I WAS BLIND BUT NOW I SEE
Mark 10: 46-52
Back in 2009 I got a 2008 car that wasn’t new, but it was new to me. I still have it and really like it! But once I got it, my eyes seemed to open to others on the road who had the same kind of car! Has that happened to you? When I got my first car—a ’57 Chevy, you’d better believe I noticed other ’55 – 57’ Chevys! We would see each other and perhaps honk, or nod, approval. All of a sudden, your kind of car comes on your radar screen once you get it. Now that I have a grandchild, I notice the little boy toys or the little boy clothes that I used to walk by. I didn’t used to stop and look at them, but my eyes are open to baby things now. It seems that our brains can do all kinds of things, but there is a triage section of our brains that tell us what to pay attention to and what not to notice. Men, for example, are generally poor describers. We have brains wired to give the gist of a story; we are “What’s the bottom line?” kind of people. Women, by contrast, have brains wired for details. If police ever need a description of a suspect, I hope they find a woman witness. Here’s how a conversation with a man would go: Policeman to man: “What did you see?” “A man.” “How tall?” “Not sure.” “What color hair?” “Kinda brown.” “What was he wearing?” “I dunno; pants and a shirt.” That’s how most of my gender sees things! Ask a woman and the officer would likely get type and color of shirt, the style of pants, the kind of shoes, and the color of the hair sticking out from under a hat she can describe. Women, by the way God made their brains, are generally better at seeing things! But women, before you gloat about that, science has now also proven the no brain can do two things at once. Multitasking is a falsehood; the brain shifts back and forth from one task to the other, actually making both tasks done less carefully! Still I see women putting on makeup while they’re driving and men distracted by radio controls while they drive. And absolutely no one can text and drive well!
There are some people in our world who are born blind who, through some modern techniques and some miraculous work, get to see for the very first time. For those who have experienced it, they get overwhelmed by colors, and shapes, and brightness. Other people, by contrast, have spent a lifetime being able to see, until macular degeneration or some other disease or accident limits their sight. Once you have seen, it can be devastating to start losing your eyesight. And then there are those of us who can see just fine, they just can’t find things. That’s like me. Just this week I needed one of the paper copies of our church directory while I was working at my desk at home. I looked all over the desk and didn’t see one. So I got up, went to another room in another part of the house, found our picture directory and carried it to my desk. As I arrived, right on top of my desk was a paper directory! Mary Ann was not home, so either an angel dropped it on my desk when I got up or I simply didn’t see it! Even sighted persons often can’t see, but more about that in a minute.
Today Mark’s gospel gives us a text with some very unusual details for a gospel story. First, Jericho, or the road to Jericho, was the site of three events that involved Jesus: one was the Good Samaritan story about a man on the Jericho road; another was the story of the wee little man named Zacchaeus and that happened in Jericho; and now today Jesus heals a man in Jericho. Like men today who sit next the entrance ramp or exit ramps of highways with signs, Bartimaeus was a beggar. There was virtually no assistance for blind people in the first century. In America we sometimes have corrective surgeries, we have guide dogs, signs in Braille, and recorded books sent to the home of blind people for no charge. The largest Library for Blind Services in our country is right here in Daytona Beach. But still, we know that blindness is debilitating even in this century. In the first century all a blind man could do was to beg and hope someone would put a shekel or a mite into his cup. It was a means of surviving; there was no welfare for widows, orphans, lepers, or the blind. Certainly some here today have had a beggar on a downtown street, or even at a convenience store, come up and ask for change, or even more. It can be unnerving, or irritating; or it can be an opportunity to help, depending on your point of view. On this day in Jericho—which by the way was one of the most wealthy resort cities in all of Israel—the first thing we know is that a poor beggar still had not received the help he needed for the day. The second thing we know is the name of the beggar. That is unusual. We never hear the name of the woman at the well, or the name of the rich young ruler, or even the name of the boy who contributed 5 loaves and two fish for the feeding of the five thousand. But we know this man’s name. Why? Could it be that Mark wanted to not make this person just “Anyman” but to make him real; to make the story not sound hypothetical, but actual? Knowing someone’s name, especially his first name, can make a bond that creates a human environment. Knowing a name takes away depersonalization. So now we know the man’s name: Bartimaeus; we even are told his father’s name, though we could have guessed it. “Bar” in Hebrew means “son of.” Bartimaeus was son of Timaeus. So this blind man has a father and we know his name. How might the father have felt about having a blind son? How helpless must he have felt when he could not give his son sight? The third thing we notice is that the crowd only gets involved with Bartimaeus when Jesus acknowledges him. He’s there, likely crying out for help much of the day, and yet when Jesus hears him and then sees him, Jesus does an interesting thing. He doesn’t say to Bartimaeus initially, “What do you want?” He says to the crowd “Call him.” Jesus could have called him himself. Does he want them, even though their eyes work, to actually look at the man who had been ignored for weeks or even years? They have to call him, and to do that they can to acknowledge him. Someone in the crowd said, and we don’t know how he said this: “Take heart, get up, he is calling you!” The member of the crowd could have said that begrudgingly or encouragingly. We don’t know. But we do know from the words that Bartimaeus was either sitting or laying on the ground and no one said “Let me help you up and guide you to Jesus.” No one said that; they just watched; no one helped. Like the wicked stepsisters in the story of Cinderella when they prince asked for Cinderella instead of them, did they resent that Jesus looked beyond people of means and people of eyesight in the crowd who also were there to see him, to focus on the man in rags? Why didn’t Jesus help out someone else instead? Why did his ears focus in on the cries of a blind beggar? The fourth thing we notice is this: usually in the Bible demon possessed persons know who Jesus is—the Son of the Most High God—when no one else does! “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me!” This time it is a man who cannot see who knows Jesus! All the jokes about “Even a blind man could see that” really fit this story! A blind man shows a sighted crowd who Jesus is and how to approach him. “Master” he calls him, “I want to see!” Jesus could have said, “You can already see better than many others who are here,” but he knew this man was at a terrible disadvantage being blind. So he acknowledged his spiritual sightedness, (calling him ‘Master’ without seeing him), then he gave him physical sight.The man might have thought physical sight was the highest level of sightedness. But Jesus honored his spiritual sightedness more.
Church hymnals would be so much poorer without the hymns of a woman, like Bartimaeus, who could not see physically, but she could she spiritually in a mighty way, which is the kind of sight Jesus honors the most. That woman was Fanny Crosby, and every time you have been given a lift by singing “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine,” “To God Be the Glory,” “I Am Thine, O Lord,” or dozens more, it is because a physically sightless woman had spiritual vision. When the choir sang “Be Thou My Vision” today, they were singing anonymous Irish words written around 700 A.D. When I hear it as a sighted person, I make it my prayer that I may see the wounded better than I have before, the disabled better than before, the poor, the poor in spirit, and the disenfranchised better than I have before. Today we did not mainly hear a story about a man who could not see. We mainly heard a story about a community of people in wealthy Jericho who could not see like Jesus sees, when one beggar could. He could see and identify Jesus.
There is one final difference between this story and stories in other gospels. Jesus, here and at other times, tells those who he heals to go on their way, that their faith has made them well. That’s nothing new. But this time we find out that Bartimaeus did what others did not do, or were not permitted to do by Jesus; this time the gospel says that Bartimaeus “followed Jesus on the way.” What would have been waiting for him in Jericho? Nothing: years of being treated as if he were invisible told him that. So he left; he followed Jesus “on the way,” a phrase the apostle Paul later used. Bartimaeus followed Jesus “on the way,” a metaphor for the Christian life.
So today you might be able to see your bulletin, and read your hymnal, and drive yourself home. Some of you here cannot do any of those very well, if at all. But none of that matters the most to Jesus. What matters the most to Jesus is if you see him and those around you who he loves, in the many people you encounter each day. One of the people you encounter each day might be your Lord. If you can see your Lord when ever you care for the least of these, our brothers or sisters, then the most important kind of sight in the world … is yours. May each of us begin to lose any trace of spiritual blindness.
Jeffrey A. SumnerOctober 28, 2012