“My teacher, let me see again.”
And then he did.
Here is what I know of being blind, for I have seen it to be so in those I have known and loved.
When the gift of sight is taken away, other senses compensate as much as they can so that the one not able to see is able to ‘see’ in new ways.
Only that is not what happens to Bartimaeus who is sitting outside of Jericho when Jesus passes by.
No, Bartimaeus whose loss of sight resulted in his having to beg is suddenly able to actually see again.
And with that sight restored, I imagine he sees as he never has before.
Because once what is lost is returned, one can never live with the lack of awareness one had before.
And for Bartimaeus, at least, with his sight regained, he not only can see trees and rivers and city streets and rural roads and faces he had only seen before in his memory, he can see what matters most and the next thing we hear is that he is following Jesus.
Because apparently what matters now is not what he sees so much as who he sees in the face of Jesus, the one who restored his sight.
And that changes everything.
As for us as we encounter this story of being blind and having sight restored, of brokenness and then wholeness and healing and hope renewed, perhaps this comes at just the right time. For you and I, no doubt, have a deeper sense of what it is to ‘be blind’ than perhaps we ever had before. Not physical blindness so much, I expect, but rather:
- The sort that comes from not being able to envision or imagine the next step.
- The kind that means no longer quite recognizing the world we thought we knew before because of division or inequality we maybe never knew was there.
- The sort that results in exhaustion from the seemingly constant need to rethink everything in new ways.
Oh, we may not know what it is to actually be ‘blind,’ but we do know what it is to not be able to see as we once did. And we know what it is to yearn to have that sight restored. Even as Bartimaeus called out for in today’s reading.
And yet, I expect that it is so today that you and I may not yet fully know what it is to suddenly actually ‘see again,’ for my sense is that for us it will be a gradual ‘healing’ which comes bit by bit, small revelation, perhaps, by small revelation.
Indeed, we may even still know ourselves sitting by the side of the road outside of Jericho just calling out for mercy!
Or maybe even now we can begin to see what we never could or never would see before. Oh, maybe it is so that even when we knew ourselves to be most ‘blind,’ we saw what we never even thought to look for:
- How an invisible virus revealed how connected we all are, the whole world over.
- How we quickly became aware of all that we had taken for granted that we then missed so much: that quick unthinking trip to the grocery store, a meal out with friends, a holiday gathering with family.
- How that same virus revealed the utter privilege of those who could ‘shelter at home’ and still be able to keep roof over head, food on the table, or those whose children had easy access to all they needed to learn remotely.
Indeed, in a time of ‘blindness,’ we saw what we never had to see before!
And yes, this, for those of us who know congregations to be central to our lives:
- How much we relied on being ‘in person’ and how painful it was to not be beside one another in worship, around the font, at the communion table.
- How easy it was to let political divisions in the world taint our relationships with one another.
- How hard it was to imagine new ways of doing pastoral ministry when you (when I) “had always done it that way before…”
And yes, now, I expect many are beginning to painfully see and acknowledge that maybe ‘the ways we had always done it before’ were never what they should have been at all. Or at least that is the message we may be receiving as we acknowledge the truth that some are likely never coming back and with their not coming back the budget is tighter and we anticipate that hard decisions are looming.
And it surely could be that these days we are trying to ‘see too far’ down the road now even while our vision is not yet fully cleared.
For it is not yet, is it?
For all our seeing and seemingly understanding more than what we thought we did, our healing is not yet complete and maybe this side of eternity, it never will be!
So for now, maybe we just get off the ground with Bartimaeus who was no longer blind and do what he did.
And if you look at what comes next you will see that as he followed Jesus, he followed him right down that danger ridden road from Jericho into Jerusalem:
- Where soon he would have joined in a parade and where his own voice would have mingled with shouts of Hosanna!
- Where he would have watched from the sidelines as Jesus threw the old order aside, casting the money changers from the temple;
- Where he would have overheard hard teachings about tenant farmers and paying taxes and would have continued to witness Jesus confronting old ways of seeing and understanding the world;
- Where he would have seen Jesus anointed by a woman holding an alabaster jar, perhaps shared in a meal which ended with bread and wine and sensed in these the truth that both meant much more than maybe it first appeared;
- Where he would have witnessed betrayal and denial and unspeakable suffering and death of the one who only days before had restored his sight and who he realized then was all he ever really needed to see;
- And yes, of course this, that first Easter when a handful of women saw and heard what they never could have imagined they would see and hear and all that would mean for Bartimaeus and all the rest.
Maybe that’s all we do now as well as we all find ourselves somewhere between seeing and not seeing and almost seeing again and realizing maybe we never really saw at all.
Could it be that this is exactly what we, like Bartimaeus are given what sight we have for?
To just follow Jesus?
To just follow Jesus into places which, yes, can be frightening and confusing but where the promise is that evil is finally vanquished and where as full sight is restored all we can see is the life God intended for us all along?
I’m casting my hope there this week.
Along with Bartimaeus who could not see and begged for mercy and was granted sight and then knew what to do with that sight.
For he saw again.
And then he followed Jesus.
- How do you hear the story of Bartimaeus this week?
- Where have you experienced blindness and sight restored in these last many months? Are there still places where you find you can’t quite see yet?
- What would it mean for you or your community to ‘only see’ and then follow Jesus as Bartimaeus did? What might that look like for you in the days, the months, the years to come?