Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
– Mark 10:46-52
I’d like to ask you, just for a few minutes, to put yourselves in the place of the blind man in this story. I don’t mean just think about it – I want to ask you to close your eyes.
You’re blind. But even with your eyes closed, you can probably still see a little red glow through your eyelids. So either squeeze your eyes shut more tightly, or put your hand over your eyes, and try to imagine that that little bit of light just isn’t there.
Your whole world is dark like that. All the time. You can’t see anything. Everything you know is from what you can feel, what you can hear or touch or smell.
Maybe you could see, once upon a time. It doesn’t say if Bartimaeus was blind from birth, or whether some accident or illness blinded him. Maybe you can remember what it used to be like to see, or maybe that memory has gone completely.
You can’t make a living, not in that day and age, so you go out every day and beg. It’s a big town, and a lot of travelers pass by, so there’s always someone who will throw a little something into your bowl. All day long, you listen for passers-by, and call out, “Alms, please. . .help a poor person. . .alms, please. . .can you spare a little change?. . .alms, please. . .”
One day, sitting out in the sun – the sun you can feel but never see – a big crowd is going by. So you ask one of the people who it is who’s passing you – you can’t see them, remember – and they say it’s Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus! You’ve heard that name before somewhere. They all say he has the power to cure people – sick people – and make them well. You heard somebody say once that Jesus even cured a blind person, way up north in Galilee.
Keep your eyes closed. It may seem like a long time, but remember, for the blind person in the story, it’s been dark for a lot longer.
You’re excited by the news that Jesus is so close, and you call out to him, even though you can’t see him. The people nearby tell you to shut up, but you keep calling out – “Help me, have pity on me, where are you, I know you’re there, help me!”
And you get to your feet, and you push into the crowd with your hands reaching out in front of you, calling out, “Jesus, help me!”
And suddenly everybody around you is quiet, and you stop. And a voice you’ve never heard before says, “What do you want me to do for you?”
And you don’t know who it is, or whether it’s true, or whether to even hope or not. You’re scared.
And you don’t know what to say, or how to say it, or what would sound right. And the voice says again, “What do you want me to do for you?”
So you turn in the direction of the voice, and you say, “Lord, let me receive my sight!”
And the voice says, “Receive your sight. Your faith has made you well.” And those words bring light into the darkness!
And you open your eyes, and the first person you see is Jesus.
That is what today’s Bible story is about. And it’s not just about this one guy, a long time ago. It’s saying that all of us, no matter who we are, are really like blind beggars by the roadside.
We may have homes and families. We may have jobs and friends. We may have all kinds of things. But there is so much we don’t see. There is so much we don’t get. There are so many things we not only don’t understand, but we’re blind to.
There’s an old saying, “How can you explain a rainbow to a blind person?” And it’s like that with all of us. But maybe, because most of us have seen a rainbow, you all can get a hint of what I mean when I say that there are more rainbows, more colors, more things for us to notice and see, which only God can help us to see.
The blind man could feel the warmth of the sun, but he couldn’t see it. He knew there was something there, he could even turn his face in the right direction and hold up his hands and feel the warmth, but he didn’t really know what was there.
That’s how we all are. That kind of warm feeling we get, that we call feeling religious, is like the warmth that the blind man felt. It’s nice, but there’s as much difference between the blind man feeling the sunshine and seeing it, as the difference between the little warm glow we sometimes feel and the glory of God.
All of our religion, in a way, is like the blind man calling out to Jesus, “Help me, have pity on me, where are you, I know you’re there, I need you, help me!” All of our religion really isn’t much more sophisticated than that. We’re like the blind man getting to his feet, and groping through the crowd, and calling out, “Help me, Lord!”
That may not feel like a very dignified portrait of humanity, and I’m sorry if it offends anyone, but I think it’s the truth. We simply don’t see everything that’s out there. We certainly don’t see things the way God sees them. We don’t pay attention to the things that Jesus talked about.
In the story, there was a kind of a hush when the blind person finally made their way close to Jesus. I think that hush is partly what our time of open worship is about.
Last week I said that quiet worship is like fasting, like being free from words and music and noise, so that we can re-discover what the living Word of God is like.
Today I’m saying that quiet worship is like the hush, when the blind beggar finally gets close to Jesus, and everybody waits to hear what Jesus is going to say and watch what Jesus is going to do.
It’s a holy moment. A Jesus moment. That’s what open worship is, or can be. And sometimes, open worship and quiet prayer is like that moment when the blind person opens their eyes, and the first person they see is Jesus. That’s what prayer is like, at its best.
The apostle Paul once said that most of the time, we only see part of reality. No matter how smart we are, it’s like we only see a reflection, in a darkened room, in a dusty mirror.
But when Christ comes, and we grow up, we become all we’re meant to be, then we will see things as they really are. There won’t be any dark corners. There won’t be any mysteries. There won’t be any unanswered questions.
There’s a whole lot of things we just don’t get now. But one day, we will. And it won’t be because of our own efforts. It won’t be because we’re smarter, or better than anyone else.
We will see, because Christ will open our eyes, and we will see everything. Right now, God sees us, in every part of our lives, in every corner of our heart. But we don’t see back. When Christ opens our eyes, we will see all our own blind spots, and the blind spots of others. We will see what needs to be forgiven. We will see the hidden beauty of things.
We will see the ugliness of all the things we value so much now, and we’ll let them all go. We’ll see what matters, and what doesn’t matter.
We’ll be saying, “Lord, I was blind all my life, and I’m sorry!”
And Jesus will smile and say, “I love you. Let it go now. Be whole, and free.”
This story is not just about one blind person, begging by the road side – Bartimaeus, which just means “Son of Tim”. It’s about every one of us, because we are the blind person in the story.
I don’t know if you know this, but the oldest prayer in the Christian church comes from today’s story. In many churches, people echo the prayer, “Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy!”
That’s the prayer of the blind beggar. And that’s the prayer we say.
Jesus said that it was the faith of the blind person that saved him. Faith doesn’t mean we see everything. The guy in this story was blind.
What saved him, was that he heard Jesus was near, and he got up, and he reached out his hands, and he stumbled in the direction of Jesus’ voice. That’s what prayer is. And that’s what faith is.
It’s taking a chance. It’s trusting in someone you haven’t seen yet. It’s hoping that what you’ve heard about Jesus is true. It’s taking a few steps in the dark. And it’s praying, “Lord, have mercy!”