Jesus heals two blind men

Anthony Zimmerman
For Catholicmind
September 6, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, crying loudly, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They said to him, "Yes, Lord." Then he touched their eyes and said, "According to your faith let it be done to you." And their eyes were opened. Then Jesus sternly ordered them, "See that no one knows of this." But they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district (Matt 9:27-31).

The blind men were of ill repute in the popular understanding, shunned by the people who assumed that their blindness was punishment for sin. For example, in Genesis 19 we read how the guests of Lot blinded the men who wanted to sodomize them. In this story nothing is said about a sinful life. On the contrary, the two must have believed firmly in Jesus, for He healed them "according to their faith." In their dark world they found faith given to them by God, in accordance with the prophesy of Isaiah: "In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see" (Isaiah 29:18). Jesus elicited from them a confession of faith: "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" before He granted the miracle. Chrysostom sees a purpose in this question. He wanted that they reflect whether Jesus Himself was the one who could heal, or whether He would ask God to heal. They came back with the answer that they believed Jesus Himself can do it:

He to lead them up to what is higher, and to teach them to entertain the imaginations they ought of Himself, saith, "Believe ye that I am able to do this?" He did not say, "Believe ye that I am able to entreat my Father, that I am able to pray" but, "that I am able to do this?" What then is their word? "Yea, Lord." They call Him no more Son of David, but soar higher, and acknowledge His dominion" (Logos CD, Early Fathers of the Church, Homily 32).

Then He healed, and gave the command that they should not spread the news around. There had been a problem with their prayer: "Son of David, have mercy on us." Jesus never spoke about Himself as "the Son of David," nor did His disciples call Him by that name. To the Jews of that time the title referred to their expectation of a military Messiah who would free them from the Romans, and make the Jews become world rulers. If the blind men would now advertise the miracle in connection with their prayer to "the son of David" it was sure to create misunderstandings and aggravate the problem. But the two were so exuberant about their healing that they could not keep the good news to themselves. The misunderstanding about the nature of the Messiah would persist among the Jews, and even among the apostles to some extent. Not until the Day of Pentecost did the disciples really learn that the kingdom of God instituted by Christ the Messiah, is not a political kingdom, but is the glorious Catholic Church, which has spread over much of the world during the past two millennia.

After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, "Never has anything like this been seen in Israel."

But the Pharisees said, "By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons" (Matt 9:32-34).

Why would a demon - one who nurtures an implacable hatred of God, who also hates humans with a frenzy - deprive the possessed man of the power of speech? What is the purpose? Incidentally, the Greek term means deaf as well as dumb. Speech is a precious capacity by which we cherish company with those around us. Children love to learn to speak and learn a mother language with keen delight in just a few short years. So, if for no other reason, the demon wanted to make the man unhappy by robbing him of his gifts.

And Jesus was doubly happy to frustrate the demon, to cast him out of the man, and restore him to normalcy. The crowd was amazed at seeing this, and perhaps taunted the Pharisees by saying that they had never been able to do the same. Their loyalty was definitely slipping away from the synagogue personnel and toward Jesus.

Healing was a special mark of the presence of the Messiah, a sign that Jesus also pointed to when John the Baptist sent an inquiry to Him. His response to John: And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them" (Matt 11:4-5). With physical healing, Christ also healed hearts and souls. To those blind spiritually He gave the gift of faith; to those lame in their duties He gave new spiritual energies; to those unclean by reason of sin, he forgave the sins; to the deaf who did not allow God's words to enter their hearts He gave the power to believe; to those spiritual dead by mortal sin, He gave God's gift of sanctifying grace; and to the poor and neglected, the Messiah brought the good news of the kingdom. Christ met all the spiritual needs of His people by enriching one and all.

Now back to the question, why would a demon take special delight in depriving a man of speech? There is some deviltry, often enough, in our failures to speak. We dread to confess our sins to a priest, and surely the devil likes to tie our tongue when he sees that. A man should say to his wife, "I love you" but he prides himself in being strong and unsentimental, and the devil heightens tensions by sitting on his tongue. Both parents ought to educate their boys and girls to keep chaste, but the devil makes them bashful and they deprive their offspring of needed help. The devil probes us for our weak spots, and he wouldn't be a trained and professional devil if he would not try to keep our mouths shut when we ought to speak.

Chrysostom, Sermon 32, observes that the man could not beg Jesus to help because the devil prevented it by binding his tongue: "For the affliction was not natural, but the device of the evil Spirit; wherefore also he needs others to bring him. For he could neither make entreaty himself, being speechless, nor supplicate others, when the evil spirit had bound his tongue, and together with his tongue had fettered his soul." Jesus did not ask him for a confession of faith, but healed him of his affliction forthwith.

The goodness of Jesus brought out the worst side of the Pharisees. They hated to see this success of Jesus, and so tried to deceive themselves and the people by saying: "By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons." That was an absurd lie, says Chrysostom:

What can be more foolish than this? For in the first place, as He also saith further on, it is impossible that a devil should cast out a devil for that being is wont to repair what belongs to himself, not to pull it down. But He did not cast out devils only, but also cleansed lepers, and raised the dead, and curbed the sea, and remitted sins, and preached the kingdom, and brought men unto the Father; things which a demon would never either choose, or at any time be able to effect. For the devils bring men to idols, and withdraw them from God, and persuade them to disbelieve the life to come. The devil doth not bestow kindness when he is insulted; forasmuch as even when not insulted, he harms those that court and honor him.

Sadly, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that wickedness has an attraction and a delight all of its own, and that there are people who deliberately choose to be wicked. As a Psalmist observes:

Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart. There is no fear of God before his eyes. He so flatters himself in his mind that he knows not his guilt. In his mouth are mischief and deceit. All wisdom is gone. He plots the defeat of goodness as he lies in his bed. He has set his foot on evil ways he clings to what is evil (From Psalm 36).

One plausible reason that keepers of the synagogues could have against the working of miracles on the Sabbath was disturbance during the regular services. Certainly the working of miracles caused a sensation which threw the smooth flowing rituals into utter turmoil. On the other hand it probably also brought in the crowds, and made the collection bag bulge. But the Pharisees, who sat "in the chair of Moses" at synagogues gradually sensed that it must be either they who remain in charge, or Jesus who is taking over. It was the purpose of Jesus, of course, to take over eventually, but the Pharisees will fight it until Jerusalem is flattened by Roman armies in the year 70 A.D.

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (Matt 9:35-38).

The pity Jesus felt for the crowds "because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" indicates his dissatisfaction with the then current Jewish leadership. The Sadducees, practically atheists, had taken over the office of the High Priesthood and made it a family affair. The Pharisees where monopolizing leadership in the synagogues, and they made religion to be a twisted fabric of outward rituals, difficult to keep, and worthless for the interior development of spirituality. Jesus is about to change that for the Church: He will place at its head Peter whose teachings He will guarantee from heaven. He will give to Peter collaborators, the bishops who will make the authentic Church present in dioceses throughout the world; and to bishops He will give pastors of local parishes who will be the grass-roots shepherds of the baptized Catholics. Thus Jesus will provide shepherds to care for His people around the globe.

One of the great mysteries of Christ's program of evangelization is the fact that He relied on people - on quite ordinary people - to volunteer to be His helpers. There were only twelve apostles, and one of them would be a drop-out, who were his permanent and committed preachers of the Gospel. Christ invented no electronic loud-speakers, nor did He use theaters, and He had no use for armies and imperial edicts. His preferred and only way was to choose these twelve, then to ask them to pray for more laborers in the harvest field. He felt a shepherd's pain because he so much yearned to reach the people with His Gospel of the kingdom. Even today the plan is the same: only volunteers - and these in response to our prayers for vocations - help Christ to spread the word among so many. Jesus wants not only that the Gospel be preached, he wants that many, many people who will be filled with the Holy Spirit as He was, and through the succeeding generations will develop into loving shepherds of the sheep. The thirst of Jesus to be the shepherd of all people should burn in the hearts of popes, bishops and priests especially. Jesus does not want to do the shepherding all by Himself; His great plan is that many of us learn to share His love for the sheep and assist Him with the beautiful work of spreading the faith.

Note that Jesus addressed the request for prayers for vocations to His disciples - to those who had "left all things" and were following Him. Peter should pray, that fisherman who had left his family behind; and James and John should pray, who had abandoned their father when mending fishing nets. And Matthew who had left the good life of wealth behind. And so the rest. They should pray that others, too, should leave behind their families and plans and ambitions, and live this celibate life with Jesus? Should they want others to serve the sick, to preach the word, to not know where they would get their next meal, or shower, or room in which to sleep? Maybe Peter and the rest would think twice before wanting others to live that way. And maybe that is exactly what Christ also expected them to do when He said these words: they should reflect on their own vocations, and confirm their choice once again. Praying that others join them should stir in them a renewal of the resolve to follow Jesus.

The 405,000 priests in the world today, who pray for vocations in response to Christ's request, renew by their prayers their own resolve to remain faithful to their vocation. Praying for others has a feed-back reaction to renew loyalty to Jesus in the hearts of His shepherds, urging them to give their all for Jesus. Pope John XXIII once spoke these beautiful words about the celibate life of priests:

It deeply hurts us that ... anyone can dream that the Church will deliberately or even suitably renounce what from time immemorial has been, and still remains, one of the purest and noblest glories of her priesthood. The law of ecclesiastical celibacy and the efforts necessary to preserve it always recall to mind the struggles of heroic times when the Church of Christ had to fight for and succeeded in obtaining her threefold glory, always an emblem of victory, that is, the Church of Christ, free, chaste, and catholic (John XXIII, to Roman Synod, January 26, 1960).