Jesus The Outreach Worker: The Blind See

Some see Jesus as king.
Some see him as miracle worker.
Some see Jesus as God.
Jesus focused his identity as an outreach worker. A person who travelled to those in need and helped them with whatever resources he had. And he saw the kingdom of God as a place where all can be healed and granted practical hope for their lives.

The link below gives you the video of this teaching. Below that is the same teaching in text.

  1. Jesus the Outreach Worker

    There was a group of desert dwellers called the Desert Fathers and Mothers. They were what ended up becoming the Christian monastic movement. Like modern monks, they had a brotherhood and some basic rules of Christian living. They heard a rumor about one of their brothers and so followed him on his day away from the desert. Sure enough, every week when he left the compound, he went straight to a brothel and stayed there for a number of hours before returning home.

    It was determined that he should be put on trial and his brotherhood would be stripped. So the bishop came over and heard testimony about his escapades. The monks were satisfied and waited to hear what the bishop would say. The bishop then said, “We must now hear the accused. What have you to say?”

    The monk responded, “It is true that I spend my days off at a brothel. My brothers did not lie. However, I go there because my sister is in this horrendous place, and I spend hours every week begging her to leave and I would help her get set up in a new life.”

    Context means everything. We may think we understand something important, but we really know little unless we understand the context.

    We look at Jesus and different people see different things.  Some see his death for our sins. Some see his ethical teaching on love and forgiveness.  Some see his resurrection. Some see him reigning over earth from heaven right now. Different people focus on different aspects.  

But the whole context of what Jesus did, what was repeated again and again, is the context of him healing and helping the helpless.  When John the Baptist was second guessing his own pronouncement of Jesus as the “one to come after me, whose sandals I am unworthy to loosen”, Jesus told him to look at one thing:

“The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and good news is preached to the poor.”  Matthew 11:5

What was Jesus’ actions, the context for all his teaching?  He was walking down the street in town after town and finding people who were hopeless and sick and impoverished and in need of desperate help, and he provided them with just what they needed.  What they needed at the moment, and what they needed to turn their lives around.

In Eugene, as well as in most cities, there is a team of people who just go around with life-saving supplies and provided them for people on the street—socks, food, blankets, sleeping bags, tents— whatever they need so they can survive for another night or week or for the winter. These people are called outreach workers. They go to where the need is and try to provide it. This is what Jesus did.  He was an outreach worker.

When we read Jesus’ teaching or think about his challenge to the Pharisees or consider his death and resurrection, we need to remember that Jesus saw the basic context of the kingdom of God, the foundational thing he was building his community on, his life on, his future work to this very day, was outreach work.  Going to where the poor and desperate are and trying to meet their needs.

The context of all of Jesus’ teaching and his work for the kingdom was being on hand to help the needy.

2. A Man Born Blind

As Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so the the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of Him who sent me as long as it is day. Night is coming when no one can work.” John 9:1-4

a. We are to be outreach workers, too

First note the last line.  “As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me.  Night is coming when no one can work.”

I want you to notice a slight grammatical point—the first person plural.  Jesus didn’t say “I” must work, but “we”. The healing and provision and great acts aren’t supposed to just be gazed at by us in wonder.  We are supposed to figure out how we will do these deeds ourselves. This is a ministry that is supposed to be characteristic of the whole kingdom of God, by all who participate in it, not just Jesus.

Some might say, Jesus is speaking to his apostles, not to all of us today.  To that I’d say look at the speech Jesus gives to his disciples in John 14-17.  We certainly accept that passage to apply to us all. It is full of basics, such as “Love one another” and “I prepare a place for you.”  We like those passages, and certainly apply them to ourselves. But in that same speech it also says, “The works I have done, you will do as well. And greater works than these you shall do.” (John 14:12) Even as we are commanded to love (in general), we are commanded to do the kind of work that Jesus did.

We could ask the question about how to do supernatural miracles… but that’s not my focus.  Rather, I want us to learn some of the principles that Jesus taught us about how to help people in general.  Let’s not get caught up by focusing on the supernatural aspect of Jesus’ work. That’s a distraction. In fact, whenever we hear, “Well only Jesus could do that,” or, “That was done when the apostolic age was over,” simply isn’t reading Jesus close enough. He didn’t do all these acts for his own exercise. He did them to teach us how to love people in desperate need.

b. Welcoming the Outcast

So we have this blind man and the first thing the disciples consider is who to blame.  Who did this? Someone is at fault, let’s figure it out.

Jesus rightly says, “You’re missing the point.  We are to understand how to help and heal this person, not to find out why this person is having such trouble.”  Sometimes understanding the cause is helpful to determining a cure. But just as often, it’s a distraction, especially when we are looking at an outcast, rejected person.

And let’s understand, in first century Judaism, blindness is a problem.  The center of Jewish religious, social and political life is the temple, the sacrifices and all that surrounds it.  This is why scholars today call this kind of Judaism—a different Judaism than what we see today-- Second Temple Judaism.  At this time, the temple is the unifying bond between all Jews, the foundation of their nation. This is why King Herod (the same one that tried to kill infant Jesus). spends decades re-building this temple into one of the great wonders of the world.  Because he wanted it to be seen what it is—the center of Jewish politics, culture and identity.

But not everyone could get into the temple.  Primarily women and Gentiles, but even they had a court outside of the main center they could worship and pray in.  Only properly circumcised Jewish men born of Jewish mothers could enter into the temple area and be a full citizen of Judea.  But not all of them. There were some additional rules. For instance, if a person is disabled or crippled in some way, they couldn’t enter the temple.  Not because they were bad people, but because the nation was a kingdom of “priests” says the OT and according to the law, crippled priests can’t serve Yahweh.  Too weak to be seen before God.

So it was with the blind, the lame, the deaf.  They weren’t allowed in the temple. So they weren’t full citizens of the nation they lived in. Just like women and Gentiles.  This is why Jesus said that the kingdom is trying to help the people who have no rights, no opportunities. The kingdom is taking the outsiders who were looking in and telling them that they now had the chance to be full citizens that they didn’t have before.

So when the disciples mentioned that this blind man had something wrong with him, something impure, unacceptable about him, that was because that is how he was treated.  He was, as the elders said at the end of the chapter, “One steeped in sin at birth.” Because to be blind was to be unworthy to that which they were born to. The blind man didn’t have privilege. (More on this subject in the teaching, “Healing the Lepers”)

Jesus didn’t only help the blind, of course.  But he targeted those who were outcast by the system for many reasons and gave them opportunites to come to God.

3. Blind Bartimeaus

Then they came to Jericho. And as Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimeaus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he ben to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you!: Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus. And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabboni, I want to see!” And Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following him on the road. Mark 10:46-52

c. Don’t Get Too Busy

Bartimeaus is bold. He is calling out.  And when everyone tells him to be quiet, he shouts louder.  I like that. I know that Jesus liked it too.

But I want us to note that Bartimeaus is the outlier again.  The person no one wants to listen to. No one will pay attention to him.  In fact, they tell him to shut up. And, we must admit, at first, Jesus didn’t her him either.  The crowds were too loud. But once Jesus did get a sense that someone was calling him, he turned around and stopped everything to talk to him.

A study was done about a group of student preachers. They were all given a text to study, The parable of the Good Samaritan and told to preach about doing mercy to the stranger.  As is common among people doing studies, these doctors were cruel and torturous. They set up obsticles so that these students were running late for their big day of preaching. So they are in a hurry to get to the classroom to give their big sermon they were about to be tested on.  Then, on their way, in a dark corner, they hear a voice, “Help me! I’m hurt! Will someone help me?” You know how many of these preachers stopped to help? These people who had just studied a situation exactly like this, but were in a hurry? Ten percent. 90 out of a hundred people in this situation rushed by.

But Jesus did not.  He had a crowd around him and was moving to the next event, and it would be difficult for him to change his path.  But he did. He heard the voice and stopped. Everyone.

Even so, we need to not be too busy to help out others, even if it inconveniences some people. I always carry bars or socks in my car for people holding signs. But if I have to make a car behind me wait, I won’t stop. I’ll ignore them. Looking at Jesus’ example, who stopped a whole crowd focused on getting to Jerusalem, I think that unless it’s unsafe, I’ll go ahead and make people wait. It’s okay to wait for a minute so someone can have warm feet or something to eat.

d. Ask What They Need

Then Jesus did the thing I love him so much for.  Look, he’s busy, he knows what is needed, he could have just healed the blind man and boom, he’s back on his way.  That might be what I did. But Jesus stopped and asked, “What do you want?

You realize how amazing that is?  I have worked with many people over the years who help the poor and needy and it is always, “This is what we have to give.”  This is what you can have. This is the limit of what we will do for you. A person who lives with humiliation and vulnerability his whole life is faced again with another block, another humiliation.  And I have been in the situation again and again to tell people, “We don’t have that, I’m sorry.” “We can’t help you.”

But Jesus, in asking this question gave one of the greatest gifts to this man who was rejected and outcast and told what to do all his life—he gave him a choice.  His question told this man, “I am here for you. I am available. What do you need? I will do everything I can to meet your need. But you make the choice, I won’t make it for you.”

We say, well, of course he wanted to see.  But Jesus didn’t assume that. He gave him the opportunity to choose anything.  Of course, he answered, “Well, duh, Jesus I want to see.” But Jesus allowed him that choice in a life in which people were always making assumptions for him.  That one tiny bit of freedom meant everything.

Four principles from our reading today:

1. As followers of Jesus, we are outreach workers.
2. We need to target people who are made the outcast because of their weakness.
3. We need to not be into much of a hurry to help.
4. We need to ask what people need.