Properties of Mercy – Br. Jim Woodrum

Br. Jim Woodrum

Matthew 9:27-31

Our lection this morning is one of three or four concentrated stories of healing in Matthew’s gospel. Usually, they are considered together in context. But this morning we hear only one of these: two blind men following Jesus and crying loudly, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” Jesus engages with them and asks, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They reply, “Yes, Lord.” He then touches their eyes and says, “According to your faith let it be done to you.”

For me, this story brings to mind a prayer which we find in the Rite I liturgy of the Eucharist in the Prayer Book. The Prayer of Humble Access[i], while beautifully worded in the archaic poetry of the Rite, evokes different feelings in people depending on their experience. Some find the language self-deprecating. Yet, others find in it inspiration. It begins: “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.”

In our lesson, we see the blind men approach Jesus from a place of humility. In Jesus day, it was believed that if you were born blind, deaf, palsied, had leprosy or some other malady, it meant that you were being punished for either your sins or those of your forebears. The approach of these men to Jesus was bold because they would probably have not even been allowed to enter the Temple by their Jewish peers, being seen as unclean. However, in their blindness, they recognize something in Jesus that gave them the faith to approach him. They shout, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” The term ‘Son of David’ was an honorific title that expressed the hopes of deliverance to Israel from all that was oppressive. For many, this was the Roman occupation of their land. But to these men, Jesus the Son of David, was the deliverer from their own blindness, which kept them separated from others. The name of the Son of David is the embodiment of God’s mercy and compassion.[ii]

The hinge or pivot in the Prayer of Humble Access is the recognition of this attribute to God. It continues, “But thou are the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy.” Indeed, mercy, grace, and loving kindness are the essence of God, and Jesus is the face of God in our midst. If we recognize this as the blind men did in Matthew’s gospel, the recognition of God’s essence will make us bold to approach Jesus in our need in faith that He will provide for us, heal us, and love us, giving us the capacity to see in ourselves these same attributes. Jesus asks, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They reply, “Yes, Lord.”

And with that affirmation, Jesus heals the blind men, not only of their physical impediment, but also of any perception of unworthiness or notion that they were a product of sin. When they left Jesus “they went away and spread the news about him throughout that district.” They wanted to share the good news of God’s love in the person of Jesus so that others could know and understand what they had experienced themselves.

The Prayer of Humble Access closes with this petition: “Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.” May we come to know and believe in God’s love. May we be bold to approach God in humility and faith. May we come to share our experience of how Jesus has provided, healed, and loved us to wholeness. Amen.

[i] The 1979 Book of Common Prayer contains a shorter version of this prayer. The one I use here is from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

[ii] Ward, Richard F. Feasting on the Gospels. Edited by Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson, vol. 1, Westminster John Knox Press, 2013.

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