And the Blind Shall See

October 24, 2021/Mark 10:46-52

Several years ago at one of my annual eye exam appointments, the doctor offered the casual observation, “Without your glasses, you would be legally blind.”

I think about that sometimes when I’ve taken my one contact lens out and am walking through the house without having yet put on my glasses.  Legally blind.  Seeing, but through a fuzzy haze that transforms objects to blobs and people to moving blocks of color.  It’s a strange feeling.  Without my glasses, I could walk right by you and not recognize you – seeing you, but not seeing.

Jesus’ disciples could be called legally blind.  They lived with Jesus day after day.  They listened to him teach, wondered at his parables, had intimate conversations with him.  Face-to-face with the Messiah, with the living God, God made flesh and walking among them, the disciples did not see.

Nowhere does the disciples’ lack of vision and misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching become more apparent than in the Gospel of Mark.  If you read the entire gospel from first to last verse, you recognize the skill with which this writer constructed the story of Jesus, who healed a blind man, told his disciples on three occasions what his end would look like, and then healed a second blind man.  When we read the story of the blind beggar Bartimaeus, Mark compels us to read it having heard Jesus’ words and having witnessed the disciples’ lack of understanding.  When we hear Bartimaeus cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” we must hear his cries echo against the disciples’ dismay that Jesus would not be the Savior they had in mind.

They are outside Jericho.  Jesus and his closest friends – the twelve – and his disciples and the crowds who always seemed to follow him wherever he goes are all outside Jericho.  And sitting by the roadside they see a blind beggar.  Mark tells us his name, this poor man who has nothing, this blind beggar who lives in the gutter.  Bartimaeus – son of Timaeus – has nothing but the cloak he wears to keep warm when the sun drops from the sky and the temperatures drop to match.  Bartimaeus, one of the least of these.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus cries out.  The crowds try to shut Bartimaeus up.  Be quiet!  Show some respect, Bartimaeus!  Who do you think you are, Bartimaeus?  Don’t you know who you’re yelling at?  But he cries out even louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

How ironic, their yells, their attempts to silence this blind beggar!  The least of these.  And Jesus stands still, tells the people to call the man to him.  Bartimaeus springs up, throws aside his cloak, and runs to Jesus.  Runs to this man, because he does know who this is, this Jesus.  “My teacher, let me see again.”  Rabbouni.  Teacher.

Listen to the question Jesus asks him: “What do you want me to do for you?”  Does it sound familiar?  Does it remind you again of two disciples who did not understand what it really meant to follow Jesus?  Do you hear in this question, Jesus’ response to James’ and John’s request, “Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask of you.”  They call Jesus teacher, but they do not really understand what that means.  Even though they have been in Jesus’ very presence, have lived and walked with him, have sat at his feet and asked questions of him, even though Jesus has told them what must happen in order for him to rise again, these disciples do not really see.

The  disciples are not physically blind like Bartimaeus, but they do not see what this blind beggar sees so clearly.  “Let me see again,” Bartimaeus says to Jesus.  Jesus says to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”  And immediately, Mark tells us – immediately! – Bartimaeus regains his sight and follows Jesus on the way.  Regains his physical sight – and having already seen who this Jesus is, he follows.

Who is really blind in this story?   Who really sees Jesus?  The disciples, like us, have heard the stories.  The disciples have walked in the presence of the living God.  They have seen the miracles.  They have seen Jesus heal and cast out demons and raise the dead.  They have seen, but they have not truly seen.  They have been blind to the true meaning of this Jesus of Nazareth – but blind Bartimaeus sees clearly!

When Jesus predicted his suffering and death three times, the disciples certainly did not see.  Peter rebuked him.  The disciples expected personal glory and power.  James and John asked for seats of power.  None of them could truly see.

How hard it is for us to see with the eyes of faith!  We come to God full of questions and doubts.  How is it that this life is so hard?  How is it that we face trouble and heartache?  How is it that we must lose those closest to us to sickness and death?  We want to believe with our whole hearts.  We want to see!  My teacher, let me see!

The first shall be last, and the last shall be first, Jesus tells us.  When you serve the least of these, you have served me, Jesus says.  “Have mercy!” Bartimaeus cries out.  Have mercy.

Walter Brueggemann calls Jesus “God’s mercy among us,” pointing out that the suffering and death of Jesus were “a continuing act of mercy.  And those who receive mercy are formed into new community.”[1]  The community is called to extend God’s mercy in turn, to enact a transformation “that changes everything and makes all things new.”[2]

The disciples could not see the real Jesus standing in front of them.  Though they had eyes to see, they were blind to who Jesus truly was.  But they continued to follow, despite their lack of understanding.  Jesus drew them to himself, called them friends, loved them – despite their blindness.  And if they can follow, blindly, we can follow, too.  Even when we don’t understand the path we are asked to walk.  Even when we cannot see.

Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, cried out for mercy, cried out for healing.  Though he was blind, he could see Jesus for who he was.  Bartimaeus saw with eyes of faith.

Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (I Cor. 13:12).  Presbyterian minister Jill Duffield says, “I cannot give you the eyes to see Jesus.  I can tell you he is right in front of you.  I can tell you to stop calling out to him.  But as for recognizing him as Rabbouni?  That’s between you and the One who restores your sight.”[3]

Rabbouni, have mercy!  My teacher, let me see again!

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind, but now I see.[4]

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jill Duffield, Looking into the Lectionary, October 25, 2015

[4] John Newton, “Amazing Grace,” 1779

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