I’m not the only one here wearing glasses, am I? I didn’t think so. There are quite a lot of us wearing glasses, and probably a few more wearing contact lenses. But there was a time in my life when I was the only one wearing glasses. I was in the second grade then. For weeks I had been squinting at the chalkboard and making mistakes when I had to copy things down. My teacher suggested that my parents have my eyes checked. They made arrangements for an appointment, but we would have to go to a nearby city and there would be a wait of several weeks.
During that time, my teacher moved me to the front row of seats; she had always given more attention to the kids who were struggling along. She went out of her way to make sure I could see what she was doing. She seemed especially concerned about how I felt, and worried that I might get a headache or that my eyes might hurt. I rather liked the attention I was getting. Except for the mistakes in my copying, I was doing well in school. Now the teacher was also stopping by my desk several times a day. I enjoyed being fussed over, and I really could see better from the front row.
The day came for my appointment with the eye doctor. Sure enough, he discovered that my vision was poor and he prescribed glasses. I begged and pleaded with him not to give me glasses. I assured him I could see fine from the front row. I promised I would tell my parents if I ever really had trouble. I even resorted to crying, wailing out that the other kids would call me names. The doctor just patted me on the shoulder and told me I’d get used to glasses in no time. I went out sniffing, sure that my brief moment of glory in the second grade was about to end.
When the glasses finally came, I was miserable. The teacher moved me back to my old seat and stopped hovering over me. The other kids called me “Four-eyes.” Worse, it took me days to get used to my corrected vision. Steps became traps for me, and I stumbled over obstacles I thought I was avoiding. My vision was now perfect — but I hated it. I preferred being blind. The adjustments I was having to make were just too hard for a 7-year-old. It was easier to be blind.
Today, of course, I am profoundly grateful my sight was corrected early. I realize how lucky I was that my teacher was alert enough to spot my problem, that my parents cared enough to listen and get me to a doctor, that they had the money to pay for glasses, that there was a doctor available; the list could go on and on. Sadly, as an adult, I know that glasses can’t be taken for granted. There are people everywhere who don’t know they need them, or can’t afford them, or have no doctor to prescribe them. They would have been indignant at my seven-year-old attitude that I’d rather not have glasses. It’s never better to be blind when you can see. Blindness is something anyone would seek to escape.
Or would they? As I read Mark 10:46-52, I wondered. There was blind Bartimaeus, sitting by the side of the road, listening to the thud of feet passing, the click of harnesses, the murmurs of the crowd that surrounded Jesus. He felt the hot sun on his face, smelled the complex scents of crowd and animals and baking ground. Perhaps he tasted the salt of his own sweat as he sat there. But he saw nothing. It had been years since he saw anything but darkness. I wondered if that darkness had not become familiar to him, taken for granted, comforting even. I wondered how much he had adopted the identity of “blind Bartimaeus,” how much his blindness had become a part of his self-understanding. I wondered whether Bartimaeus had really wanted, all along, to see.
You know, there are advantages to being disabled. At first we may see only the terrible suffering involved, but everyone who has ever been an invalid knows there are compensations. Think back to the last time you were sick in bed with someone looking after you. Yes, you were miserable; yes, you were in pain; yes, you would not have chosen to be sick. But wasn’t it nice to just lie there with the pillows all plumped up around you, with nothing to do but doze or read or look out the window, with someone bringing you hot drinks and soup, with all responsibility removed, with all worries put on hold until you were better?
Even we independent adults sometimes long to let someone else handle everything, to be dependent for a while — just a little while. For in illness we can retreat from the hard realities of adult life, and temporarily return to the feelings of being cared for and looked after that we had as children. We don’t like being sick, but if we’re honest with ourselves we have to admit there are compensations.
There must have been compensations for Bartimaeus. True, he would never live a life of luxury, but he lived in Jewish society where his special status as a handicapped person was recognized under law. His fellow citizens had a religious duty to give alms, and that meant he would receive at least some money to live on. He couldn’t work and so he wasn’t expected to. His religious duties would have been very limited by his blindness. He could spend his days by the roadside — always first with the latest news, always able to call out to passersby for alms, always able to feign further disability if someone tried to get him to do something he didn’t want to do. Bartimaeus was certainly used to being blind, and he may have found some advantages in his condition. His blindness would not have been an easy thing to give up.
And yet, one day, he did give it up. Mark tells us that Jesus was already on the road to Jerusalem, with not only His disciples but a large crowd of people following Him. Bartimaeus was sitting by the road outside Jericho when he heard many people approaching in the distance. He must have grabbed at the hem of a passerby to find out who was coming. When he learned a famous healer and holy man was approaching, did he struggle within himself, wondering if he dared ask for help? Wondering if he wanted to ask for help? Was he afraid that he might receive sight if he asked for it? Was he afraid he might not?
He must have been agonizing over his dilemma when he heard Jesus Himself approaching. And yet he was able to cry out, at once, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Even when the crowd and the disciples tried to silence him, he shouted even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” To his surprise, perhaps to his terror, some people came and told him Jesus had asked them to bring him. Mark tells us he threw off his cloak before he leaped to his feet, perhaps to face this healer without the covering he would have worn over his head while he could not see. When Jesus asked him what he wanted, Bartimaeus answered, “My teacher, let me see again.” For better or worse, he had chosen sight over blindness. And in the next instant, he could see. He was blind no more. Jesus healed him.
Mark tells us Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way. That way was the road to Jerusalem, a road that would lead to the acclaim of palm-waving crowds, the confrontation at the temple, the last meal with His friends. It was a road that would lead to arrest, to humiliation, to suffering, to death. In the end, it would lead to glory. Bartimaeus followed Him on that way, into a life he had never dreamed of when he sat by the roadside, a blind beggar. Bartimaeus used his sight to follow Jesus on the way to discipleship.
We marvel at the grace of God, given so plentifully to a poor blind beggar. But the grace was not just in the healing, in the granting of sight to one who was blind. No, the grace was first in the gift of longing for sight, the gift of hoping that Jesus could heal, the gift of renouncing the seductive advantages of blindness.
Bartimaeus could have sat in silence as Jesus passed. He could have obeyed the crowd’s orders that he be quiet after his first outburst. When they came to bring him to Jesus, he could have refused. But he was granted the courage to ask, to keep asking, to get up and go to meet Jesus. Bartimaeus laid aside his comfortable blindness and embraced the frightening, exhilarating world of sight.
And what about us? Which of the characters in this little drama do we resemble? In some ways, we are like the crowd. We don’t want to bother someone as busy as Jesus with our little worries, so we try to shush the voices that rise up from our hearts, begging for mercy. In other ways, we are like the disciples sent to fetch Bartimaeus — willing enough to run errands for the Lord, but still without a clue about who He really is, what He really means for our lives. And we are very much like Bartimaeus, spiritually blind, groping for faith and understanding and hope and peace, for all the gifts of the Spirit, and yet fearing the profound changes such gifts would make in our lives.
May God grant us the grace to seek sight, and the courage to be blind no more.

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