As Jesus passed by, two blind men followed him, crying out, “Son of David, have pity on us!” When he entered the house, the blind men approached him and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I can do this?” “Yes, Lord,” they said to him. Then he touched their eyes and said, “Let it be done for you according to your faith.” And their eyes were opened. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread word of him through all that land. (Matthew 9:27-31)
I’m going to be honest: Today’s gospel reading caused me anxiety. The story of Jesus healing the two blind men for their faith appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the Synoptic gospels). But Matthew tells the story twice (in chapter 9, and again in chapter 20). While the three versions (Mark’s, Luke’s, and Matthew’s second go-round) match up quite well, Matthew’s first version of the story includes the part about Jesus warning them “sternly,” and the blind men immediately disregarding his warning. So, of course, that’s the piece of today’s gospel that sticks in my craw.
What is the take-way from Jesus’ stern warning, and the healed men’s disregard? At first glance, and in isolation, it would make sense if Jesus wasn’t yet ready to have his miracles known (i.e., His time was not yet come). But looking at the ninth chapter of Matthew, where today’s reading comes in the middle of, that explanation won’t work. He’s healed a paralytic in front of crowds, a woman with a menstrual disorder, and raised a girl from death. These all happen before the story of the two blind men and Jesus’ warning. So what comes after? Jesus casts out a demon in front of yet more crowds. Incidentally, the man whom Jesus cast the demon out of had been mute, and Jesus restored his voice, which would seem counterintuitive based on the preceding story.
So what would provoke Jesus’ warning, and what can we take from it to apply to our own lives this Advent season? Let’s take a look at the final verses of the ninth chapter for a clue. It is quoted here in full:
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38)
Here at last is the clue, and the message. The healings that take place throughout the ninth chapter of Matthew demonstrate Jesus’ compassion for the people. The harvest is all those who who are sick and suffering. His instruction to his disciples calls them to be “laborers” and show similar compassion. In this context, Christ’s words in today’s gospel urging the blind men not to tell anyone come into their full meaning. He healed their blindness and relieved their suffering, but the miracle was for them, not for Him. That the blind men then went and proclaimed what had happened to them anyway says more about human nature than anything else.
As a culture (then, and now), we look toward people who are generous and charitable with a certain awe. We turn them into saints. We put them on a pedestal as an example of “someone great.” As a result, we end up idolizing the person instead of the actions. And invariably, once put on a pedestal, we look for ways to knock them off. Lost in this, is the good that was done, and the unavoidable fact that what they did was what we ourselves could have done. Many men and women who were later canonized insisting during their lifetimes that they weren’t saints. In other words, they weren’t doing anything that anyone else couldn’t do. We don’t have to be rich to spend time with the outcast, the prisoner, the elderly, the sick… We may not heal what ails them, but we act Christ-like in our compassion and our charity.
So today, we must challenge ourselves to become laborers in the field. Who can we help, and how? The harvest is plentiful.