A Presbyterian minister interprets the ancient scriptures for a new day
Saturday, October 27, 2012
The Invitation to See
Ordinary Time 30
William G. Carter
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.When he heard that
it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David,
have mercy on me!”Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried
out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”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.”So throwing off his
cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.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.”Jesus said to him,
“Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and
followed him on the way.
A good friend
was having eye problems. He woke up one morning to flashes of light, believing
at first there was a lightning storm raging outside. But the storm was in his
eyes. He couldn’t see sideways. There were little “floaters” in his vision. The
optometrist couldn’t see him right away, so my buddy says he started to panic.
What if he was losing his sight? What if he went from seeing the colors of the
rainbow to the perpetual darkness? What if he could no longer see his grandchildren’s
faces, no longer enjoy the sunrise, no longer have the freedom to drive around
in his car?
It turned out to
be a torn retina. He could get treatment for that, and he was fortunate that his
sight could be restored. That’s not the case with everybody, as you know. When
people lose their sight, they have to find new ways to travel through the
world. They can learn Braille and work with a guide dog, but they inevitably
have to rely on others. They depend on the people around them. And in the
ancient world, that meant you were reduced to begging for help.
Bartimaeus was a
beggar, a blind beggar. His life was reduced to sitting by a well-populated road.
The cloak that he wore to keep him warm was also his offering basket. First
thing in the morning, he would cast it before him, smooth out the wrinkles, and
wait for generous people to walk by. Calling to them, he would ask for mercy,
particularly in the form of spare change. “Can you help me?” he’d say. “Would
you have mercy on me?” Then he would listen with heightened attention for the
sound of coins to fall on his cloak. Whatever fell on his cloak was his, and he
could afford to eat for another day. That was his routine. That was his life.
He lived on the spare change from others.
One day, he
hears that Jesus of Nazareth is drawing near. There is a buzz in his home city
of Jericho. We don’t know what everybody around him was saying. Some had heard
of Jesus as a wise teacher. Others knew of him as a miracle worker and a
healer. Still others spoke of him as an exorcist, as a holy man who could
defeat the powers of hell. What is so striking about this story is that
Bartimaeus the blind man sees Jesus as the Messiah of God. He calls out, “Jesus,
Son of David, have mercy! Jesus, Son of David!”
Now, that’s code
language for “Messiah.” King David would have a Son someday. He could come from
God, and he would begin to restore everything and everybody that was broken. “Jesus,
Son of David” meant “Jesus, Messiah.”
And that is
politically charged language. Jericho was occupied by the Roman army. The
Caesar of Rome had put his troops there to expand his empire. The popular
notion was that the Messiah would come to restore Israel to its ancient glory.
To do that, the Messiah would drive away the oppressive soldiers, drive away
the system that put the citizens under the emperor’s thumb, cast out the evil
that comes with putting people down. The people around Bartimaeus heard him
talking like this – “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy! – and they said, “Hush
up! Be quiet!”
Do you know why
I think they said that? They didn’t want any trouble from the imperial troops
stationed there, yes. But more than that, they saw Jesus of Nazareth, heard the
code word for “Messiah,” and said to themselves, “We don’t think so.” He didn’t
look like a Messiah. He didn’t look like a tall gladiator, ready to fight. He
didn’t look like anything other than what he was: a Galilean, a peasant like
the rest of them, a person with no obvious external abilities . . . except that
things happened around him all the time. The sick became well. The hungry had
food. The possessed were set free. The blind regained their sight.
In his physical blindness,
Bartimaeus sees Jesus as the Messiah. His insight is that there is another way
through the world than the way of the empire and its brutality. There is the
way of Jesus. That’s the Holy Way. It will be costly. It will be awkward. But
to care for the people for whom Jesus cares, to join him in doing the things
that he does – this is the way of the Messiah in the world.
The blind man’s
insight is remarkable. Up until this point in Mark’s account, nobody else had
gotten it quite right. We heard it last week, in the text immediately before
this one. Jesus predicts for the third time that his ministry will run a collision
course with the powers of the world. His way is the way of sacrifice. Remember
what happens? Two disciples, James and John, come up and ask for preferential
treatment. They want to sit on special thrones when Jesus finally rules the
world. Then the other ten disciples hear about it, and they get angry because
James and John got to him first.
Jesus denounces this
me-first, what’s-in-it-for-me mindset. His way is the way of service in the
name of God. His sacrifice will pay the ransom to set people free from the
powers that demean them. Bartimaeus sees this with something other than his eyes.
He cries out to the merciful Messiah, even as his nervous neighbors ask him to
I have always
wondered how some people come to follow Jesus. I marvel at how they “get it.” Those
Roman Catholic nuns who speak up for the hungry and work to get them food,
where did they get their tireless energy? One of them says, “I heard Jesus say,
‘I was hungry and you gave me food.’” It was not a political statement, except
as the political system has to be addressed on behalf of those who are hungry,
who have no other voice. They speak for Jesus.
I heard one of
my seminary classmates talk about a mission project in Kenya. She went with some
people from Sacramento to build a school. One of the Kenyans asked, “Why are
you here?” She said, “I am here with the Presbyterians working in partnership
with this school.” He got this look on face, broke into a grin, and said, “Oh,
we know the Presbyterians!”
With a faraway
look, he said, “When I was five, I lost my sight. My family could only afford
one bus ticket. So they pinned a sign on my shirt that said ‘Kikuyu Presbyterian
Hospital.’ My parents put me on the bus, and I went by myself across Kenya. They
met me, did the surgery, and now I see.” He nodded and said, “Yes, I know the
it.” He understands that the Messiah has mercy on those with great needs. When
Jesus calls him, he casts off his cloak, leaving behind his only possession and
his source of income. Literally, he “bounces” up – he springs up. He refuses to
sit in a pool of self-pity, and goes to the One who can heal him. And when
Jesus said, “Faith restores you, go your way,” where does he go? He goes after
Jesus, on his way. As far as we know, the cloak is still sitting by the
side of road.
In recent years,
the scholars have pondered the name of this man. It’s stated twice –
Bartimaeus, which literally means “Son of Timaeus.” Timaeus was a famous name.
Anybody know this? Timaeus was one of the titles of a work by Plato, the
Greek philosopher. All the cultured people who could read would have known it.
In that work, Plato describes a perfect cosmos, pure, unblemished, distant from
us. All of us mortals can’t see anything more than a dim Xeroxed copy of this,
unless they attend to a certain kind of elitism that removes them from the muck
and grime of daily life.
wealthy and the educated, this was a prevailing view of the world. It was a kind
of a high rent snobbiness that only the very few and the privileged can attain.
That was the view of Plato’s famous essay Timaeus.
So here the “Son
of Timaeus” meets the Son of David. Bartimaeus hasn’t turned out so well, has he?
His eyesight is flawed. He is reduced to begging beside a dirty road. Even after
he is healed, he follows a loser Messiah who is going to be crucified. And he
does so because he sees who Jesus is. He knows that Christ’s Way is the Real
Way. It will involve sacrifice because the idols of success must be forsaken.
It will involve suffering, because if you minister to those who suffer, it
affects you. You give up the beggar’s cloak, and all that it meant, the way
that it reduced you to somebody that the world ignores – and you go the others
that the world ignores, and you do what you can to infuse their lives with
compassion and love.
notes, the Gospel of Mark perceives Christian faith as, "The determination
to shed denial and face the world as it is, in order to struggle for what could
Real faith is giving up on the crazy idea that the only thing that matters is a
perfectly beautiful house, a perfectly successful career, with perfectly
obedient children nurtured by a perfectly obedient spouse. There are a lot of
people who believe that stuff, and it’s not working out so well for them. All of
us have our social fractures and our difficulties. All of us have our bruises
and our imperfections. All of us get jostled around by the empire and its
attempts to consume us.
the one who says, “Teacher, let me see again.” Let me see what is real. Let me
toss aside my empty efforts for security and status, and follow you, come what
Sometime ago in
my travels, I met a remarkable lady named Dana. She was running a halfway house
for women who are recovering drug addicts. She schedules twelve-step groups,
arranges for child care, and arranged for job interview. You would never expect
her to be involved with such work. She is even-tempered, gentle, and
articulate. But she will tell you what happened to cause her to see anew.
She was a
graduate school student in Pittsburgh, looking for a part-time job. A newspaper
listed an administrative position with a soup kitchen. That looked interesting,
so she called and got an interview. The day came and she put on a dark blue
business suit, put her resume and references in a briefcase, and clipped back
Dana arriving a
few minutes before noon and knocked on the door. Someone yelled, "It's
unlocked." She went in, only to find a long line of people in front of
her. Disappointment washed over her. Then she realized it was lunch time. The
people ahead of her weren't there for the interview, they were waiting for
She grew nervous
as she looked at the people in line. Some of them, in turn, looked at her. She
felt self-conscious about the way she was dressed. Apparently others began to
sense her anxiety. A woman in a worn-out sweater smiled and tried to make
conversation. "Is this your first time here?"
worry," said the lady in the sweater, "it gets easier."
fell from my eyes that day," reflected the young woman. "I went there
looking for a job, and that woman thought I was there for soup. As far as she
knew, the world had been as cruel to me as it was to her. But in the kindest
way she could, she welcomed me as a fellow human being. She saw me as someone
equally in need, which I was and still am. I didn't realize it at the time, but
that was the day when God began to convert me." She motioned around the
halfway house and said, "You see all these things God is doing here? God
gave us the eyes to see where Jesus was leading us."
Jesus looks at any
one of us and says, "What do you want me to do for you?" I suppose we
could ask for more prestige, a greater impact, and a sense of power. But if we
have the eyes of faith, the answer is clear: "to see Thee more clearly,
love Thee more dearly, follow Thee more nearly" . . . all the way to the
(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.
Myers, Who Will Roll Away the Stone?
(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994) 46.