12 November 2016

Matthew 20:17-34

“Jesus stood still and called them, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.” (vv. 32-34)

Psalm: Psalm 47


The healing of the blind men as Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem is no mere incidental occurrence. It is an allegory for what is happening to his disciples.

After Jesus had asked Peter who Peter understood Jesus to be, and Peter had said that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus had spoken about his suffering and death (Matthew 16:15-21; 17:22-23; (and part of today's passage) 20:17-19). Jesus did not want the disciples to misunderstand what his Messiahship meant. Even though they could see by his teaching and his miracles and his authority that Jesus was the Messiah, they nevertheless had a blind spot. By concentrating on the promises in the long-term (eternal) future, they were incapable of seeing what this meant in the short term for Jesus (and them).

This blind spot is evident by the disciples' reaction to the events on the way to Jerusalem and their misunderstanding of Jesus' teaching. Peter tells Jesus that Jesus has got it wrong about his death (Matthew 16:22). The disciples have tried to prevent children being blessed by Jesus (Matthew 19:13). They've seen riches as a proof of blessing by God (Matthew 19:23-25). They've been keen to know what they will get out of following Jesus (Matthew 19:27). And now James and John have put their mother up to asking for a special favour (verse 21). The others' anger about this (verse 22) indicates that they still have the same desires for precedence despite all that Jesus has taught them (see Matthew 18:1-4). They should not see themselves as rulers, but as slaves - having a status perhaps even less than that of a child (verse 27). A slave only had value for how he or she could serve others, and Jesus indicates the service to which he himself submits (verse 28).

Despite all that Jesus has said the disciples are quite blind to the reason they are going to Jerusalem! It is not only Jesus who will suffer - his disciples will also share in the "cup" (of suffering) which he is about to drink (v. 22).

If only the disciples could be like the blind men who also see Jesus as the Messiah, the "Son of David" (v. 30). The men ask for their eyes to be opened, that they may see Jesus as he truly is, and may follow him. And why does Jesus touch their eyes? Because he has pity and compassion (and anger!) on those who are blind and need to see clearly.

To Ponder

  • What do you think might be the blind spots of the disciples of Jesus today?
  • Jesus only heals the blind man when they actually tell him what they need. What do you think this says about why God doesn't automatically sort the world out?
  • What does this passage say to you about what a disciple is called to do and be?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Neil Cockling

Neil spent 20 years as a circuit minister before becoming the District Development Enabler for the Newcastle upon Tyne Methodist District. He now works full-time for the NHS as a Consultant Lead Chaplain in mental health, leading a multi-faith team of 14 chaplains working in 10 hospitals in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear.