The God Who Cares: Appealing to the Rule and the Mercy of God
As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, shouting, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matthew 9:27)
For several weeks we’ve been looking at Jesus’ encounters with different individuals and groups after launching his ministry. He has taught, healed, delivered, and challenged.
Now, he is simply “going on” — traveling, literally walking the road with his disciples as he often did. As he goes, two blind men follow, shouting out words that are both a profound statement of faith and an appeal to the heart of God.
But it’s easy for us to overlook both. In this post, let’s take them in reverse order.
“Have Mercy on Us”
Over time, words take on new associations and lose old ones. In the process, we may end up understanding even our own language in quite erroneous ways.
For example, we think of “mercy” almost purely in judicial terms.
With our impressions shaped more by Hollywood melodramas than by the Bible, we think of mercy as something handed down to the undeserving by kings, judges, or heroes — often in a detached or even disdaining way, a sign of the hero’s goodness that only further shames the villain.
We picture the Beast in Beauty and the Beast letting Gaston go rather than throwing him off the roof, or Scar slinking away as Simba banishes him instead of killing him — with strict orders to go away and never come back.
We picture a stern Roman emperor letting some groveling toady off the hook, to the glory of the emperor and not much to the comfort of the toady.
In talking with people, I’ve found this definition to be almost universal: Mercy is something we don’t deserve, but which God gives us anyway. It’s being let off the hook for our guilt — or at least, incurring a lesser penalty — instead of being fully punished for it.
The problem with this definition is it doesn’t fit the majority of the Bible’s uses of the word, either in New Testament or Old. It certainly doesn’t fit this picture in Matthew, unless we are meant to believe the blind men saw themselves as somehow standing trial.
What Is Biblical Mercy?
In Greek, the word translated “mercy” is eleos. It means to feel sympathy or pity toward the pain of another person, particularly in such a way that we are moved to act to help them.
The Hebrew equivalent is racham, a word better translated compassion or even empathy. Derived from a root that means “womb,” racham speaks of a deep, gut-level identification with another’s suffering.
In the Bible, “mercy” is frequently applied to situations that have nothing to do with the passing of a sentence on anyone. The Good Samaritan shows “mercy” to the man who has been beaten and left for dead by caring for him (and we are told to do likewise). “Mercy” is shown to the poor in the form of alms and practical help.
Jesus likewise shows “mercy” when he heals — not because the illness or wound should be understood as a just punishment from which God is releasing the afflicted, but because the suffering of others moves him.
When Jesus is confronted with the realities of human brokenness, poverty, and pain, He feels them. He empathizes with the suffering on a gut level, and his empathy moves him to act — to use his power to set them free. We may rightly picture tears in his eyes as he sees the suffering of those who approach him, just as he wept by Lazarus’s grave before raising him from the dead.
Interestingly, the blind men don’t ask Jesus for a specific act of healing. They simply cry out for mercy: Lord, see us, feel for us, care about us, and act on our behalf. Maybe they believed he could heal. Maybe they were just hoping for alms from the common purse he and his disciples carried.
Either way, they appealed to Jesus’ heart. They asked him to care. And he did.
Son of David
Besides appealing to Jesus’ heart, the blind men also appealed to his authority.
The term used by the blind men is one of the strongest declarations of faith we’ve seen so far in Matthew. They don’t call out “Rabbi” (Teacher), but “Son of David.” As we saw in one of the first posts in this series, Matthew identifies Jesus as the Son of David in the opening of his gospel:
The historical record of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. (Matthew 1:1)
This is a loaded term. It identifies Jesus as David’s heir, the rightful king of Israel and the one ultimately destined to rule over all the world.
Long ago, God had promised that one of David’s descendants would be appointed “over My house and over My kingdom forever” (1 Chronicles 17:14); that David’s heirs would “sit on the throne of the LORD’s kingdom” (1 Chronicles 28:5) — that is, of the kingdom of God.
Ultimately this points to the mystery of incarnation: that one of David’s descendants would be worthy and able to rule the kingdom of God because he would be God, even as he was truly a descendant of David.
It’s unlikely that the blind men in Matthew understood that, but they did know Jesus was more than a teacher and more than a prophet: that he was a king, and the kind of king who does justice for the oppressed and has mercy on the suffering.
Not only does Jesus have the heart to help the suffering, he also has the power and the right to do so. And that makes all the difference.
When the Blind Can See
Speaking of the messianic age that was to come, Isaiah prophesied:
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped. (Isaiah 35:5)
There is irony in Matthew’s scene: that in the huge crowd that is following Jesus, it is two blind men who see him for who he really is. They see both his heart of compassion and his authority to rule.
While the Pharisees debate everything from Jesus’ place of birth to the source of his power, and the common people continually ask him to prove himself through further signs and wonders, the blind men simply see the truth.
This is the Son of David. This is the Merciful One, who will see us, hear us, and have compassion on us.
Out of that faith, they call out to him. Out of the same faith, so can we — believing first that Jesus cares. That when we hurt, he hurts. That when we feel broken, so does he. That he shares our pain and cries for and with us.
And believing second that he has the power and will to help, and that he will do so — not always in the way we expect, or in the timing we hope for. After all, when the blind men called out “Son of David,” they likely expected Jesus to overthrow Rome and sit on a physical throne in Jerusalem within their lifetime, solving the pain of Roman oppression forever.
Jesus didn’t do that. But he did restore their sight. He failed many of the expectations of his contemporaries. But he fulfilled his purpose and his Father’s will.
Right at the center of that will was God’s desire to fully identify with suffering humanity. We too can cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us.” We are calling out to a friend who cares — a king with tears in his eyes and a hitch in his voice. We can know that he cares. We can know that ultimately, he will make all things right.
Like what you’re reading? Visit rachelstarrthomson.com to get a free ebook on the Lord’s Prayer and keep up with the rest of the series on the gospel of Matthew.
This is Part 130 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
Originally published at rachelstarrthomson.com on August 14, 2018.