Let Me See Again: Proper 25

Let Me See Again: Proper 25

Proper 25: October 24, 2021
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

Year B: Job 41:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34:1-9; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

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When Marty and I first visited the Shenandoah Valley together for the first time a few years ago, it was suggested that we go to Shenandoah Caverns. If you’ve ever been in one of the many caverns in the area, like Shenandoah or Luray, you have an idea of how dark it can be in those caverns.

Sometimes with the help of floodlights or colored spotlights, you can admire the incredibly unique and fascinating rocks structures in the cavern. But there’s a good chance that the guide might ask you to stand still for a moment while he or she turns off the lights. And as you stand in total darkness, they might explain to you that this darkness is 40% darker than the darkest night ever experienced on the source of earth.

It can result in a pretty helpless feeling as you stand there in a cave with such deep and total darkness. Bartimaeus’ world was pretty dark. In fact, if he was physically blind as the texts suggest, maybe he saw some shadows, maybe not. But to be sure Bartimaeus would have probably felt very helpless.

Bartimaeus sat by the road in Jericho where it took off toward Jerusalem. People probably tolerated him. They let him sit there. He was blind and not of any use to anyone, so he sat there and begged for food; it was likely all he had to survive on.

Day after day he would sit along the road and call out. But this day was different. It was going to be a good day because the Passover feast was going to be held in Jerusalem. Thousands of people were on their way to this great feast. Large crowds would walk past the spot where Bartimaeus was sitting. When people are going to a festival, they are apt to be more generous than usual.

But this day turned out to be even more special because Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by. Even in his blindness, Bartimaeus had heard of Jesus. “Son of David, have mercy on me” cries Bartimaeus. The disciples once again ordered someone to be sternly quiet, but Bartimaeus persisted. “Jesus, Son of David”, have mercy on me.

Here we have a blind beggar or vagabond, which is more true to the Hebrew, standing on the edge of the road. And guess what – he knows something that even a lot of the disciples still don’t really get. He knows who Jesus really is.

Elsewhere in the gospel of Mark, Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. When Bartimaeus calls him son of David, he knows who Jesus is. It is the first time that someone refers to Jesus as the son of David.

Bartimaeus recognizes Jesus as Messiah. While he probably ascribes political power to Jesus, he also knows that Jesus has the authority and power to heal.

And healing is what Bartimaeus wants.

He doesn’t want a handout. He doesn’t want pity. The rich young man wanted eternal life, James and John wanted glory, but Bartimaeus wants only mercy. He doesn’t even specifically say that until Jesus puts the question to him plainly.

Truly, the only thing that stands between Bartimaeus and the healing power of Jesus is…the disciples who “sternly ordered him to be quiet.” But when Jesus heard Bartimaeus, Jesus said, “Call him here.” And Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Interestingly, that’s the same question Jesus asked last week. But then he was talking to James and John, two of his inner circle, and Jesus didn’t give them what they asked because they asked for the preferred places at Jesus’ right and left hands. In this case, he asks Bartimaeus, “What do YOU want?” and Bartimaeus answers, “Teacher, I want to see.”

And when Bartimaeus asks to see, Jesus says, “Your faith has healed you—Go.” And where does Bartimaeus go? Does he go home, or back to his family? No, he follows Jesus on the way.

We don’t pick this up from the lectionary, but the very next story in the Gospel of Mark is the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Bartimaeus followed Jesus from Jericho to Bethpage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives. Holy Week, Jesus’ final week and his journey to the cross began with crowds shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Before that, the only person in the Gospel of Mark to address Jesus as the Son of David, was the blind beggar, Bartimaeus.

He was a man of no account, and blind. Yet he had the vision to see Jesus, the Messiah. The courage to speak it aloud, when everyone around him wanted it kept quiet. The love of God that Jesus brings is costly, and it is not always comfortable. Jesus transforms this world, not by handing out and blessing power, but by healing his servants.  Following Jesus on the way is not a lark, but a life of love and sacrifice. I doubt that Bartimaeus had a really clear idea of what the Son of David would be. We know that he never had seen Jesus when he first said it—he was blind when he said, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” The vision of our way forward is not clear, it is not easy, and it is not accomplished by keeping things the way they were.

“Go. Your faith has made you well.” Go where? The blind man could see that he should follow Jesus down the road, but where do we go, each of us? The difference between the blind man whose request was granted this week, and the two disciples of the inner circle whose request was not granted last week, is that those two disciples, at that moment, were asking to be put above others—expressing their anxiety for their own security in competition with others; while Bartimaeus asked simply to see. He expressed his deepest and most real need, and it was both to physically see and to see the way of God, the Kingdom of God, the road of servanthood.  The one that nobody thought should have any privilege or even any rights cried out to Jesus for mercy. It didn’t matter what those with influence thought or said, Jesus gave him mercy, real mercy, real life. Jesus has mercy for each of us, real mercy, for our deepest hurts and our deepest needs.

Where do we go with our deepest hurts and our deepest needs? We may not be physically blind, but we certainly can be spiritually blind. And spiritual blindness is greater and deeper and darker than the darkness you will find in caverns. Because spiritual blindness is separation from God.

When we walk into light from the darkness of spiritual blindness we find there is always room for us with Jesus. There’s room at the cross for us.

Whatever has been preventing us from coming to Jesus in our blindness, we can throw it aside with Christ leading us just as Bartimaeus threw his cloak aside. There’s room for us with Christ.

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 can be 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”.[i] This is crucial in our understanding of the world around us.

Our world is a struggling place. 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 Because our lives can be transformed through the love and mercy of God and Christ Jesus. May we have ears to hear, eyes to see, that there is glory and mercy for us in Christ Jesus.

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