Transforming Blindness: Pentecost 23

Transforming Blindness: Pentecost 23

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost,   October 28, 2018

Year B, Proper 25: Job 42:1-6, 10-17;Psalm 34:1-8;Hebrews 7:23-28;Mark 10:46-52

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This morning we hear that Jesus is on the road. He has set his face towards Jerusalem. He knows he is going there to die. His apostles and other disciples are on the road with him, although they do not have the same certainty about what is to come.

The original twelve have been joined by a whole collection of people who have decided that they will follow Jesus and have taken to the road with him. They are close to Jerusalem, at Jericho, the last leg of the journey.

Coming into Jericho, they find the usual crowd of people anticipating Jesus’ arrival; a crowd hoping to see Jesus, hoping to learn something from Jesus. In that crowd is a blind man, Bartimaeus; and when he hears that this is Jesus, he cries out: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Presumably, it is the disciples who order Bartimaeus to be quiet. Yet, Bartimaeus according to our text cried out more loudly: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus does what Jesus usually does. He hears. He listens. He heals.

There have been other miracles in Mark. The Gospel of Mark in fact is often known as the “gospel of action” [i] Mark records seventeen individual miracles of Jesus and summarizes a number of others.[ii] He devotes more space proportionally to miracles and supernatural experiences than any other Gospel. Taken as a whole, a third of Mark’s Gospel is devoted to miracles.

Jesus has indeed come face to face with a blind man and heals him with a simple word” “Go, your faith has made you well”.

Yet, this is about more than just a miraculous healing. Mark has alluded to the spiritual blindness and deafness of the disciples in several locations throughout his Gospel. At the same time, he has presented several healing miracles in which Jesus heals those who are blind and deaf. Mark shows that Jesus not only wants to heal physical blindness and deafness He wants to heal spiritual blindness and deafness as well. As with so many of Jesus’s miracles, this one takes place in the context of a crowd. The vividness of this story has all the elements of an eyewitness account so I’m not inclined to agree with some scholars who believe that this is a metaphorical story in line with Plato’s work.

There was a blind man called Bartimaeus, who lived in Jericho. According to Jewish law at the time, blind people held a special position; he was cared for and there was nothing he was required to do. Bartimaeus was used to being blind. It was a way of life for him.

And yet he cried out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” Bartimaeus chose sight over blindness. In the next instant he could see. He was blind no more. Because Bartimaeus had so much faith in Jesus, he was healed of his blindness.

Bartimaeus may have experienced physical blindness, but he saw the realm of God in a way that the disciples did not, at least at that point. When Jesus open his eyes so that he can see (physically and spiritually), he begins to follow Jesus. He’s all in. He wants to be part of the transforming kingdom of God which is all about making everything new, not merely putting new people into seats of power and privilege.

What we hear in this Gospel is a transformation of life. Like Job who stated, “now my eyes see you”, Bartimaeus has met God in his life and his life is transformed. He grasps what the disciples have not fully grasped in their time with Jesus.

What about us?

How are we blind? How do we not see?

Not seeing does not have to mean not being able to see through our eyes. We can be blind in our heart, not feeling compassion for our brothers and sisters.

We may not see in the head, not thinking of anyone but ourselves, not caring about how what we do affects others.

We can be blind in our being, not wanting to make a scene, following along with the masses without thinking about our own hopes and dreams, not thinking about who might be hurt.

We can be blind in our spirit, not seeking and knowing the love of God. Not learning from the teachings of Jesus.

We can be those things, but I am reminded of the hope that Anne Frank wrote of as a teenager: “everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, often to be dashed by the reality of a difficult world around us.

There’s a word in today’s gospel reading that is often overlooked. Bartimaeus asks Jesus to let him see “again”. This is crucial in our understanding of the world around us.

Our world is a struggling place. Anger and selfishness seem to be the most prevalent emotions. Angry people are committing unbelievable acts of violence. We wonder what will become of our society, of our nation.

We need to see. We need vision. We need to be healed in faith.

We must not abandon our ideals, our hopes, even when they seem impossible, absurd and impractical. I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of what happens around is, our lives can be transformed through the love and mercy of God and Christ Jesus.

I have witnessed that transformation occur in the Episcopal Church. Twenty years ago, a young gay man was brutally murdered because he was gay. On Friday, his ashes were laid to rest in the National Cathedral at a service presided over by Bishop Mariann Budde of the Diocese of Washington and retired Bishop Gene Robinson. For twenty years his parents kept Matthew Shepard’s ashes because they feared that those ashes would be desecrated. I am so proud of our church, our bishops, our Cathedral for transforming the Episcopal Church into what Jesus Christ calls us to be. The way of love. The way, as Jesus refers to it in today’s gospel, is not merely love in the sense of eros, but the way of discipleship, the way of agape.

For the next several Sundays, you will hear about stewardship. Being good stewards of our resources. We need to make choices about how we use our time and our abilities and our financial resources, about how we offer the things that each of us, everyone one of us can do in the world as followers of Jesus.

We all have unique stewardship journeys.  And the stewardship journey I’m talking about is not simply the stewardship of money.  I’m talking about the stewardship of our relationship with God. The stewardship of “now my eyes see” and the stewardship of “My teacher [or Rabbouni”, let me see again”.

This is a time when as a church we ask parishioners to look inward concerning our relationship with God through our church. To Think of the joy, possibility, fellowship, and nurture that we gain from our church. Many of us have walked through the milestones of our lives together. We have experienced birth, life, endured challenges and even faced death. Through these times our church community members have always reached out to one another to provide nurturing and support.

Our ministries continue to grow strong. We continue to be transformed by our discipleship in Jesus Christ.

When we look about out stewardship efforts, it is not to simply reflect the church’s budget, which is important, but it is to see how we take up Jesus’ challenge to follow him.

When we establish priorities for ourselves and for our churches, we transform how we think about generosity. That transformation will call us to look for generosity in every aspect of our work, in every aspect of our lives. Remember the tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel that we heard several weeks ago, “Jesus, looking at the man, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

[i] David Spell. Miracles in Mark (Resource Publications – an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers), Introduction.

[ii] 2. James A. Brook. Mark: The New American Commentary, ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1991), pp. 51-52.

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