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.
What does it mean to see something?
[Look at it with your eyes] -- there’s the physical act of looking...the light waves bouncing off whatever objects are within your field of vision into your eyes that then are translated by your brain into colors, and shapes, depth and size. You look at something, and it’s photons and chemicals - a scientific process that takes multiple organs working together to be able to see those things that are in front of you.
But what else does it mean to see something?
There’s also this element of knowing or understanding. I could hold up a variety of objects in front of you and you could see them, but if you didn’t have an idea of what I was actually holding up, you wouldn’t be able to really, truly see them. I watch this with Michael all the time, as he’s learning and growing and figuring the world out. I could have 10 different objects in front of him and ask him if he sees this or that, and if he doesn’t already have an idea of what I’m asking for - his brain has no way to make sense of the different objects in front of him. Like right now, we’re doing it with magnetic letters on the refrigerator. He’s really good at being able to see the letter “M” (in fact, wherever we go, he can pick that letter out), but other letters - A….K….Y… he just doesn’t see. There’s no connection between what he’s looking at with his eyes, and any sense of greater understanding.
There are a lot of layers of “seeing” that is going on in today’s scripture passage: what it means to see and be seen...to be blind, both literally and spiritually...and how our seeing and unseeing impacts how we relate to ourselves...to one another...and to Jesus.
In our story we have bartimaeus, a blind beggar, sitting by the roadside - presumably in the spot he always sits - looking for anything anyone will give him. When Jesus and his disciples leave the city, he hears of it and begins to shout out - “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those around him try stop him from crying out, but it only increases his desperation as again he calls out to Jesus. Jesus stops, stands still, and asks those who had tried to silence Bartimaeus to call him forward. They tell him “take heart, get up, his calling you.” Bartimaeus leaps up and casts off his cloak and makes his way to Jesus. (As a side note, I always found it interesting that they didn’t help him find his way to Jesus).
Jesus asks him, What do you want me to do for you?” And Bartimaeus says to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus tells him that his faith has made him well...and immediately, Bartimaeus regains his sight and follows after Jesus.
The literal blindness of Bartimaeus and his regaining sight is a fairly straightforward layer in the text, but there are other blind people in this story - and it’s a bit more subtle. The crowd is blind to Bartimaeus; his ailment and his status as a beggar render him unworthy of an encounter with Jesus - at least in the crowd’s opinion. Even though they see him - they don’t truly see him...he is invisible, his cries - though heard - fall on deaf ears, and his very personhood is unvalued.
Until, that is, Jesus stops, and invites the crowd to call him. Jesus doesn’t invite Bartimaeus forward directly, Jesus tells the crowd to give him the message. In this act, Jesus heals the crowd of their spiritual blindness. He opens their reality to the value and worth of Bartimaeus, and where once they were trying to subdue his shouts and cries and pleas for help...they now encourage: “Take heart, get up, he is calling you.” In this act, connection and relationship within the community is restored - Bartimaeus is no longer invisible to them.
The interaction Jesus and Bartimaeus have is one that I find deeply moving. Bartimaeus sees something that the crowd does not - he calls Jesus “Son of David” which is a title that Jesus never uses publicly in his ministry. The crowd doesn’t fully understand who this Jesus is - and perhaps they see who they want to see in Jesus - a healer, a miracle worker, an exorcist, a teacher, a potential military leader, a revolutionary, a simple carpenter’s son, a great speaker. They don’t see what Bartimaeus sees - Jesus as the Messiah….Son of David...the Son of God.
Jesus is fully seen by Bartimaeus - a blind man. Bartimaeus sees despite his blindness - and Jesus fully sees Bartimaeus. Jesus doesn’t assume that Bartimaeus wants to regain his sight. Jesus doesn’t reduce Bartimaeus to a problem to be solved, or a series of labels. Jesus asks the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” which honors Bartimaeus as a full person - one with many wants, needs, and desires. Jesus invited Bartimaeus to gauge within himself what he wants of Jesus.
Bartimaeus in some sense had already made his decision - when he came forward to Jesus, he threw off his cloak - the most valuable possession he had - it gave him warmth and shelter, collected coins, gave him cover and an identity and a livelihood -- a thing safe and familiar that he cast off in order to meet Jesus...demonstrating a trust in this man he’s never met but knows and sees and that is confirmed when he follows Jesus after regaining his sight.
On the one hand, we could talk about and identify with the crowd and ask - who are the unseen people in our world or on our island...where does Jesus need to heal our own spiritual blindness to the troubles that allow and enable us to dehumanize and render others unworthy or less than. There’s a wealth of conversation we could have about how that plays out in our world and in our community.
Yet while the crowd features prominently in the story - it’s the encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus that leads me to consider the same question Jesus asks: What do you want me to do for you?
It’s a question of self-reflection and invitation for healing -- a question where Jesus asks us to examine our hearts and discover what lies therein...a question that points to our longings and fears. Jesus might also reframe the question: “What do you imagine I desire for you? Where in your deepest desires might we find each other?”
It’s a question that invites us to look within and see ourselves as we are - the hurts and pains and joys and sorrows, our intentions and mixed motivations, our deepest shame and our proudest moments, our sharpest wounds and faded scars. And to answer that question honestly, it requires that we see Jesus who who he truly is - God’s son sent to heal us and bring us back to life….to resurrect the dead and dying places in our lives and in our world...and it requires us to trust that when Jesus sees us - he doesn’t reduce us to our problems or our needs - Jesus sees all of who we are. He sees us as people worthy of love and attention, even if we struggle with thinking that about ourselves...he sees our suffering and our wounds, even if we try to hide them ...he sees the best and the worst in each our hearts...and looks on each and every one of us with love and compassion, longing for each of us to bring those wounded places to him for healing.
To end, I want to invite you into a place of reflection - hearing Christ call to you in and through this story. This was written by Rev. Steve Garnaas-Holmes, a United Methodist pastor serving in Acton, Massachusetts.
Close your eyes….breathe in and out….and hear these words:
Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting beside the Way.
What is the Way you are beside: something incomplete,
something not yet happening? Offer it to God.
He began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many sternly ordered him to be quiet.
What has silenced you?
What has kept you from rushing headlong to God?
Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.”
Imagine Jesus calls you.
Jesus wants you. Wants you near.
They called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
Recite these words to yourself.
Take heart; get up, your Love is calling you.
Throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.
Your souls is not as timid as you:
casting your safety aside, leaping, unseeing, to the Beloved.
Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Let him ask you.
“My teacher, let me see again.”
What would you see?
Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”
Your crying out, your soul's leaping,
your blind begging is holy.
Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
What is the new Way you will follow on?
Pray this all day long without ceasing:
“Jesus, Beloved of God, have mercy on me.
“Jesus, Beloved of God, have mercy on me.”
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.