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.”
Out of their gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see.
When I was about twenty-four year old, I encountered the film adaptation José Saramago’s novel, Blindness, and Advent returns my mind to Saramago’s gripping allegory. Blindness chronicles the harrowing story of a handful of characters who, along with citizens of their unidentified city, become stricken with an inexplicable, contagious blindness. As the condition spreads, an epidemic is declared and those afflicted by “the white sickness” are quarantined in a filthy, overcrowded asylum. When the protagonist’s husband, an ophthalmologist, contracts the condition, she joins him in captivity by lying to the authorities about her health: she can still see. Within the asylum, conditions deteriorate quickly. When food becomes scarce, an armed ward of the asylum seizes what rations remain and terrorizes the other wards with unspeakable cruelty. “The doctor’s wife” eventually frees the small band, only to discover the whole world stricken.
Isaiah 29:17-24; Matthew 9:27-31
We might assume, at first glance, that this is just another healing story among many in the gospels. There were numerous accounts of Jesus healing, as we know, and the gospel writers cited them as proof that Jesus was from God and was doing the work of God. As a miracle story, this account has some unique features, such as the fact that two blind men were healed rather than one, and that the healing took place inside a house rather than in an open public space. The important role that believing seems to play in this account is also noteworthy. In other miracle stories Jesus does not seem to require faith on the part of the person in need, but here he specifically questions the faith of the blind men. “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” he asks them. He underscores the importance of their faith a second time when he makes a direct connection between their belief and their ability to receive healing: “According to your faith let it be done to you.” Only after he has tested their faith does the healing occur.