October 24th, 2021      

            “Blind Old Bartimaeus”   

Mark 10:46-52     

Mark: They came to Jericho.  And then as Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.”  And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart, get up, he is calling you.”  So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.  Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”  Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”  Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.     (Mark 10:46-52)

            Our grandson, 9 year old Wesley got his first pair of glasses last week.  Of course, he looks cute as the dickens and reports that he can see better.  Near-sightedness runs strongly in our side of the family. 

The thing is, most of us will eventually need to have our vision somehow corrected—even those who proudly strut about without corrective lenses.  I used to look at middle age folk struggling to read or to see the choir music and think to myself, “Wow!  I’m glad it’s not gonna be like that for me.”  Well, you all witnessed me without my glasses last Sunday.  I had to borrow Rick’s.  It’s the rare person who can go through life without needing corrective lenses of some sort, even if it’s only drug store readers. 

My vision was quite poor until I had lasik surgery in 2005.  I gave myself that little gift after my dad died.    I had been very near-sighted since childhood.  I think my numbers were 20/200 or something.  I guess that means that what a person with normal vision can see at 200 feet, I would have had to have been within 20 feet in order to see it.

            For me, that meant that my glasses were the first thing I would grab in the morning and the last thing I would give up at night.  The fact is, sometimes, even after 16 years, I occasionally still reach for them in the morning.

            It would have been illegal for me to drive without those glasses and difficult to function, really.  Being unable to see really throws life off kilter.  I remember saying that without my glasses not only could I not see, I also felt like I couldn’t hear!

            Since most of our sight limitations are correctable, we pretty much don’t have to cope with not being able to see, though I am aware that there are people whose sight deficit is not correctable, and I know that is very hard to accept. 

            Today’s scripture text from the Gospel of Mark is about being blind, …and it’s about being able to see.  The hero of the story is an old beggar.  His name is Bartimaeus, and he is blind and was sitting by the roadside begging.  He had heard the news that Jesus was coming by, so when he sensed that Jesus was drawing near, he began to shout to get his attention.  Though Jesus’ handlers tried to quiet him, he continued to shout, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Jesus called the blind beggar to him.  Bartimaeus jumped up and followed Jesus’ voice.  Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Now, this question should sound familiar to you if you remember last week’s lesson.  …Bartimaeus answered Jesus’ question by saying this, “Let me receive my sight.”

            The blind man’s quick answer tells us that Bartimaeus knew what he needed.  He recognized that he could not see.  Now, in order to get the full effect of the story I’m going to spend a little time recalling with you the Gospel story from last week.  Today’s story follows directly on the heels of Jesus’ conversation with the Zebedee Boys that you heard last week.

I’ll remind you.  James and John, the sons of Zebedee, arrogantly came right out and said, “Jesus, we want you to do whatever we ask of you.”  Now, Jesus asked them the very same question that he asked Bartimaeus.  “What do you want me to do for you?”  They answered him saying, “When you come into your glory, we want to have the seats on your right and your left.”

            Well, you can guess that Jesus was not impressed with their self-centered, ego-driven request.  James and John, clearly, did not understand what the Gospel message was about and, especially, they didn’t understand what it meant to be Jesus’ followers.  To put a point on how James and John had headed off in the wrong direction, Jesus told the disciples in no uncertain terms that whoever wishes to be great must be the servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  You have to wonder, if the Zebedee boys could have been that blatantly clueless.  Clueless or in denial, most of us have seen that sort of egotistical arrogance before.  James and John displayed it in living color in this reading from Mark’s Gospel.

…The Gospel of Mark MUST be read from a place of humility.  If we go to the Bible looking for devotion or accolades or warm fuzzies, don’t read Mark. You’ll be either disappointed or deluded.  On the other hand, if you want the truth about what it means to be human, Mark is your guy. 

Now, on to today’s reading, after the conversation between the disciples and the Zebedee Brothers, the scene changes, and we find Jesus and the disciples on the road.  That’s when Bartimaeus appeared.  That’s when Jesus asked the blind man the exact same question that he had asked James and John.  “What do you want me to do for you?” 

            Now, here we have this old, bent-over beggar who was penniless and  who was completely blind, but, you know what?  He turns out to be the wise hero of the story.  Though blind, he was able to see the Truth.  He had vision in a way that folks like James and John— sometimes like us—did not.  In many ways he could see the world much better than the foolish disciples who thought the most important thing that Jesus could give was status, position and guarantees.  Bartimaeus knew that what he needed most was Jesus’ help. 

            On the other hand, James and John thought they could see just fine.  They were sure that they were to be Jesus’ chosen ones and that their high status ought to be evident to all.  Really, hadn’t they been hanging around with him since the beginning?  And still, they had no idea that they really were the blind ones.  They could not see what Jesus had been doing, what his message was, and what that meant for their lives.

I believe that for most of us, this is OUR constant struggle with living life according to the Gospel.  We are forever being sucked back into the world’s way of seeing.  We are, time after time, finding ourselves involved with evaluating our status according to the world’s standards—seeing ourselves through the world’s eyes.  

Perhaps you catch yourself sometimes thinking or even saying, “I’ve got to play the political game or I’ll never get ahead in this world.”  Or (in speaking of one’s colleagues) “Those people are such losers.  They don’t deserve those big salaries or that hot shot position.”  Or as we look at certain people around us: “Wow.  That person is so arrogant.  I’m smarter (wiser/kinder/nicer/better…)  than him or her any day.  Or “I need to be thinner or exercise more or know more about baseball or keep my property or house better or a better musician or younger looking or more sophisticated or ….” That’s how it goes when we continually measure ourselves by the world’s standards.

            When our minds get involved in those kinds of mind game/power plays (who’s better, who’s smarter, who’s healthier, who has more of whatever?), our vision becomes like mine was without glasses—clouded, shadowy and unfocused.  Then every part of our lives gets funneled through this faulty vision.

            The reality is that we need to see in a new way.  We need to see that we have become blind—the way that Bartimaeus knew that he was blind.  We must be able to “see,” like Bartimaeus.  We need to be able to see that we need help.  We must hear the Gospel message to repent and believe: to repent of our self-centeredness and egomania and to believe that God can make us well.  We must reach out to God for help and admit that only God can make us well, ONLY God can make us see in a new way.  We must understand in the depth of our souls that we need the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

            I DO want to be able to see in this new way, and I bet you do too.  We really do need to let go of OUR obsession with being the best, the smartest, the most articulate, the most powerful, the funniest, the richest, the best parent, the most successful, the most athletic, the most lovable.

            We need a new pair of glasses.  We need to see in a new way—the way that Jesus allows us to see.  We need to be able to admit that sometimes we’re blind—not like Bartimaeus—but like the Zebedee boys.  

Perhaps, in order to see, we need to move up closer—if that’s what is required.  Perhaps we need to change our perspective, to view life from a different angle.  Maybe we need to change seats—to go away from the voices that keep reinforcing the same old stuff in us—those voices that tell us that everybody else is wrong except us, that the world thinks we’re the best, the voices that soothingly tell us that our eyesight is 20/20.  For me, I don’t want to be blind anymore.  I don’t want to act like James and John.  I don’t want to think like James and John.

            Jesus offers us an alternative—no glitzy place at the front of the line, no expensive fashionable clothes, no $500 a plate tickets to be with someone the world considers important.  No sitting around with people who are constantly criticizing everyone.  Rather, Jesus offers us the ability to see in a new way—to see that we’re not perfect, that we make mistakes, that those around us make mistakes.  Jesus offers us the alternative to see that what the world considers important is really not.  Jesus offers us the possibility of allowing God to be our priority in every single part of our lives.  We really CAN see—and live—in a new way….  It can happen. 

It’s not going to be easy to make that change—change never is easy.  First, admitting that we’ve been seeing distorted images is going to be hard.  Opening ourselves to God’s way of seeing will put us to the test, but I believe that we can do it—if we are committed to being Gospel people.

            So—the beginning of the process is to think and pray—pray and think.  Think about how Bartimaeus, though blind by the world’s standards was really the one with vision—and pray for a way of seeing that’s different.  And…ask God for a new pair of glasses—not the kind you get at Warby Parker—but the kind that we all need, the kind of lenses that God wants us to have.  So, put on your Jesus glasses and see in a new way—see like blind Bartimaeus.  Amen.