The Power to See
A Sermon on Mark 10:46-52
After he lost his sight, Bartimaeus was relegated to the sidelines. He couldn’t see. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t go anywhere without help. By day Bartimaeus sat by the side of the road with his cloak spread out to receive any coins that passersby might toss his way. By night he slept wrapped in his cloak, the only valuable thing he owned.
Bartimaeus’ sights were limited socially as well as physically. To most people’s way of thinking, his disability meant that God had rejected him, and that he must have done something to deserve it. At best Bartimaeus was the object of pity, and often he was the object of scorn.
There was no denying Bartimaeus couldn’t see. It was obvious to all. But he wasn’t the only person in the crowd with vision problems that day. The authorities—priests, scribes and Pharisees—were watching Jesus. And what they saw was not a savior. What they saw was a troublemaker. In their eyes Jesus was a sinner who disregarded God’s laws, and in particular the Sabbath laws. To make things even worse, Jesus claimed to forgive sins, something only God himself can do, and he spent too much time with the wrong people: the outcast, the unclean. Early on the authorities had concluded that this lawbreaker had to be destroyed before he enticed more people away from the true religion. Now they were looking for the opportunity to nab him.
Even Jesus’ own disciples had vision problems. As we have seen on several Sundays recently, they were so focused on the prospect of winning and getting ahead that they couldn’t see it when Jesus showed them that the way of life was the road of humble, suffering service, and it led through the cross. They didn’t get it when he showed them that the Kingdom of God is a pure gift to us from God, to be received simply and gratefully as a child. It didn’t fit their expectations. It wasn’t what they themselves wanted. Places of honor were what they wanted.
There’s no question: what we expect to see and what we want to see shapes what we actually do see. I read a poignant story illustrating this. A kid named Greg was having a birthday party. He was dead set against having any girls at this party. He wanted his friends and his friends only. But a new girl named Alice had just moved into the neighborhood, and Greg’s mother thought it was important to welcome her by inviting her to the party. Greg was furious.
When Alice appeared, Greg refused to speak to her. He didn’t even want to get near her. He had made up his mind, and there was no changing it. To make things even worse, Alice was hopeless at games. She was clumsy, awkward and slow. She kept bumping into things. Greg was filled with scorn. “I wish you’d never come!” he exclaimed when his mother was out of earshot. He ignored the tears in Alice’s eyes. Greg and his friends continued to act ugly towards Alice.
Then Greg’s mother insisted that they play blind man’s buff, and then pin the tail on the donkey, and Alice was highly skilled at these games. Greg and his friends were skeptical. Alice had to be seeing through the blindfold. So Greg got his thickest scarf and tied it tightly around Alice’s head. Then he spun her around and around and made her walk in circles around the room while the other kids turned the donkey picture upside down. And Alice got it right again.
The kids couldn’t believe it. How did she do it? “I see differently from you. I see everything in the dark, and I find my way around perfectly when there’s no light at all. But I’m not good at the things you’re good at, like catching balls or running races.”
How could this be? “I’m blind,” Alice said, “or perhaps it’s you that’s blind! After all, none of you noticed that I’m blind, and none of you could play blind man’s buff or pin the tail on the donkey! So who is really blind? Is it me, or is it you?” (Revd. Janice Scott at http://www.sermon-stories.co.uk/stmktrinitylast.htm).
Greg and his friends were closed-hearted and closed-eyed. It’s easy to get stuck on seeing things only one way, to conclude it’s my way or no way, the way I see it is the way it is. There’s no question: you can have 20/20 eyesight but have serious vision problems.
Off on the sidelines Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was somewhere near. His heart jumped! Immediately he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus reached out towards Jesus with his all his heart and all his voice. “Help me, Son of David!”
Many people tried to hush Bartimaeus up. He was already enough of a nuisance without making a big scene. Bartimaeus was bothering them, and therefore he must be bothering Jesus, too. I know why the Pharisees would want to hush him up. “Son of David” was what they called the Messiah, and this Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah. “Hush, Bartimaeus! Don’t stir people up!” But Bartimaeus wouldn’t be hushed. He cried out all the more, “Son of David, help me! Have mercy on me!”
“Help, Lord. I can’t see!” is the prayer and even the cry of many this day. Some can’t see which way to go. What should they do? Which way should they turn? What does God want them to do? Help, Lord. Help those who need illumination, clarification. The way is not clear. Help, Lord. Help those who can’t see any meaning or hope in their situation. Help, Lord. Help those who can’t see your grace, your mercy, your forgiveness, your blessings, your power.
“Hush, hush your cry,” say some. Some people hush their own cries, swallow their questions, keep their doubts under wraps, put a lid on their longings for help. But not Bartimaeus! He didn’t care who heard! He couldn’t see, and he needed help, and Jesus was somewhere out there. It was that simple. “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped. He stood still. “Call him here,” Jesus said. “Call him.” The people around Bartimaeus passed on the message: “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” He is calling you! Yes, you!
Immediately Bartimaeus jumped up, throwing his cloak to the ground. He wasn’t sure where to go. He either stumbled toward Jesus, or let somebody lead him, or he followed the sound of Jesus’ voice. We’re not sure how he made his way to Jesus. The point is, Bartimaeus had to have help, and with humility he accepted help. Never mind who was watching him.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “My teacher, let me see again.” The word in the original language is not just rabbi. It’s rabbouni, which means MY teacher. Bartimaeus put himself under Jesus’ authority as his teacher. He was willing to be guided. He was willing to be taught. “My teacher, let me see again.” And the great teacher gave him his sight. Jesus gave Bartimaeus his vision.
He still gives people and congregations sight and vision, those who put themselves under his authority as their teacher, that is. Those who reach out to him with humble, yet longing hearts. Those who open themselves to his leading.
In my library I have a number of books about discerning God’s will. One is titled Knowing God’s Will and another is titled Discerning God’s Will Together. The latter points out how, when we are seeking the mind of God, the vision of God on a matter, it is critical for individuals and groups to discover, name, and lay aside anything that gets in the way of focusing on God’s will above all else. It requires honest soul-searching. We have to ask what is influencing the way we see things. What are our personal agendas, assumptions, prejudices and fears? What could be blocking us from considering all options? Are we willing to let God surprise us?
Do you remember that old hymn “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord. I’ll do what you want me to do”? To open ourselves to the will of God, we need to sing that hymn and really mean it. We have to ask honestly: Do we mean, “I’ll do what you want me to do, dear Lord, period” or is what we really mean “I’ll do what you want me to do, dear Lord, if I like it, if I’m comfortable with it, if it suits my preferences”?
If we truly want to pray “thy will be done, Lord” how much are we willing to let go and give up that God’s will might be discerned and done? Here’s another way to put the question: What am I willing to let die to give God room to start something new? What will I lay aside or leave behind?
What about us as a church? We are trying to answer God’s call here. A question burns on our hearts: we know people out there, people of all kinds out there, need the Lord Jesus desperately, so how do we reach them when they have absolutely no interest in coming here where we are, and especially not to Sunday School and worship? The prior question is how do we even meet such folks? We will have to keep eyes and ears open to see where God might be going. I wonder, for example, where God is going, now that we have a Girl Scout troop that meets under our roof. I hope some new doors are going to open to us. I hope we are going to make some new contacts. I hope maybe we can make contact with children and their families in this area. We might not be able to get them here to church, but maybe we can start getting to know them through the Scouts’ activities. We need to be willing to follow God, even when we aren’t sure exactly where he is leading.
When Jesus gave Bartimaeus the ability to see, Jesus also gave him the ability to follow. Just as he threw off his cloak, Bartimaeus threw off his former life on the sidelines and walked with Jesus on Jesus’ way. He joined Jesus’ pilgrimage. He saw. He received vision, and he followed.
The promise of vision holds for us, as individuals and as a congregation. Surely, if our hearts go out prayerfully and persistently to the Lord Jesus after the example of Bartimaeus, surely, if we place ourselves under his authority as our master teacher, he will give us vision. He will show us the way. He will show our children what to major in at college and show them what to do after college. He will show us all where he wants us to serve. He will help us make crucial decisions.
If we seek after Jesus with all our hearts, he will help us as a congregation to see what we need to do to serve him and the neighbors he has given us. If we call out to him, he will answer. He will show us our mission. He will give us his vision. Now what will we do when we do see?