Eyes To See
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. 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.
"Eyes To See"
The man sat alone on the side of the road, half dozing in the warm sunshine. Normally, the road between Jerusalem and Jericho was a well-traveled road, but that day it seemed empty. He didn’t know where the rest of the world had gone. Suddenly, he sat up straight, and strained forward, as if he were listening with every inch of his body. The tattered rags he wore and the look of fatigue in his face told volumes about this beggar. He leaned toward the ground and put his hands down on the hard packed dirt of the road, hoping to feel the vibrations that would tell him that someone was coming. Soon enough, voices began to drift toward him: a group traveling to Jerusalem, no doubt. He turned his unseeing eyes toward Jericho, groped for his beggar’s bowl that was filled only with dust that day, and waited.
Soon he picked out three, no four, voices, then a whole chorus of voices began to swarm over him. This was no ordinary band of travelers; this was a crowd. He anxiously cried out: “Who are you, where are you going,” his voice lost in the cacophony of sound. When someone near him said: “It’s Jesus,” the man’s heart began to pound within his chest. He had heard stories of this man, strange, impossible stories of healing. Before he knew what he was doing, the cry rose up within him: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Was it too late, had he already passed by? “Jesus, have mercy on me!” “Hush,” the people said! “Jesus doesn’t want to mess with the likes of you, he’s on a mission from God!” But Bartimaeus knew this might be his only chance to break free. “Jesus, son of David!” His heart began to sink, until he realized that the crowd around him had stopped moving. Someone shook him and said: “He is calling you.” Bartimaeus was on his feet before he knew what he was doing, moving in the direction he was pointed in, reaching, stumbling, until a hand on his chest stopped him.
And Jesus simply said: “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus does not assume the obvious here, doesn’t try to get inside Bartimaeus’ head with his own speculations, but asks a question blunt and direct. “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus didn’t know this was a loaded question, didn’t know that Jesus had asked the same question of his disciples who had said they wanted to be placed in positions of power in Jesus’ new reign. So Jesus asks again, this time, hoping someone will get it right. “What do you want me to do for you?”
Bartimaeus shoots right back: “I want you to give me my sight.” And so he did. Jesus heals the man, who had known nothing but blindness. And the once blind Bartimaeus follows Jesus on his way.
The miracle story of the restoration of Bartimaeus’ sight is a microcosm of some of the problems facing the church today, and a model for a healing church. The cry of Bartimaeus is the cry of the helpless, the cry of the one cut off from community. It is the cry of the deepest part of ourselves that has been blinded, wounded, silenced. When Bartimaeus cries out in a loud, insistent voice, he is silenced by those around him. Who knows why? Maybe they were in a hurry to get somewhere else, and didn’t want to waste time on someone unimportant. Maybe they were sick of Bartimaeus’ insistent need, weary of always having to carry him along. Perhaps Bartimaeus reminded them of their own personal pain that they wished to ignore.
How often do we, as the church, silence those who cry out for help? A few years ago, there was an article in the Boston Globe whose headline read: “Forgoing church, many turn to 12-step program.” The article asserted that people are turning to twelve step programs in an effort to be healed of their addictions, instead of turning to religion for help. Many say that they are able to tell the whole story of their lives, with all the pain and brokenness involved, in these 12 step meetings in a way that is not permitted in the church. The church cannot help but sit up and take notice. Have the silenced Bartimaeus’ been forced to go elsewhere? The church can only be the church when people are given permission to tell the truth of their lives. For it is in telling the truth about our brokenness, our limits, our unmet yearning for wholeness, that healing can begin to take place.
In his book, Finally Comes the Poet, OT scholar Walter Brueggemann writes of Bartimaeus: “A capacity to cry out the pain has caused health to come. The pain of the world, embodied in the largely silent congregation of ancient Israel and in the silence of this blind beggar, is the stuff out of which new life comes. Newness, however, requires faith in order to speak the pain. Out of voiced pain,” Brueggemann continues, “Bartimaeus is permitted a new life. Had he not cried out in pain, he never would have come to a new life of discipleship.”
The church at its best is the place where Bartimaeus is given permission to speak. It is the place where we can create what someone called safe “zones of touching,” where we can be fully human with one another without fear of rejection or condemnation.
But the ability to articulate one’s brokenness is not all that Bartimaeus teaches us. The question that Jesus puts to Bartimaeus is clear: “What do you want me to do for you?” The church is that place where we ask one another the question: “What do you want God to do for you?” Bartimaeus, do you want to continue to be blind? Do you want God to put money in your bowl? Do you want God to lead you? Do you want God to heal you of your blindness? The church can be the place where we can help one another get our deepest desires straight.
When Jesus’ question is put to us, we can answer in the limited or shallow way that the disciples did: we want security, we want stability and power and not suffering. But in Christian community, we urge one another to go deeper. We challenge one another to answer as Bartimaeus did, with the deepest and truest yearnings of our hearts. God looks at us directly and says, “What do you really want me to do for you?” This is not just a personal, individual question, but a question directed at the whole Christian community. What do you want God to do for you, church?
As OCBC moves into the next phase of its life and ministry, this becomes a crucial question. Who will this church become? What does it need in order to move forward? Are there places where healing is required? What do you want God to do for you? What do you need from God? The true church is where we can dream dreams, and see visions, and allow those visions to come to pass in our midst.
I’ve been talking a lot lately about a question that comes from a form of therapy known as Brief Strategic Therapy. A Brief Therapist will ask their client a question known as “the miracle question.” The miracle question goes like this: “If a miracle were to take place in your life in regard to your problem, yet you didn’t know the miracle had happened, what would you see when you woke up the next morning that let you know that a miracle had taken place?” This question challenges the client to begin to envision the future without the problem. In some mysterious way, they then start to live into that solution. So, instead of being wed to a “problem saturated view” of their reality, they begin to see some other possibilities, and the solutions begin to emerge.
Bartimaeus was given the eyes to see. He was able to see in a way that the disciples had not yet managed to see: Bartimaeus was able to see Christ clearly, and to follow him to Jerusalem. And in order to follow, Bartimaeus had to change, to let go of the old way of being in the world, of the narrative that had defined him since birth. In order to follow, Bartimaeus had to grow. As fourth century Bishop Gregory of Nyssa suggests: “Sin happens whenever we refuse to keep growing.”
What do we want God to do for us? Do we dare to ask for the eyes to see? Can we be changed? Yes we can! AMEN