You know what activity I hated at summer camp? Well, I never was good at crafts, but I really didn’t like the partner trust walk. You know the one I’m talking about? You find a partner and one of you has to put on a blindfold so you can’t see. Then your partner is supposed to guide you through an obstacle course using only verbal commands.
There are many inherent problems with this activity. The first obvious one is making sure you secure a trustworthy partner. You don’t want to get stuck with the one who purposely will direct you into the briar patch or the lake! Second, I hate not being able to see. It is disorienting. I’m not sure what is going on. I don’t trust that one of my friends isn’t about to stick out his leg to trip me (junior high boys are mean!). I always tried to find a way out of wearing that blindfold.
I never liked playing Blind Man’s Bluff or Marco Polo at the pool, or anywhere else for that matter. I happen to like my sight. I don’t want to stop using it even for a game, not even for a few minutes. It makes me uncomfortable, makes me feel vulnerable, makes me feel lost in a sea of unknown and troubling things.
Our Gospel story today is about Bartimaeus, a man who was blind from birth. He had never been able to see. He, a blind beggar, survived on people’s charity and got around the small town of Jericho using his cane of olive wood. He never had seen his friends, the faces of those who mocked him, his house, or a sunset. He had never seen his family. He did what he could on his own, but for the most part people waited on him. He never had learned many of life’s basic tasks because he couldn’t do them. He was blind. He was a blind man on the side of the road, a stick in one hand and a cup with a few coins in the other.
Bart is sitting on the side of the road when he hears the sound of a hundred footsteps. Being blind all his life had made his other senses more acute. He heard what sounded like an army marching up the path. He felt the earth vibrate. Soon voices floated on the wind to his ears. He heard the name Jesus of Nazareth and perked up; he had heard stories about this man named Jesus. Was Jesus one of these marchers? Yes, one of them was Jesus. If only he could get Jesus’ attention.
Bart started making a big commotion on the side of the road, hitting his cup with his stick shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, Have mercy on me! Jesus son of David, have mercy on me.”
He was making a bit of a scene, and the other beggars tried to quiet him. They didn’t want this large band of people to become annoyed and pass by in indignation. People kept trying to hush up Bart, “Be quiet you blind beggar,” but Bart would not; he just kept shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, Have mercy on me!”
It worked. He got Jesus’ attention. Bart heard the footsteps stop right in front of him. The whole multitude had stopped. Everything was quiet.
Then a voice broke the silence, “Call him here.” The other beggars and travelers began touching Bart on the shoulder, saying, “Jesus is calling for you, take courage, stand up, walk straight ahead.”
Can you imagine what Bart felt? Anticipation? Apprehension? He had heard Jesus performed miracles. Would He perform one for him? Casting aside his cloak, Bart stood and slowly walked forward.
Jesus said to Bart, “What do you want Me to do for you?” Bart had been asked that question continuously throughout his life, from his siblings, his parents, kind strangers. His answer had always been, “Could you spare a coin?” or, “Could you lead me to the well?” or, “Could you pass me the bread?” or, “Could you lead me home?”
This time could be different; this could be the last time he had to ask for something. So, Bart found his voice and said, “Rabbi, I want to see!”
Jesus said, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” Immediately Bart could see and started following Jesus.
What a story huh? I feel good for old Bart. I certainly wouldn’t want to be blind. It seems like a very uncomfortable life. However, Bart gained sight, and everything was wonderful, right?
Mark ended the story there, but knowing Mark, that is not where he wanted us to end. I hate not being able to see when I’m so used to seeing. Have you ever wondered how difficult it would be to see when you’re so used to not being able to see? A movie came out not long ago about a man who had been blind from birth, but a new surgical procedure allowed him to gain his sight. A woman he knew had convinced him to go for it, thinking all their problems would be solved if only he could see. She didn’t realize seeing came with a whole new set of problems.
If you suddenly are able to see, you’re brain does not know how to interpret the signals the eye is sending. You know nothing of color, depth perception or anything. You become disoriented and nauseated. You probably will stumble and fall, and you will probably throw up. If that’s not enough you probably will freak out from all the scary things your eyes see. Red, blue, you have no concept of color, nevertheless, there are all these images in your head. What are those things? They’re just trees and that’s a dog, but they’re all new, all previously unimaginable.
Jesus and His followers moved on, but Bart had to make his way home. All his beggar friends packed up and left, and Bart never had seen his route home or his house. The world must have seemed like it was spinning, and all Bart could do was close his eyes, pick up his stick, and find his way home the old way.
You might think everything soon would start looking up for Bart. People probably got excited because he could see, but now no one lifted a hand to help him. They assumed, “Well, he can see now, so he ought to be able to do it himself.” They failed to realize he never had learned to function as a seeing person. He needed money, but who’s going to give money to a perfectly healthy beggar? Before he was blind, people had sympathy for him, but with sight, he would be expected to get a job. Although, what can he do? He had no training as a farmer, carpenter, or fisherman. He probably began to wonder if he should have asked for his sight, “sight unseen,” so to speak.
Seeing is not always what it’s cracked up to be, especially if you are used to living in the dark. Don’t you hate it when you’re sound asleep and suddenly someone turns on the light? What do you do? Quickly bury your head under the covers.
Sometimes we’d rather be in the dark about certain things. I had a youth leader in high school named Dru. He idolized John Elway, loved John Elway. Had the John Elway coffee table book proudly on display and refused to take it away even after his wife made quite a fuss. John Elway was his hero, considered to be a stand-up man full of goodness and integrity, not to mention a great football player. Then one day, someone who actually knew John Elway started telling him what John was really like. Words like abuse, drunkenness, and adultery came up, and Dru couldn’t take it. He covered his ears humming loudly and would allow no more talk about John Elway. He preferred to stay in the dark.
If we face the facts, we have to admit we’re all blind. We’re spiritually blind, blind to the truth, blind to a lot of the corruption of the world, the pain, the hunger, and the death. Sure we could ask to see, but then we would see the genocide that is going on in Darfur for what it really is … and our brains would not be able to handle that information; we would become disoriented and probably quite nauseated.
If we were to suddenly be able to see, we’d have to see the bondage people across the world are in still – children trafficked through this very country as sex slaves. We’d have to see the horrible conditions of the sweat shops, where underpaid women and children make the very shirts and pants we wear.
If we were suddenly able to see, we’d have to see the farms where cruelty to animals and the things that are done to get more milk and meat definitely would make us sick, and then we may not be able to eat that chicken we have in the freezer.
If we were to suddenly be able to see, we’d see we are not as good and holy as we’d like to be. We’d see our devotion to our Lord and Savior is temperate at best. We pray when we feel like it or when something is wrong. We follow the Lord’s commandments when they happen to fit in with our lifestyles and judgments.
If we suddenly were able to see we would see the world is a much darker place than we thought it was while we were living in the dark, and we’d see that our own hearts are darker than we ever thought.
Still, Jesus will ask you, “What can I do for you?” and you’ll have to come up with an answer. You could say, “Nothing right now, I’m good thanks. Something may come up down the road though, could I give You a ring then?” You could say that; Bartimaeus would understand if you wanted to remain blind.
Or you could risk it and say, “I’d like to have my sight.” You’ll see some disturbing things, yes. You won’t be able to duck your head under the covers anymore and pretend you knew nothing of the abuse, corruption, and evil. No longer would you be able to plead ignorance.
The good news is you also would be able to see, in the midst of so much darkness, little flickers of light now and then, flickers of goodness and hope, a hand reaching out to help someone up, a way to help a friend in need, a means to end the suffering in Darfur. You would see flickers of hope, and you would see the face of our Savior. He may have tears in His eyes as He sees everything in the world today, but in those eyes you would see love, strength, and hope, as well. You would know there’s a hard road ahead walking in the light, but you would know you won’t be walking alone. You would see the way is narrow but also that the path has been smoothed in places by the feet of those who have gone before you. You would see there are others who have asked to see and that together you can make a difference. Look around now. See. See the world as it could be. See the world through the eyes of the Savior. Now go with new sight, and fill this dark world with your light so others may become beacons for the ones who will come afterwards asking, “Lord, I want to see.”