Exegesis Luke 18:35-43
As [Jesus] approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. Hearing a crowd passing by, he inquired what was happening. “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by,” they told him.
So he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Then those in front told him to keep quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to him. When he came closer, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord,” he said, “I want to see.”
“Receive your sight.” Jesus told him. “Your faith has saved you.” Instantly he could see, and he began to follow him, glorifying God. All the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.
Christian Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2020), Lk 18:35–43.
I will focus on these two Interpretations:
- Why would the crowd try to silence the blind beggar?
Through Luke’s narrative, there is a pattern with how Jesus interacts with the society’s rejects and downtrodden. Time and again, Jesus goes against the cultural norms of first-century social structures and engages those who are less fortunate – those who have been evicted from the culture. Take, for instance, Peter’s mother-in-law in chapter 4:38-39. To engage with a person who was ill was risking ritual uncleanliness and quarantine. Jesus went to her nonetheless and healed her, apparently unconcerned with his standing in the culture.
Another example is chapter 7:36-50 with the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. In first-century Jewish culture, there were many reasons for this act to appear as insulting. First, she was a woman intruding upon a male gathering. Second, she was touching Jesus’ feet in a very intimate way. While the Pharisees wanted Jesus to rebuke her for her action, Jesus instead elevated her to a high place in Christian history.
These events were all a part of Jesus’ ministry and would have been seen and experienced by his disciples coming into Jericho. However, when a blind beggar starts shouting for mercy, his immediately told to cease. The assumption can be made the disciples were a part of the crowd attempting to silence the man. This assumption is because, in that culture, a teacher with the status Jesus had should not be concerned with unclean and rejected people (despite Jesus’ many examples to the contrary). The man had to strikes against him. First, he was blind. This condition could have been seen as a result of sin either within himself or his family (John 9:2). Also, he was a beggar, and it can be safely assumed that he was in a religiously unclean state therefore ostracized by society. The crowd (and the disciples) were doing the culturally normative act of keeping the esteemed teacher clean. But like all of the other instances when he encounters someone cast out from society, Jesus engages the blind beggar despite the crowd’s intentions.
- What does Jesus mean when he states “your faith has saved you” in vs. 42?
When the blind beggar is brought to Jesus, Jesus asks him the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” (vs. 41a). Jesus is reaching out to the man and engaging him with his needs. Jesus knows his needs, but he wants the man to state what he needs. By asking this question, Jesus is opening up the man to receive healing. If the man would have said, “Give me lots of money,” it is not clear that Jesus would have accommodated that request. Jesus wasn’t asking the man if he needed earthly possessions, but he asked the man his greatest need. The root of the man’s problems, what led him to beg in the street, was that he was blind and incapable of participating in society.
The man stated clearly, “Lord, please let me see.” (Vs. 41b). by saying clearly his need, the man was telling Jesus, “you can do this, I know you can.” Surely Jesus’ reputation for his healing ministry was known to the man. It is most likely that the man had heard the stories and understood the power of Jesus. This is why he cried out to Jesus (vss. 38, 39b), knowing that if anyone could heal him, Jesus could. Jesus did heal him, but the reason he gave was that the miracle of sight could be given to him because of the man’s faith. Faith (πίστις pistis) is trust and belief. It is not a religious work but an inward surrender. Faith is not the same as wishful thinking. Faith is built upon repeated facts and evidence. The man knew who Jesus was and what he could do. He had probably learned of Jesus’ reputation (evidence) and trusted (put faith into) Jesus for his healing. By surrendering to the power and love of Jesus, the man had the gift of sight given to him.
When we find ourselves in times of trouble and pain, this passage can lend a great deal of comfort. Jesus does not pass by someone in need; he brings them to him to perform healing movement. But there are a few things on our side that we need to do to receive that healing.
The first thing we need to do is call out to him. The blind beggar in the passage (Matthew mentions two beggars in 9:27, and Mark gives him the name of Bartimaeus and speaks of Jesus leaving the city in 10:46-52) called out to Jesus for mercy. Those around him tried to quiet him, but he yelled out a second time nonetheless. When we are in pain and turmoil, we need to cry out our hearts to God. No matter what obstacles get in our way, we must be insistent in our cry for mercy because it is only through Jesus that healing can occur.
The second thing we need to do is answer Jesus’ profound question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Vs. 41. Jesus is ready to provide us with healing and strength, but we need to be specific on the root of our issues. For the blind man, his problem wasn’t a lack of money, food, or housing. His main problem was that he was blind. When Jesus asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?” he is doing so so that we can take the time to evaluate what the real issue is. Are we asking for surface relief, or are we asking for deep, Holy Spirit healing and strength?
Lastly, we need to have faith. We need to put our trust in Jesus willingly. This faith is an essential component because, without faith in Jesus, he cannot put the Holy Spirit to work. If one does not have faith in Jesus, he will not force himself on the person in pain. But when one cries out in turmoil and agony, knowing and trusting that Jesus is the center and source of encouragement, strength, and healing, then the Holy Spirit can do his work of restoration.
Summary and Review
- Summary – This scene takes place after several vital interactions. First, Jesus gave a parable about how people need to be persistent when appealing to God (vss. 1-8). Next, Jesus presented another parable about humility in prayer and how we need to be childlike (vss. 9-17). In the third scene, Jesus has an interaction with a rich ruler (18:18-24). Jesus then taught how people could not buy their way into the Kingdom of God (vss. 24-29). Then, taking the twelve aside, he prophesied his death and resurrection (vss. 31-34). In this context, we find Jesus near (not in) Jericho.
Outside the city, a blind beggar addresses Jesus. Although the gospels of Matthew and Mark give different details, “there is little doubt that all three refer to the same incident, but with our present information it may be impossible to give a satisfactory explanation of these differences.” Nevertheless, the beggar calls out to Jesus. The crowd, along with assumedly the disciples, try to quiet the beggar. However, the man calls out repeatedly, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vss. 38-39). Jesus has the man brought to him, and he asks the blind man a question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (vs. 41).
The blind man asks for his sight, and because of his faith, he is healed. The man rejoiced in his healing and the people, who had just moments before attempted to silence him, also rejoiced. According to Story: “The blind man’s joyful response parallels the healed Samaritan leper’s grateful joy (Luke 17:15-16). Matthew’s two stories and Mark’s story find their climax in the healing of blindness, while Luke highlights the dual response of joy, both from the man and the people. For Luke, joyous affection is an important piece of the story.”
- Critical Assessment – The whole of Luke 18 displays a progression of teaching, challenge, prophecy, and active ministry. The two parables instructing on prayer leads to his teaching on how one can’t buy or earn their way into God’s grace; Jesus made humanity’s problem clear. No matter who you are, where your station in life is, or whom you associate with, we are all lost and without hope, because we cannot work or earn our way into God’s love. He then gave the solution – one the disciples did not want to hear and could not understand. He was to go to Jerusalem to be executed but also resurrect on the third day.
This progression culminates with Jesus demonstrating what he has just taught. As Wright states:
“Luke, in this passage, builds up the tension between two strands which will finally come together, and find their resolution, in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. On the one hand, Jesus tells the disciples again that the reason for their journey to Jerusalem is so that ‘the son of man’—now clearly identified as himself—may be treated brutally by the pagan occupying forces, and killed, and be raised on the third day… On the other hand, we find a blind beggar who trusts Jesus so completely that, when offered the chance to scale down his great request (how easy it would have been to ask for money or food instead), he goes for the chance of a lifetime and asks for his sight back again. Once more Jesus can tell someone that their faith has been the means of their rescue, their salvation. The man joins the crowd, following and praising God.”
Wright is correct in this assessment. It shows that that demonstration of love to the blind beggar, a social outcast, reveals the man’s faith and the power of Jesus. Per Liefeld: “This incident shows that Jesus, who was on his way to the royal city of Jerusalem, was the “Son of David” (vv. 38–39), i.e., the Messiah. It also allows Luke to point again to Jesus’ concern for the needy and especially to show his healing of the blind as a messianic work (cf. 4:18). In addition, this miracle emphasizes the importance of faith (v. 42) and (in Luke only) the glory that God receives through the ministry of Jesus (v. 42)” (emphasis mine).
Further, this healing sets the narrative up for further social and economic commentary with chapter 19. In between teachings on the Kingdom of God’s economy, he then demonstrates those principles in his power through the man’s faith.
- Reactions and questions, and application – This is one of my favorite healing stories. I remember reading this story a couple of years ago while in Jericho. While looking at the sights around me, the thing that kept coming to my mind, and still does, is Jesus’ question to the blind man: “what do you want me to do.” I think that there are times when I think I am asking God for the right thing, but he is prompting me to search my inner desires and ask for the real need in my life. For instance, when we were struggling with our finances early in our marriage, I would pray for more money, a better paying job, or some windfall to come my way. Unfortunately, none of those came at the time I “needed” them.
What God showed me was that what I actually wanted was wisdom. I needed understanding in finances and not just a quick fix. When the blind man answered that he wished to receive his sight, he asked for his most profound need. This need is where Jesus wants to meet us. When I answer his question with my most profound need, he can demonstrate his power, which brings alive the teaching he left us on God’s economy and prayer.
 Leon Morris, Luke: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 3, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 287.
 J. Lyle Story, Joyous Encounters: Discovering the Happy Affections in Luke-Acts (Chestnut Ridge, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2018), Kindle Edition, 92.
 Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 219.