St. Luke 8:31-43
March 3, 2019 A+D
Jesus says to the blind man: “Receive you sight. Your faith has saved you.” All modern English translations, including the New King James, translate the word “saved” as “made you well.” That is not the primary meaning but it can be used this way. If it is used that way here Jesus is saying is that faith in the Lord’s ability to heal has saved the man from blindness.
That idea is certainly valid. Christians rightly trust in God for temporary and material blessings. The vast majority of our prayers are based on this. We spend more time, or use more words, asking God for relief from all sorts of things and for various temporal blessings, such peace, health, and good weather, along with thanking God for temporal goods, such as food, family, and country, than we do asking God for the forgiveness of sins or thanking Him for salvation.
This isn’t a misemphasis on our part. The Lord’s Prayer also follows this pattern. Luther emphasizes the spiritual aspects of “Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” and “Deliver us from evil” in his Small Catechism, but all of those petitions, along with “Give us this day our daily bread,” have a temporal aspect as well. Jesus does not teach us to ask only that we be whisked off to heaven and for nothing more. Along with bodily needs, we are asking that justice and equity, beauty and truth, be the hallmarks and adornment of our daily lives. We want to live in God’s Kingdom now, here on earth. We want His will done throughout our nation. We are want to be free of all deprivation and lack.
Our prayers move quickly to the temporal because we believe and expect that God the Creator not only can give us good things, such as sight to the blind, but also that He wants to. God want us to ask Him to bless us with temporal goods and to spare us from temporal evil and sorrow. He is also moved by our prayers to do precisely that.
The blind man rightly looks to the Son of David, Jesus the Creator, not only for the forgiveness of sins and the mercy for which he cried, but also for the restoration of his sight. He is unashamed to ask for this. He is not too spiritual to want to be physically whole and something closer to what he will be on the Last Day in his perfected body. His trust that God is the Creator and wants to bless him with physical, temporal goodness, moved him to pray and ask for sight. That trust was rewarded with what it asked for. Thus it is perfectly keeping with the analogy of faith and the rest of Scripture to understand Jesus’ words “Receive you sight. Your faith has saved you” as meaning “your faith has made you well” or “your faith has saved you from physical blindness.”
Nonetheless there can be no faith in God’s goodness and desire to spare us from physical need apart from the salvation of the soul and rescue from the fire of Hell that sinners deserve. The blind man’s faith in Jesus’ ability to cure his blindness is founded upon his faith in the goodness of God which saves sinners from facing the Law’s punishments for sin. If God had not reconciled us to Himself through the self-offering and resurrection of Jesus Christ, declaring us to be righteous and our sins forgiven, then there would be no hope for material or temporary goodness. The faith that saves in this sense, that saves us from Hell, is the faith that takes hold of God’s promise and thereby of Christ Himself.
When we say “faith saves” this is what we mean. I don’t know I’ve ever heard anyone in our circles say “faith saves” to mean that faith prays and gains a temporal good. They have always meant faith in Christ saves the sinner from damnation.
This faith, saving faith, is the communion between God and Man which the Holy Spirit creates and bestows in His children by His Word and Sacraments. It saves. The Scripture sometimes speaks of this faith as knowledge, as love, and also as fear. It also speaks of this faith relationally, having nothing to do with the mind of man or his will. There faith is simply being a child in a family or the bride of a husband or born into the citizenship of a country. So it is that infants who might seem to have lack awareness of their faith since they can’t speak about it are fully in the faith. They believe in Christ. This is reckoned unto them as righteousness. Even without an ability to talk about it or reflect upon it, they trust in the goodness of God’s command to baptize even as they trust their mothers to feed them. So also they know the Name of God “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” in the waters of Holy Baptism as their own name even as they are born into this world knowing their mothers’ voices. This, again, is the faith that saves apart from it there is no salvation. No one is saved without faith.
Back to the blind man. I suspect that what Our Lord speaks to the blind man here with the phrase “your faith has saved you” is both of these things at the same time, that Christ likely makes less of a distinction between these than we do. The blind man who had asked for mercy asked to be healed. Jesus healed him by saying “Receive your sight.” Then He added a bit of catechesis: “Your faith has saved you.” He means “You were right to ask Me for healing and calling out to Me as the Son of David for mercy. You have rightly recognized Me as the Messiah who is more than a Man, who is God the Creator come to save His creation and take away the sin of the world. You are thus saved you from eternal damnation and made you one of my children. This faith creates is a holy fellowship between us given by the Holy Spirit. Thus you are enabled you to pray and to ask Me for healing. The faith that saved you, which enlightened you as to My true nature and goodness, is also that which enables you to receive sight as a gift from My Hand.”
All that to say, the translators should have left the word “save” and let us preachers do our job. Jesus is speaking broadly and to narrow it to “made well” is slightly off. Even though it is most unlikely that Christ stood there parsing all this out in the moment the simple reality is that temporal and eternal benefits are intertwined with the former absolutely dependent upon the latter. Faith saves is more than a future hope but it is always a future hope. At the same time faith itself is worthy of praise and it enables all the goodness of creation to be enjoyed.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.