An illness all of us take for granted is the inability to see. Most of us, over time, become dependent on the need for eyeglasses, and the prescriptions tend to get stronger over time. Just yesterday, my kids all went for eye exams, and sure enough, they all need glasses. Thank God it’s an easily correctable situation. But there was a time, just a few hundred years ago, when bad vision meant a completely different lifestyle. On the whole, I think we would all agree that when it comes to healthcare, we live in an amazing age. Illnesses that were fatal for centuries are now manageable with proper health care. Conditions that caused people to be cast away from society are now minor occurrences that can be easily medicated, allowing us the ability to retain a full social calendar. Theoretically, we live longer and healthier because the proper care of our bodies allows us to do more before the warranty runs out. Time and again, though, we hear the old saying”If you have your health, you have everything.” Health is defined as the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit; especially freedom from physical disease or pain. I find it funny that it is said someone enjoys good health. Have you ever said someone was enjoying poor health? Of course not. No one could possibly enjoy going back and forth to the doctor or to the hospital, going through test after test, and then sorting our all of the insurance paperwork when all is said and done. Poor health can become a nightmare, and rightly so, with all of the aggravation that accompanies it.
That is the condition of the subject of today’s Gospel reading. Our reading today can be found in the Gospels of Saints Matthew, Mark and Luke; while he is never mentioned by name in St. Luke’s Gospel, the man in question is called Bar-Timaeus, otherwise known as the son of Timaeus, who St. Mark mentions in his Gospel, was an honorable man.
As our Gospel reading begins, we learn of the condition of blind Bartimaeus. He is sitting by the roadside begging. There was nothing else for blind people to do at that time; there was no training, and no welfare for people with disabilities - simply the mercy of those who passed by. He hears the crowd around him and feels their movement. Something exciting is going on that he wishes he could see. The people around him and in front of him have known him for years. Some are sympathetic to the blind man, others indifferent, as long as he doesn't interfere with their personal interests; then they become hostile.
Some of the neighbors tell him that the commotion is because Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. What happens next is very interesting. This physically blind man reacts as though he has been waiting for the coming Jesus. He is the son of an honorable man; Bartimaeus probably grew up as a Sabbath observer, and had lived his life waiting and listening intently for the Messiah. He can't run because he cannot see. He cannot even walk, because the crowd is so thick; he might get trampled over. While he can’t move, he knows by faith exactly who Jesus is.
Bartimaeus also knows it’s now or never. From where he is sitting he raises his strong voice and shouts words that can get him in trouble. But he doesn't care. He says: "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." He knows the name of the Nazarene, because his fame has reached in all towns and villages. But when he says, "Son of David," he identifies Jesus as the Messiah. Now, the acceptance of that title on the part of Jesus is what the enemies of Jesus were waiting for in order to arrest him, for there were already rumblings going on from the Sanhedrin. In order to fully understand this, we must realize that this Gospel reading takes place approximately ten days before Jesus’ crucifixion. In fact, if we read a few lines before this Gospel reading, we would have read of Jesus explaining that they were on their way to Jerusalem, “where everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished” but the Disciples didn’t understand what Jesus meant.
So, there is Jesus and His Disciples, and the crowd of people walking along with him as Bartimaeus is sitting at the side of the road. The bystanders who hear Bartimaeus only yell at him to be quiet. Some tell him sternly: "Be careful, you'll get yourself and him in trouble." Others are offended by the title Son of David. They want him to be quiet. But that makes Bartimaeus even more determined. He shouts even louder. On that dusty road, with all the noise of people and animals and the Middle Eastern passions, it must have been a great voice that caused Jesus to stand still. Jesus hears the words that matter: "Have mercy on me." Those same words of faith echo through the centuries, and are still contained within our form of prayer and worship: Hospodi pomiluj, Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy.
These are words that reach Jesus and make him stop in his tracks. Like the touch of his garment by a woman who was hurting, like the cry of the children who were being pushed away, the cry of "Lord have mercy" stops him. He hears the cry and he responds "Call him here." So the kind-hearted among the crowd open up a path and encourage the blind man. "Take heart, get up, he is calling you." What comforting words. Take heart, the Lord has heard your cry. Take heart, your prayer has reached the ears of the Lord. Take heart, you are no longer alone; you are not a despised person begging by the roadside. Your request has been heard and you are being summoned to the throne of grace.
These are words that all of us long to hear. Every person who has ever suffered, (and who hasn't?), wants to be heard by someone who has mercy.
Jesus stands still, asks for Bartimaeus, the blind man is summoned and the moment is here. Bartimaeus does not hesitate a second. And as in so many other instances, Jesus wants him to articulate his prayer. Bartimaeus had asked for mercy. But Jesus asks: "What is it that you want me to do for you?"
"Teacher," the blind man says simply, "let me see again."
It is obvious from these words that Bartimaeus was not blind from birth. "Let me see again", he says. And he has no doubt that Jesus is the one to give him back his sight.
Bartimaeus gets his wish. He asks, and he is answered. He knocks and the door is opened. Jesus calls him to himself and Bartimaeus jumps at the chance. And after Bartimaeus expresses his request, Jesus tells him, as he has said to so many others: "Go, your faith has made you well." Can you imagine more wonderful words than these?
No time passes. The question is asked, the request is granted, and the sight is regained. Jesus tells him to go. But Bartimaeus stays with him. He stays with the crowd. He is ready to follow Jesus from now on.
We don't know what happens to him after this. We don't know if he went all the way to
Bartimaeus did not let his lack of sight prohibit him from seeking out Jesus. He did not turn his difficult circumstances into a pity party. Rather, he kept waiting and listening for the Savior to come. When Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus answered honestly, and it was granted.
If Jesus were to ask you, "What do you want me to do for you?" How would you answer that? Could you answer it? You may recall, when two of Jesus' disciples, James and John, were asked by Jesus, "What do you want me to do for you?" they asked for a couple of important positions in the new Kingdom of God, and Jesus smiled and said, "Wish granted." -- What they didn't know was that the journey there involved the potential for a lot of suffering. Be careful what you ask for… you might get it. Remember the story of King Midas, who asked that everything he touched be turned to gold… remember his tears when his embrace turned his daughter into precious metal. Remember the story of the man who was fighting with his neighbor -- the angel of the God came to him one evening: "God wants you and your neighbor to reconcile, to be real neighbors. God has sent me to tell you that you can have anything you wish for… the only catch?.. Your neighbor will get double. If you ask for a thousand dollars; your neighbor gets two; if you ask for a Caribbean cruise, your neighbor goes round the world; just ask." said the angel, with great hopes of reconciliation. "Ah then," said the man, with a scowl on his face, "make me blind in one eye."
"What do you want me to do for you?" That's the question that God asks. The way we answer that question will shape our lives, and impact everyone those around us. And probably it's different things at different times in our lives. Sometimes we will ask for magic… "O God … cure me, fix this, stop that, give something else.” Sometimes we will ask for wisdom, courage, strength.
But maybe what we need to think about asking for is the gift of sight –not necessarily better physical sight, but deep sight, a spiritual insight. "Let me see, God… maybe see as You see; with perspective; with compassion; see so wide, so deep that everything is seen, the good and the bad, the broken and the whole, all the Bartimaeus's of the world.
My brothers and sisters, I truly believe that if we can see that way, if we can gain the ability to see with our souls, then the physical aches and pains we have will be lessened. I think that when we see the difficulties of others, and have the ability to help them, then God, in turn, will help us. As we continue our journey this day as Disciples of Christ, that is my prayer for all of us…to be able to see with a new understanding, with compassion, and with the ability to make a difference among those who need our help. Amen.