The Jesus Prayer
When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” -Mark 10:47
As Jesus and his disciples journeyed near Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was about to pass his way. So he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (10:47). When people tried to get Bartimaeus to be quiet, he shouted even louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
This simple cry for mercy has inspired countless prayers during the last two millennia. In particular, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, one of the most common and influential prayers is: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
This so-called “Jesus Prayer,” which has a variety of forms, is spoken millions of times each day by believers throughout the world. It is believed to be as old as the church itself. It begins with an acknowledgement of who Jesus is as Lord and Son of God. This goes beyond the messianic confession of Bartimaeus, who addressed Jesus as the Son of David. Then, the Jesus Prayer makes a simple request: “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” We need God’s mercy, not just every now and then, not just when we’re in a tough predicament, but throughout our lives, each and every day. As sinners, we need to experience God’s forgiveness, cleansing, and freedom. This comes, not through our efforts, but through God’s mercy. Because of his love for us and his faithfulness, God’s mercy is new every morning (Lam. 3:23).
How different our lives might be if we learned to rely on God’s mercy each and every day. Learning to pray the Jesus Prayer regularly helps us to be open to God in new ways as we acknowledge our dependence on him and his matchless mercy.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever prayed the Jesus Prayer on a regular basis? Do you ever ask the Lord for mercy? What would it mean for you to live each day by leaning on the mercy of God?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
The prayer phrase itself, derives from the Bible. It is what was uttered by blind Bartimaeus in Mark 10 as follows:
And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
And Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."
From this arose the tradition that when Jesus hears this prayer, he stops what he is doing, however distracted, and listens to the prayer. Similarly, in Matthew 15:22, the Caananite woman received Jesus’ undivided attention when she voiced the same prayer:
And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon."
But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
And he answered, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.