46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
When I was a kid, we used to take trips to Mammoth Cave in KY. I remember a couple of the tours of the cave. It was always fun to see the stalagtites and stalagmites coming from the floor and ceiling. Of course, on every tour, at some point in the cave, the tour guide would have everyone stand in the center of a large cavern, and then turn off the lights. Of course, it was disorienting, you couldn’t see a thing! Not even your hand being put right in front of you.
Years later, I would go spelunking, or cave exploring, in a few small caves. Friends of mine would crawl through some places and we’d have headlamps. If those headlamps went dead or we broke them, we had the benefit of having back-up lights or are friends to help us out.
Our main character in our gospel lesson this morning knows what its like to not be able to see in the dark. Bartimaeus, or Bart, is a blind beggar. In 1st century culture, if you are blind, you don’t have many options. You are pushed aside, not useful to society, not productive, and forced to make a living by begging, by leading on the hospitality of others.
Now, Bartimaeus has a name, has an identity. He’s the son of Timaeus. He has had relationships, he is a part of a family. But, his blindness has left him isolated, alone, left out. Could you imagine the hurt that he felt, the desperation.
We know from this passage that he hasn’t been blind all of his life, maybe he remembers what it’s like to see things or to experience the love of a family. But, now he’s left to beg, without much of a future and no friends.
When I was in a cave with family as a child or with friends later, I wasn’t alone in the dark. I had others around me that I could lean in on. Bartimeaus doesn’t have that luxury.
Put yourself in Bart’s shoes.
When Jesus comes walking down the road, leaving Jericho, surrounded by a large crowd. Bartimaeus senses the excitement of the crowd, when he hears its Jesus, he shouts out, have mercy on me Son of David! He’s using Son of David in order to get Jesus to notice that he’s connected to him, to show him mercy. I have to admit, I respect Bart! He had some moxie, he was desperate, but he was also filled with hope one last time.
Well, the disciples have places to go, they don’t have time for this guy, they try to get him to quiet down, they cannot imagine that this moment is filled with meaning and drama, they are not thinking of possibilities, only convenience, the next meeting, and not wanting to be bothered…but Jesus hears him. He calls Bart to him and asks, what do you want me to do? Bart springs up, comes to him and says, my teacher, again an address of honor, help me to see again. Jesus says that his faith has made him whole, that he is healed.
His sight returns, and, he follows Jesus.
Friends, as I read the gospel lesson this week, I’m not sure who the blind persons were in this story. Sure, Bart was physically blind, but the disciples had eyes to see, yet they couldn’t see the possibility of the moment. They were with Jesus, identified with Jesus, but they were focused on their agenda and not the person right in front of them. Maybe they were wowed by the large crowds and felt like the numbers were more important than the folks right in front of them, they looked to the crowds and not to the persons.
Folks in this story could not “see” one another! Yet, Jesus saw them and saw the blind man…really saw them…and that enabled the blind man to not only have his physical sight, but to “see” Jesus. Isn’t it a gift when we can be present with someone and they see us, they don’t see things on the surface, but the real in us! What a gift!
It’s also interesting to note that this man was spontaneous, he didn’t overthink the moment, he seized it. In comparison, the disciples were filled with fear, silence, hesitation, opposition…they were contrarians to the man’s faithfulness.
Friends, this is the kind of faith that God is calling us towards, the faith of Bartimaeus. We are called to be in the moment, to seize it. We have opportunities in our lives, daily, to live in hope and expectation. God wants to deliver us out of the darkness and into the light. Darkness, for a season, is a good thing…it may give us rest, perspective, and growth. When seeds are planted in the ground, it is dark…with nourishment from the soil, water, etc. those seeds push through the resistance, grow strong and move towards the sun, towards light, which also gives growth to blossom. God wants to restore our relationships, to restore our sense of community, to restore us…to blossom and be all that we were intended to be… God wants us to “see” ourselves, to “see” others, and to know that God always sees us, the real us, and loves us!
And, God’s called us to notice the blind beggars, or those in our pews and in our neighborhoods that we often look over.
It seems as a church, that we also are like the disciples in that we get caught up in crowds and numbers, or trying to get somewhere, that we miss the moment right in front of us. Folks are literally jumping in front of us, asking for mercy! We sometimes have folks come by the church looking for help, we have friends of Fleming Road UCC calling us to see if we can participate in something. Friends, we have eyes to see, but do we have real sight, can we see God’s work in our midst?
Thankfully, we are not alone, we have friends around us to help us, we do not have to be fearful or hesitant, we can live faithfully in exuberance with a God who is calling us to be the new parish that can bring hope and healing to our neighborhood.
May it be so.