“Can You See It?”
a message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church
October 24, 2021
46They 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. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then 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.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
We have telescopes that can see other galaxies. We have microscopes that can see quarks. We have satellites that can find a person in a tunnel in Afghanistan from thousands of miles away. Oddly enough we can look at someone right in front of us and not see that they are just like us even though on the outside the color of their skin, their gender, their hair color, their age is very different from us. Or we cannot see them at all, they are rendered invisible because such persons don’t exist in our world. When we look at the world around us, what can you see?
Blindness, as a physical condition can be difficult. It can be a challenge. Blindness as a spiritual condition is potentially even more debilitating. I don’t think it is too much to say it can even go beyond challenging to being downright evil. The effects of climate change are visible everywhere and yet in the name of profit or politics or both people can’t or won’t see it. The effects of an unjust economic system that leaves millions behind and a few with money to throw billions into joy rides to the edge of space are clearly visible, but – for whatever reason - people claim they can’t see it. The church has become a purveyor of consumer capitalism but because of profit, politics, pride, and prejudice people won’t see it.
I have to be honest. I would rather not see it. Ignorance is bliss. I’d love to go along with the minority who seem to be so loud [ not silent and not a majority by any means ], but my faith, my conscience, my education won’t allow me to claim blindness.
Disaster, destruction, and devastation. Can you see that? Many of us live fearing this future. I talked a bit about this last week. I declared that God has the power to create a better future than past. I prophesied that God will. But God’s way forward is not always without pain, without suffering, rejection, and crucifixion. I don’t want to look forward to see disaster, destruction, and devastation. I would rather be blind. But I see. At least in part, I see.
Why would anyone want to be blind? Why would anyone want to be sick? Why would anyone want to be hateful or vindicative, or prejudiced, or being that why would they not want to be healed? And if they want to be healed, why doesn’t God heal them? Why doesn’t God heal everybody? Why doesn’t God do for us what we can bloody well do for ourselves but won’t? Oops.
Karl Jacobson, in a commentary on this, [ workingpreacher.org, October 28, 2012 ], says, “Faith can make us well. This is not magic, or superstition, or some simple fix of course. It seems clear, to me at least, that when Jesus says, ‘Your faith has made you well’ he is not saying that these people somehow believed their way into wellness. Rather he is pronouncing their wellness, declaring it, making it happen for them. It is Jesus who heals, and faith that receives that healing. And so it is, or can be, for those who hear this story and this good news. Faith can make us well. Faith can open our ears, unstop our ears — even raise us from death.”
I’ve spent thirty years of ministry trying to talk my way out of these kinds of “miracles.” I’ve spent thirty years of ministry trying to explain why some people get healed and some don’t. I’ve spend thirty years of preaching trying to tell people that these miracles are just “signs” of the way God intends things to be, basically suggesting these “healings” didn’t really happen. They are just metaphors. Because a lot of preachers have made the failure to heal the fault of the person needing healing. Well, maybe sometimes it is my fault when I can’t see what I ought to see. Maybe it is my fault when I can see but I don’t do anything to change my blind spots. Maybe I’m no better than those disciples. “Shush up! Jesus is busy! Don’t bother the Savior with your little problems. Can’t you see Jesus is too big to be bothered by your ‘fill-in-the-blank’ illness.
Another scholar, Peter Lockhart, [ revplockhart.blogspot.com, Oct 25, 2012 ], says “Bartimaeus, which means Son of Timaeus in Aramaic could be translated something along the lines – Son of Poverty or Son of the Unclean.” Hm. Well, there’s a couple of things – or a couple hundred million types of people – we would rather not see. Those who are poor. Those who are “unclean” for whatever reason we deem them “unclean.” Who wants to see that bloody mess?
Peter Lockhart goes on to say, “In the story: we see the willingness of Jesus to respond to those who are sidelined by [others] we see Jesus care and concern for an individual; we see Jesus desire to renew people’s lives through healing; we see the power of Jesus displayed; we see the truth of Jesus identity; and, we see something of the nature of true discipleship in Bartimaeus. But do we really see? That is the real question for us now as we move into thinking a bit more deeply about the story. Do we really see?
“Whilst the story is on one level the story of a miraculous healing because of the way Mark tells us the story and where he places the story is meant to tell us some other things as well. Leading up to this story in Mark’s gospel there are a series of interactions between Jesus and his disciples which demonstrate their ‘blindness to who Jesus is and what he is on about. One of the clear indicators that this is what is going on is found in the fact Jesus asks exactly the same question of Bartimaeus that he had of James and John not long before. So what Mark is doing is using the story of how Jesus healed a blind beggar to make a point about the disciples.
“Bartimaeus called Jesus Son of David, which tells us that he ‘saw’ who Jesus was and knew that Jesus had it within his power to show mercy. This recognition by Bartimaeus of where true power lay is a contrast to the disciples who, although they appear to know who Jesus is, keep bumping into things because of their blindness to what Jesus is really on about. For instance the disciples are more interested in who will be the greatest in heaven and who will get to sit in places of honour when Jesus comes again in glory. This is a contrast to Bartimaeus who recognised his affliction and his need of Jesus mercy. In this Bartimaeus ‘sees’ the truth not only of Jesus but of his own existence. He, the Son of Poverty, needs the help of the Son of David. This is at the core of true discipleship – admitting that we are in need of Jesus help, of God’s grace.
So the question before me and before you is, “What do we want to see?” What do we want Jesus to do for us? Do we want him to give us the ability to see the world as it is? Do we want Jesus to help us see the world as it can be? That world I talked about last week where I said, God has the power to make a new world, to do a new thing, to bring resurrection where there is death, sight where there is blindness, healing where there is brokenness? Do we want to see it? Can we see it? Do we have faith enough to be well?
The world I see is the one where people see one another as sisters and brothers. Maybe you read the story like I did about a woman heading for a flight out of the Albuquerque Airport. Her name was Naomi. Unfortunately for Naomi, her flight was delayed by four hours and so she was wandering the concourses when she heard an announcement:
“If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands ANY Arabic please come to the gate immediately.” Turns out Gate A-4 was her gate, so she went there.
At the gate she saw an older woman dressed in a traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like her own grandmother used to wear. The woman was crumpled on the floor, wailing. “Help,” the gate attendant said. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she just fell apart! Naomi stooped down and put her arm around the woman and spoke some halting Arabic. The woman stopped crying and said she thought the flight was cancelled entirely, and she needed to be in El Paso for a major medical treatment the next day.
Naomi said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just a little later. Who is picking you up? Let’s call him.” They called her son, and Naomi spoke to him in English and told him she would stay with his mother until the plane boarded and then sit with her on the flight. Then they called her other sons just for the fun of it! Then Naomi called her dad and he spoke with the woman in Arabic for a while. As she puts it, “of course they had ten friends in common!” Then just for the heck of it she called some Palestinian poets she knew to chat with the woman. It killed over two hours of their four-hour delay.
By then the Arabic woman was laughing, telling Jane her life story. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies – little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts – from her bag and was offering them to all the women at the gate. Jane said to her amazement no one refused. It was like a sacrament! The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo were all covered with powdered sugar and smiling. Then the airline agent broke out apple juice and two little girls from the delayed flight went around serving it.
Naomi said, “I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, ‘this is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies, they drank the juice. I wanted to hug all those other women, too. This can still happen anywhere,” she said. I would add, it can happen if we can see it – if we can open our eyes to see the other person, not as an enemy, not as an interruption, not as a worthless waste of time, but as a sister or brother, or a mother or a son, or a daughter.
I would say seeing the world that way is a matter of faith. And if you cannot see the world that way, call out to Jesus. Say something like, “My teacher, let me see again.” I suspect he will say something like, “Go; your faith has made you well.” And I bet immediately you will regain your sight. And then do what bar Timaeus did: follow Jesus “on the way.” AMEN.