(Preached at Alger First UMC on 10/25/2015)
Scripture: Mark 10:46-52
When I was growing up, I don’t think my eyes worked too well. Maybe some of you had this same thing happen to you. Whenever Mom would tell me to go find something and bring it back to her, I could hardly ever find it. And it wasn’t just because my room was a mess. I just could not find it.
For example, my mom made sure my sisters and I read a lot of books when we were growing up, so she would take us all to the library every week or every other week. And when it was time to go to the library, I would have to get the books I’d checked out last time to bring them back and turn them in so I could get more books, right? But I could never find all of them on my own. We’d be about to leave and I’d be missing two books, and mom’s yelling at us to get in the car, but I can’t find my books. And I keep saying that I’ve looked everywhere, all over the house, yeah mom, even under my bed, everywhere. So she would just walk into my room and the book would magically appear on the floor right in the middle of my room, plain for everyone to see. And I’d say “I swear, that wasn’t laying there, I looked everywhere, I promise. I don’t know how it got there.” It’s like she was magic or something, it was crazy. I was just blind to it or something.
Has that happened to any of you? Or any of you who are mothers, are you the only one who can find anything in the house? Everyone else is just blind to it, right?
Well I’d like to talk about that idea of blindness today, ok? I think it’s something that we all experience, even if we are not physically blind. We might be blind to our own problems and struggles and issues, we might be blind to the suffering of someone close to us, we might be blind to the people who are in need in our community.
Mark is my favorite Gospel. And I think it’s because it’s a storyteller’s Gospel, it’s got all of the great stories about Jesus arranged in a really beautiful way. With these stories, one of the ways that’s helped me in figuring out what God’s trying to tell us is to put myself in the story and see which character I identify with, ok? So you heard the story of Jesus healing the blind beggar named Bartimaeus from the Scripture. So now I want to retell it and expand it a little bit to try to help us understand. And see if you can place yourself in the story, see who you identify with.
To begin, I actually want to back up a few chapters. Everything you read in the Bible has a context, you can’t just read a verse or a story on its own and think you know what it means until you read it in context-see what events or stories lead up to it, see what comes after it, all of that.
So for a couple chapters before this story comes up, Jesus has been trying to tell his disciples that soon, he’s going to be betrayed, suffer, and die, but he’s going to rise again on the third day. Scholars have labeled these as Jesus’ Passion predictions, its Jesus predicting that he’s going to be crucified, buried, but rise again on the third day. Now, that’s pretty important for Jesus’ 12 disciples to understand that, right? Because they’re following Jesus around everywhere, they’re all living together. But it’s important for them to know that it’s going to end eventually, their beloved teacher is going to be taken from them, killed, buried, but he’ll rise from the dead. That’s pretty important for them to know, right?
But…the disciples don’t quite get it. Jesus keeps telling them that he’s going to suffer and die, and that’s what’s going to happen to them too, eventually. And he says all of those famous lines we might remember. “Pick up your cross and follow me.” “Whoever wants to be first must be last.” “The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life for many.” Right?
But the disciples just don’t get it. They don’t get that they’re actually following their teacher to his death, and that following him will require them to die to themselves, to become lesser in society’s eyes, to become outcasts, to get to the back of the line. More than that, they don’t get who Jesus really is-the Messiah, the Son of David the Savior of the World, come to die for humanity’s sins. They don’t get that.
Now I asked you to put yourself in the story. How often have you acted like that? How often have you been blind to some essential thing about our faith, how often have we in American Christianity been blind to the fact that our faith shouldn’t lead us to be accepted by society but rejected? How often have we been blind to who Jesus really is and what Jesus would have us do? How often have we been blind to the same things as the disciples?
During this whole time, they’re traveling to Jerusalem. And right after another one of those misunderstandings about what following Jesus actually entails, they’re right outside the city of Jericho when Jesus, his 12 disciples, and a whole crowd of followers pass by a blind beggar named Bartimaeus.
Now this crowd was probably made up of the 12 disciples as well as a bunch of people who’d seen the miracles of Jesus, who maybe had benefited from the miracles, they liked Jesus’ teaching, or maybe they just saw the crowd and jumped on the bandwagon. None of them understand what following Jesus really means. And none of them understand who Jesus really is-the Messiah, the Son of David, the Savior of the World, come to save humanity from our sins.
Now Bartimaeus hears this crowd coming up. And he’s used to listening for crowds, that’s how he was able to eat and survive, by begging from people and crowds that passed by and hoping that someone would toss him their spare change or maybe even a bit of food. So Bartimaeus prepares to give his normal plea for money or food. Today, we might picture him pulling out his cardboard sign. But then he hears that Jesus is with them. And he knows that this is huge, this is a once in a lifetime chance. So he calls out, yells “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
But the crowd tries to silence him. Now the position of beggars was weird in this culture. A lot of Jewish laws were originally made by God to eliminate the need for begging. When God gave the original law to Moses and the Israelites, there were requirements for distributing portions of the land to each family according to how big the family was; there were systems set up for impoverished families to get relief; every seven or so years, all debts were supposed to be canceled, every fifty years all land was supposed to be returned to the original owner and slaves were supposed to be set free then as well. But still, there’s this beggar on the side of the road, in a country whose original laws were supposed to provide for him.
And this crowd tries to keep him from disrupting them, this societal outcast who is supposed to be provided for by the laws of the land that are apparently not being followed. I could imagine them saying “We don’t want to hear from you, the outcast. You’re not in our group, Jesus doesn’t want to hear from you.”
They’re blind to how their own law calls them to treat the poor, the blind, the unfortunate. It’s like blinders you might put on a horse. They were just traveling with Jesus to Jerusalem, they didn’t want any distractions on either side, they are going to keep going no matter who calls them to stop.
Now how often have we done that? How often have we been so intent on getting something done or going somewhere that we’re blind to who we leave behind in the dust? How often have we been so focused on our own group and our own in-crowd that we’ve been blind to those outside of our circles who desperately want in?
So despite the crowd trying to make him shut up, the beggar called Bartimaeus just shouts louder “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus calls him forward, and asks him a weird question. “What do you want me to do for you?” That’s kind of dumb, right? He wants to see, duh! But maybe Jesus is saying something deeper than that.
See, Bartimaeus called Jesus “Son of David,” right? That’s how he addressed Jesus. And that’s important, because Mark doesn’t use that title for Jesus very much. It refers to Jesus being the Messiah and Savior of the world, but like I said earlier, no one seems to get who Jesus is, right? Not even the disciples, those closest to Jesus. They’re blind to it.
But here’s this poor old beggar, Bartimaeus, calls Jesus Son of David. And that shows that this guy gets it. This guy knows who Jesus is-the promised Messiah, the savior of the world come to die and save mankind from their sins. This poor, blind beggar gets it. Everyone else is still blind to that.
And further than that, Bartimaeus calls out “Have mercy on me!” He knows who Jesus is and he knows what amazing work Jesus can do in him. Bartimaeus does something that’s amazing for a blind man-he jumps up, throws off his coat, and comes to Jesus. Now those aren’t typically things that blind people do, right? He won’t be able to find his coat. He doesn’t know what’s in front of him. But he knows who Jesus is-the Messiah, the Savior of the World-and he knows what Jesus can do for him. He knows better than anyone in that whole crowd, even Jesus’ disciples.
So Jesus asks him “What would you have me do for you.” And Bartimaeus simply says “Teacher, I want to see.” And Jesus says “Go. Your faith has healed you.” And Bartimaeus could see again. And at once he began to follow Jesus on the way.
See, there’s blindness all over this story. Blindness in the disciples who don’t get who Jesus is and what he came to do. Blindness in the crowd to the suffering and problems of the blind man, blind to the commands and laws to help the poor and have mercy on the unfortunate. And there’s literal blindness in Bartimaeus. Maybe you saw yourself in one of those places, having some kind of blindness.
So I think the message here is that we are all blind. Our ideas of who Jesus is, who God and the Holy Spirit are, what our faith entails, we’re blind to it. We are blind to those right in front of us who need our help. We’re blind in so many ways. But theirony of this story is that the one person who was literally blind, Bartimaeus, could see better than anyone else. He knew who Jesus was and what Jesus could do for him.
There are three things about Bartimaeus and his healing that I think can help us out.
He knew that he needed healing. Bartimaeus wasn’t looking for some kind of worldly recognition of glory or power like the disciples. He just wanted to see.
He believed in his heart and soul that Jesus had the power of God to heal him.
He was doggedly persistent in his pursuit of Jesus. He refused to give up, no matter how much the crowd tried to silence him.
See, I think those three things can go a long way in helping each of us address our own blindness.
First, we have to recognize and admit our own blindness. We have to recognize that we don’t know everything, we don’t see everything. We pass by opportunities to follow Jesus all the time.
I am blind. I don’t get it sometimes. I am intellectually, theologically, and spiritually blind. When I see the refugee crisis in Europe; when I hear another reason why #blacklivesmatter is still necessary; when I see how willing people are to hate someone who believes or acts differently than they do, I realize that I don’t get it. I’m confused. I’m blind. And I admit that. And I pray that you do as well.
But there’s good news in this. We are blind, but God in Jesus can heal us. Bartimaeus had the fervent belief that God in Jesus could help him, could heal him. This is the kind of belief we must have. We admit that we are blind to the world in so many ways, but we believe that Jesus doesn’t leave us alone in that, that our blindness is not the end of the story. that Jesus can heal us and help us to see.
And when we believe this, we must not give up. Bartimaeus didn’t let the crowd shut him up, he kept crying out to Jesus for mercy. And this needs to be our response. We admit our blindness, we believe God in Jesus can heal us, and we keep asking and keep praying and keep going on our knees before God and crying out for God to heal our blindness. We want to see!
And through this, Jesus said to Bartimaeus “Your faith has healed you.” What is this faith that healed him? A woman named Dawn Chesser wrote that this faith “means following the lead of the disciples who didn’t get it, and the great people of faith down through history who have not gotten it, and trusting that faith has less to do with magic than it does with confessing our own blindness in this life, our own inadequacy. Faith means putting our whole trust that through Christ, God can heal us, and not ever giving up on that, no matter how hard it gets sometimes.”
This is the faith to which we are called. A faith that recognizes our blindness and inadequacy, a faith that recognizes that the church is really a gathering of the blind leading the blind, a faith which believes that Jesus can heal us of this, and a faith that never gives up on that hope.
This can lead to some crazy transformation. This story happened near the city of Jericho. Do you remember another story somewhere in the Bible about people shouting out in faith around Jericho? What happened there? The walls came tumbling down. Huge things can happen when we follow the blind man’s example and recognize our blindness, believe that God in Jesus can heal us, and refuse to give up.