A reflection on Luke 18:31 – 19:10 for March 21, 2021, 5th Sunday of Lent

In this triplet of scripture stories, we get the disciples misunderstanding Jesus’ fulfillment of prophecy (what’s new, right?) followed by a juxtaposition of two stories about two men on opposite ends of the societal spectrum, both seeking out Jesus for their own needs.  In scriptures like these, I always love to do a compare-and-contrast and see what emerges from the particularities of each character.

So we have a blind beggar, a man who would have been an outcast in the societal system, and poverty stricken.  He calls out to grab Jesus’ attention and begs to be healed. Jesus responds “your faith has healed you.”  Then we meet Zacchaeus, wealthy and at the center of Roman culture, although not well respected.  And we find him hiding in a tree, perhaps shadowed by his own shame.  In this case, Jesus is the one who calls out and draws attention.

In both cases, the disciples/crowd is not happy with the interaction: in the first case, they try to silence the blind man and keep him from distracting Jesus and in the second, they judge Jesus harshly for hanging out with the “sinners.”  In both cases, they don’t get it, which might be why they miss the prophecy all together. 

In these compare/contrast situations, I love to ask congregations the questions: where do you find yourself in these verses? Are you crying out for Jesus to heal you? Are you hiding in the tree?  Are you in a phase in your life when you are seeking Jesus like the blind man, boldly and outspokenly, or are you seeking Jesus with a curious, but distanced gaze. And maybe most importantly, what is in your faith that can heal you? And once healed, how will you respond?

I also might consider exploring a midrash re-write of these scriptures, imagining two men as the two extremes of our world – and juxtapose the poor of the world crying out to be healed in contrast to the wealthy aloof, curious but disengaged.  When we imagine this story as mid-rash in this way, it would be interesting to flush out that there are parts of our society that (like the disciples) think that there is no time for the poor outcasts among us, while others of us  (like the crowd) demonize the rich and believe they are beyond God’s grace.   Jesus, however, gives time, energy, healing, and grace to both. Is the tension of this unsettling?

As we work our way towards Easter and the resurrection, these scriptures can lead us to imagining healing and grace for those on the margins and those stuck up in trees.  And whether you contrast the stories or mid-rash them out you will land on one final theme: that no matter who we are or where we are, Jesus meets us there, and grace abounds.

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Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey is a writer, artist, and pastor who has been working at the intersection of spirituality and the arts since 2001. She is currently serving as the Associate of Spiritual Formation at Colonial Church in Edina, MN. Cathy blogs at http://www.cmkolwey.com

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