Following the road to true discipleship

Father John A. Kiley

Of the many titles accorded Jesus Christ during his public life, the designation “Son of David” is linked by Saints Matthew, Mark and Luke with the healing ministry of the Messiah. In this coming Sunday’s passage from St. Mark, the blind Bartimaeus, begging by the roadside cries out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.” Refused any attention by the disciples, the blind beggar persists, “Son of David, have pity on me.” Jesus overrides his disciples’ insensitivity, acknowledges the man’s faith, and heals him. “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.” Faith leads to healing; healing leads to discipleship.
A similar tale, possibly the same tale amplified, is presented twice by St. Matthew in chapters 9 and 20. In the first instance, two blind men cry out along Jesus’ route: “Son of David, have pity on us!” They manage to follow Jesus to a nearby house where the Master questions them: “Do you believe that I can do this?” When they profess their faith, Jesus opens their eyes. Jesus cautions them to tell no one, but St. Matthew reports, “… they went out and spread word of him through all that land.” Faith again leads to healing and healing to discipleship. The narrative in chapter 20 is almost identical. Now two blind men sit by the roadside and cry out, “Son of David, have pity on us!” Again they are hushed by the crowds but the sightless men persist: “Lord, Son of David, have pity on us!” Jesus, “moved with pity,” concedes to their request, here touching their eyes. “Immediately they received their sight, and followed him.” Again, faith leads to healing and healing leads to discipleship.
St. Luke 18 also includes a narrative of a roadside cure. Near Jericho, Jesus is petitioned for a healing: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!” Again, refusing to be silenced, the man cries out, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Jesus responds to the man’s faith and happily decrees, “Have sight!” The result is familiar: “He immediately received his sight and followed him, giving glory to God.” First faith, then healing, then discipleship.
Twice more in St. Matthew’s account the Messianic title “Son of David” is linked with Jesus’ healing ministry. In chapter 12, the narrative reads, “Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute. He cured the mute person so that he could speak and see. All the crowd was astounded, and said, “Could this perhaps be the Son of David?” Again in chapter 15 the story unfolds, “And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”
King David was the first Jewish king to unite all twelve tribes of Israel around the holy city of Jerusalem. Once the Jews had crossed the Jordan River with Joshua, the twelve tribes scattered to their assigned territories, sometimes entering into rivalries with one another, sometimes being assimilated with their pagan neighbors, sometimes insolating themselves from their rich Hebrew heritage. King David healed these centuries of estrangement, animosity and alienation among the Jewish people. He was truly a genuine healer, an effective unifier, a good shepherd. Jesus’ first century Jewish audience clearly hoped that Jesus in his time would prove to be a physical healer equal to or even surpassing the political healing labors of King David.
The twelve ancient Jewish tribes were originally interested only in pursuing their own interests and were blind to the need to worship God and to serve God as a united people. In this Sunday’s first reading, Jeremiah (31:7) rejoices when such blindness is later healed: “The LORD has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst.” Just as King David healed the scattered Jews in his day and some later exiled Jews were made one again in Jeremiah’s day, so the ministry of Jesus Christ was to heal his generation and all successive generations of their spiritual blindness, strengthening his disciples first of all and then all believers to extend his ministry of healing and reconciliation.
This healing ministry of Jesus Christ, “Son of David,” happily and boldly continues down the ages through the restorative labors of the Christian believing community. Like the disciples who were initially blind to the exact demands of Gospel living, the Church community is sometimes blinded by social pressures, secular pursuits, and spiritual novelties. The original Gospel experience of faith in Christ and his Church, healing through Scripture and sacrament, and discipleship in daily life is easily obscured. Once spiritual sight is healed and opened fully to Jesus, the “Son of David,” the road to true discipleship should be clear.


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