Mark 10:46-52 (Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Hebrews 7:23-28)
Pastoral Prayer: Lord God, help us to see. Give us ears to hear what our eyes cannot see. As we see, by your Spirit, may your, “Go”, be met with our, “Follow.” And all God’s people say . . . Amen.
Saint Augustine wrote,
The wretched helplessness of fallen humanity is seen symbolically in the blindness of Bartimaeus. (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures)
Seems a harsh evaluation of a story that is limited to seven verses. Even more, what would Augustine have in mind that would lead him to such a conclusion in an account with little more background than a name that follows an ancient naming pattern. Bartimaeus is the combination of bar, which means son, and Timaeus. The blind man is identified by the name of his father and presented to us by virtue of his condition. He is blind. Some, even me, have playfully referred to the man as, Blind Bart. His condition is anything but playful.
Our situation is not playful.
It seems apparent that our world, more specifically the situation in our Country, is such that we cannot see the connection between words spoken and the bad news we hear. Code words used among those that foster hatred toward others becomes fuel for those willing to act on that hate. Even more astounding is that we pass off the rantings of fringe groups as inconsequential until a person takes up an AR-15 and handguns and sets out to kill a specifically identifiable group of people. For what? Because they supported and practiced helping others in need.
Our situation seems helpless.
Worse we fail to see.
Our Scripture readings for this week were selected years ago. Only those with eyes to see and ears to hear might consider that God’s Spirit just might be saying what we are not willing to see. Our lack of sight may be willful. We see events like that in Pittsburg and we immediately look to the deep well of conspiracy theories that will no doubt abound. Our lack of seeing may be ignorance. We really don’t care much what happens that is not in our backyard so we ignore. Whatever the reason for our failed eyesight, the Spirit of God continues to speak . . . Who will listen?
Maybe Augustine too lived in a day where it seemed that those with eyes to see failed to listen. Could he have seen it in Isaiah’s words?
Go, Say to these people:
Keep listening but do not understand;
Keep looking, but do not perceive.
Make the minds of these people dull;
Deafen their ears and blind their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes
And hear with their ears,
Understand with thier minds,
Turn back and be healed.
Keep in mind that Isaiah 6 begins with the prophet re-telling something he saw,
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne . . .
The one who sees is given the task of telling the people to keep doing as they are – not hearing, not seeing and not understanding. How long?, the prophet asks. The reply comes, until everything is ruined.
Can you see any parallels? In the name of greatness, our attempts at greatness, we fail to see and hear until everything is ruined. It may actually be worse. Writing about the community on the way, a technical way to talk about discipleship, Ched Myers writes,
The community cannot be resisting the powers’ exercise of domination while re-producing their patterns in its own midst.
In other words, the Church cannot resist the world’s way if it is simply reproducing the world’s way in its own exercise of power. Challenging the way of Jesus like Peter did, or arguing about greatness the way the Twelve did, or asking for the seats of greatness as the Sons of Thunder did, is not the same as,
He emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had become a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death -
even death on a cross.
Who knows what happened to Timaeus. We know not what caused his son’s blindness. We do know that for whatever reason, the blind son was left to beg. Reduced to panhandling, scorned by those who passed by, his family either did not have the means to care for him or they did not care for him. Where was the family, the community, that would hear his cries and help? He surely was helpless.
Whatever the reason for his lack of help, Augustine finds the absence of help from family or community an apt description for humanity that always seems to see itself better than it is. If you happen to be on Facebook or Instagram, I know, same thing, you more often than not find people’s own stories full of the better part of their lives. Vacation destinations. No unkept living areas. Photos of when the children are playing sports. No shots of when they are exasperating their parents. Anniversary photos. No pictures of that last big argument.
We want people to think better of us. We want to think better of ourselves. The problem is no amount of positive self-talk undoes those moments after you realize you may have yelled too much about that messy room, those ungrateful children, that frustrating spouse. Regret and guilt are difficult taskmasters. Shame is a tyrant. Oh, our children may forgive us, as may our spouse. But, we are much harder on ourselves. We expect better. We desire to be better.
Repressing the notion that we suck only increases our odds of un-health.
Consider Job. Stuck in a cycle of seeing his life one way while battling friends who saw it another left him stuck between the temptations of self-righteousness and righteous indignation. Then, he heard from God. Once God responded to his pleas, his eyes were opened to things he did not understand.
You asked, "Who is this who conceals my counsel with ignorance?
Surely I spoke about things I did not understand,
things too wondrous for me to know . . .
I had heard reports about you,
but now I have seen you.
Job’s confession is not a revelation that his suffering came as a result of his sin. But, he was aware of his own attempt to understand the arbitrary experiences of life. Was God merely the puppet master who toyed with his life? Job learned that God was the one with him, all around him, and that about the time he wondered if he had been abandoned to the arbitrariness of life, God speaks. Job heard what he could not see.
God revealed Godself to Job by inviting Job into the expanse of the created world and the life that teams within it.
I had heard reports about you,
but now I have seen you.?
Could it be that God shows up in Jesus to a people, a world, that teams with the arbitrariness of human weakness, human helplessness? Oppressed by earthly powers and subject to unseen powers, human beings everywhere were want to make sense of their arbitrary experiences and the flood of emotions that accompany the pursuit of answers. Left helpless under the weight, we find ourselves panhandling and scorned. Helpless.
The Rich Man ran up to Jesus looking for affirmation of his greatness. Bartimaeus, helpless to run, could only shout. Too many find themselves subject to forces beyond their control. Unsure where to run, we find ourselves shouting at the darkness. In desperation we may take up this way or that. Reading about the blind man gives us hope that along the way we realize Jesus has traveled to us.
Isn’t that what happens in our text. The man whom Augustine says symbolically illustrates our helplessness hears that Jesus has come to him?
Mark teaches the church what it means to follow Jesus and his way. He begins in Mark 8,
They came to Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him.
Spitting on his eyes and laying hands on him the man at first only saw people like trees walking. Then Jesus put his hands on his eyes and the man saw everything clearly. The series of events after that indicate that the disciples saw dimly what Jesus was up to. Over and again they tried to work Jesus’ teaching into the ways they had already learned. Time and again, Jesus undermined what they had learned by talking about the kingdom of God. Finally, here in Mark 10, just before Jesus will go into Jerusalem, Mark concludes the section with the healing of Bartimaeus.
It is as if to say the disciples, who have traveled with Jesus on his way, have not been listening and so have not seen. Here the blind man hears Jesus’ voice and will see.
So faith comes by what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message of Christ.
No help had come to Bartimaeus. But look at what unfolds when he hears.
First, he heard Jesus was coming. It was not uncommon for people to travel from Jericho to Jerusalem. In fact, with Passover approaching, it would not have been odd a crowd traveled together. Filtering through the crowd, word spread that it was Jesus. Bartimaeus could not see him but he heard the word that Jesus was coming.
Second, he heard the warnings to keep quiet. Upon hearing that Jesus was traveling the same road, the man began to shout, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Stoked by the prohibition, the man shouted louder. Rather than be hushed, even shouted down, the man who knew from where his help would come, cried out more.
Third, he heard Jesus through the words of the people, Cheer up! This is the only time these words are spoken by anyone other than Jesus. Recall Paul’s words,
So faith comes by what is heard.
The same way Bartimaeus heard Jesus was coming is the same means he heard Jesus’ words – people. Now more than ever, when the feelings of helplessness abound, the words of Jesus, Cheer up! are needed. He’s calling for you. What? No one else had called for him. Would he hear?
When he heard, what did he do?
First, he shouted, cried out, to Jesus. His response to Jesus was an indication that he had heard if anyone could help him it would be Jesus.
Second, he obeyed the word he heard. Hearing the words from Jesus evoked faith. It was not that somehow the man possessed faith. Instead, upon hearing Jesus’ words, he threw off his coat. Or, put another way, when he had seen with his ears, he threw off his coat and came to Jesus. The Rich Man ran because he saw Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus had to follow the voice.
Third, when given the choice to go his way, he followed Jesus on his way. Jesus did not tell him to follow with him to Jerusalem. He told him he was free to go. Blindness no longer held him captive. Rather than Go his own way, he began to follow Jesus.
What have you heard today, in the retelling of this story, the message of Jesus, that you now see?
*I often have a manuscript available but do not always read it. It is part of my preparation. There may have been slight additions/differences to the preached version.