irony of the Gospel

As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

“Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him. (New International Version)

“Irony” is a term used to describe when an outcome of an event is contrary or different from what is expected.  Here are a few examples: The firehouse burnt down. The police officer got arrested. When I was a little kid, my family doctor’s name was (and I’m not kidding) Dr. Fail. And he smoked like a chimney in his doctor office.

There is an ironic lesson in today’s Gospel lesson: A crowd of people with 20/20 vision are spiritually blind. 

The great need of the crowd is the same need of the two physically blind men: They both needed their eyes opened to Jesus and to what God was doing around them.

Just so you know, Matthew tends not to use the term “crowd” in a favorable way. He views the crowd as a mass of people who are mostly lost, but the crowd themselves tend to think they are just fine. 

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, anticipating his passion and death. And we know that it is the crowd that will be the ones who eventually cry to have him crucified. 

Two blind men are marvelously and miraculously healed by Jesus. Ironically, the crowd remained unchanged and in the dark.

First Irony: A large crowd follows Jesus to Jerusalem, but only a few (2, in fact) are actually his followers. 

Throughout Christ’s earthly ministry, all kinds of people followed Jesus for all kinds of reasons. Some wanted to bask in the latest celebrity buzz that Jesus generated. Others wanted to see all the cool stuff he does, like healing people. Some were just plain curious. And a few were interested in being like Jesus by showing selfless compassion. 

Jesus wants genuine, authentic, real disciples who will follow his teaching, and not follow the crowd.

Many people desire to conform, to not stand out, and go with the flow. That’s great if the crowd is godly. Yet many, if not most, crowds of people are not godly. In the Old Testament, a few unruly complainers got the Israelites all stirred up and the result was the making of a golden calf with a complete turning away from the God of Israel. (Exodus 32:1-35)

Second Irony: Out of the massive crowd, it is two blind men that actually see Jesus for who he is, the Son of David.

Spiritual blindness afflicted the crowd. The blind men, however, discern it is Messiah Jesus coming near them. That’s why they go against the crowd by shouting out to him. They don’t care how they look. It doesn’t matter to them that they stick out like a sore thumb. 

Jesus often avoided big crowds. Most of his earthly life occurred away from the centers of power and influence.  Christ constantly swam upstream of the prevailing notions of righteousness. Jesus didn’t cow-tow to the crowd, but paid attention to the powerless and those without influence. 

The Lord Jesus didn’t “work the crowd” as the means of establishing God’s kingdom. He didn’t cozy-up to the rich and powerful. He wanted to avoid celebrity status. Jesus showed extraordinary love to two lowly overlooked people. He used his immense power for the powerless.

Third Irony 3: The ones following Jesus were the ones trying to keep the two needy blind men from Jesus.

One of the most ironic things about church is that sometimes Christ’s own followers are the greatest obstacle to others following Jesus. 

I can just picture a group of ladies shushing the two blind men: “Don’t bother Jesus, he is such a busy man. He has important work to do.” And I can imagine some men standing next to the two blind men and nudging them for shouting at Jesus saying, “Just stop, man, you’re embarrassing yourselves.” 

But the two men won’t stop. They shout all the louder. True and genuine faith is two blind men crying out in desperation for Jesus to help them. 

And Jesus asks a beautiful question: “What do you want me to do for you?” They answered, “We want our sight.” So, Jesus showed compassion and gave them their sight. It’s all rather simple and straightforward. Not only do the two men not listen to the crowd – Jesus doesn’t either. Christ mercifully heals despite what the crowd is saying.

I wonder: Why is it so hard for us to simply ask for what we want?… 

Maybe because we don’t want to buck the crowd, don’t want to look different, or don’t want to admit our need in front of others, we just stick to superficial conversations and insist everything is okey-dokey when it isn’t. 

A crowd of people may not be able to see others because they don’t even see themselves and their place in this world. Perhaps there is a plank in our own eye hindering us from seeing a speck in another’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

It is the pure in heart who will see God (Matthew 5:8). As for the crowd, though seeing, they do not see (Matthew 13:13). If we are concerned about how we will be seen by others, it is likely we will not be seen by God. And we will miss Jesus when he walks by, right in front of us.

Jesus was attentive to the two blind men out of all the people in the crowd because he was listening for them.

Once Jesus listened, he took the time to heal the two men. Jesus could have simply healed them without even stopping. He could have started a healing factory where everyone with a need just got healed, as if they were on some divine conveyor belt to be fixed.

However, Jesus was doing more than giving sight; he was giving the blessing of time and personal response. The gospel is never impersonal, which is why we ought to resist being non-relational in ministry to others. It isn’t about simply meeting a need; it is about blessing other people. And that takes the time of relating to a person.

Jesus, furthermore, touched the men’s eyes. He didn’t have to do that. Christ could have healed without touching. In fact, it may have been gross. Many people had eye diseases with runny pussy eyes in the ancient world. 

Listening, taking time to be personal, and physically touching is how Jesus blessed people. So, we have the dual privilege and opportunity of receiving blessing from Jesus and giving that same blessing to others.

May the God of hope fill you with joy as you seek to bless others in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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