Was blind, but now I see

Good morning, Friends!

Welcome again, and thanks for coming today.

Spring is starting! This week the first daffodils blossomed out front. Believe it or not, Easter isn’t very far away – it’s just 4 weeks!

There’s a whole cycle of readings that many churches follow throughout the year. You may remember that the Sunday before Easter, we read the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem, while the crowd waved palm branches and shouted Hosanna!

The Scripture reading we did last week is another traditional one for before Easter – the story of Jesus going up a mountain with three friends. When they were on top of the mountain, Jesus whole appearance suddenly changed, and they got a glimpse of Jesus as he really is, all the time. That was last week.

Today we’ve got a different kind of story. It’s about a blind man, a beggar by the roadside, who heard that Jesus was passing by.

Jesus was on his last trip – his journey to Jerusalem, where he knew he was going to die. His mind must have been filled with all kinds of thoughts. But on this most important trip of his entire life, Jesus heard a street person, calling out to him from the edge of the crowd.

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 Bartimaeus 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! Get 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

OK, Jesus healed somebody. That’s important. It changed this person’s life forever. But Jesus healed a lot of people. Why is this story so extra important? Why do churches read this story, right before Easter?

Well, I already told you before. It’s important because it’s the last big, public healing Jesus died before he got to Jerusalem. The crowds that were following Jesus were getting bigger and bigger, every day, the closer they got.

Passover was coming, and the crowds were on fire to see what Jesus would do. The crowds knew something big was going to happen. They were just waiting to see Jesus take over as king.

But as we know, that didn’t happen. Jesus wasn’t going to be the kind of king they expected. Instead of thinking about power and conquest, Jesus was thinking more about truth and witnessing. He was thinking about suffering and dying.

But all the way down, right up to the very end, Jesus was also thinking about forgiveness and healing. And that’s part of why this story is so significant.

Just as Jesus was willing to stop on the most important mission of his whole life, the reason he came here, and welcome a sinner, or hold a child, here he’s willing to stop everything and help someone who was completely blind and unable to see.

This is one of the few stories where we actually know the person’s name – Bartimaeus. Most of the stories and healings in the gospel are anonymous – we don’t know the person’s name.

Giving his name could mean that Bartimaeus was somebody who was known to the Christian community. After he was healed, he followed Jesus. Maybe he became a well-known disciple or a leader.

We don’t know how long he had been there begging, but we assume it was a long time. Maybe most of his adult life. People passed by, every day, and saw him. Blind beggars were part of the landscape then. But Bartimaeus heard the noise of the crowd. And he asked, “What’s happening?”

And somebody told him, ” Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”

Bartimaeus had probably heard about Jesus. Almost everybody had heard of Jesus by now. Even if he didn’t know much about Jesus, Bartimaeus knew that Jesus was a famous teacher. They said that Jesus taught like no one had ever taught before.

Bartimaeus might have heard stories, about how Jesus fed five thousand people one evening, with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of dried fish. And they were all satisfied, and nobody went home hungry.

He might have heard how Jesus healed people – the sick, the lame, the untouchable, the mentally ill. A woman had been healed when she touched the edge of Jesus coat one day.

” Maybe,” Bartimaeus thought, “maybe Jesus could help even me.”

We don’t know if Bartimaeus had been able to see once before. We don’t know if he’d been blind all his life, or whether he became blind later. Either way, he was desperate. He cried out to Jesus.

The bystanders tried to shut him up. They wanted to hear what Jesus was saying. They didn’t want to be distracted by a street person. But the more they tried to shut him up, the louder he kept yelling, ” Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

Now, just so you know how important this story is, one of the very earliest Christian prayers, which is still said today, especially in the Orthodox church, is that one.

For millions of Orthodox Christians , one of the prayers they say every day, many times a day, is called the Jesus Prayer. The words of the Jesus Prayer come straight from this story, and the words are: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

That’s how important today’s story is.

Millions of people feel that this prayer is right up there with the Our Father. And they say it many times a day. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

When I read this story, I think that the first thing the Bartimaeus saw, when he was healed, was the face of Jesus. That was the first thing he saw, with his new gift of sight.

And after something like that, Bartimaeus was never going to lose sight of Jesus, ever again. The one who healed him, the one who brought him light – he was never going to leave Jesus, for anything.

And the first thing that he saw that week, with his new eyes, when he followed Jesus, was Jesus riding into Jerusalem, being welcomed, and then being betrayed, and crucified, and buried, and finally being raised from the dead.

That is what Bartimaeus saw, with his newly-given eyesight. He saw the Lord who had saved him from darkness, who had given him his life back, the one who loved him and showed mercy on him, who saved him – he saw Jesus killed.

There were plenty of people who followed Jesus that week. But of all the people, maybe Bartimaeus was the one who really saw everything.

When people asked Bartimaeus, years later, “What did you see, when you got your sight back? What was it like?” he answered, “The first person I saw, was Jesus. All I could see, was him.”

And then he would go on and say, what he remembered most, for the rest of his life, was that Jesus showed mercy on him. And that the crowd that was shouting for Jesus, turned their back on him, and let him die.

Bartimaeus was never going to forget that week. He was never going to be able to deny what happened. He felt he was given the gift of sight, in order to be a witness. He saw the one whose love saved the world.

That’s what sight is given for – not to waste our lives, looking at useless stuff that doesn’t matter. God’s gift of sight is given so that we can see the face of God in the world. So that we can see to follow. So that we can see Jesus triumphing even over darkness and death.

That’s what our eyes are for. And anyone who can’t see those things, might as well be blind.

The story of Bartimaeus is important, because it’s really the story of every one of us. What Jesus did for him, needs to happen for all of us, too. Our eyes need to be opened. We need to see Jesus.

The Bible is full of these stories, where we suddenly realize that the person in the story is really us.

The story of Adam and Eve isn’t just about some long-ago ancestors. It’s about us choosing, whether to let God decide what’s good and what’s evil.

The story of Moses isn’t just about some long-ago historical event. It’s about every one of us hearing those words, “Let my people go!”

We don’t have to be slaves in Egypt. We can be slaves to many other things – to our temper or our emotions, to an addiction.

The people Moses called had to spend the rest of their lives figuring out how to be free people again. That’s us, too.

The story of Peter, who tried to get out of the boat and walk on water all by himself – that’s not just one foolish disciple. We are all Peter. At some point in our lives, we’re going down for the third time, drowning, and call out, “Lord! Save me!” And Jesus reaches out a hand, and saves us. These stories are universal.

When Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave, and said, “Lazarus! Come out!”, Jesus was calling every one of us from our own graves.

Bartimaeus is every Christian, just as we are all Adam and Eve, we are all formerly enslaved, we are all saved from dying.

Now, Bartimaeus really went through four stages in his healing.

The first stage, the first place, was the stage of hope. He heard that Jesus was passing by. He didn’t see Jesus, he didn’t know much about Jesus. Maybe he didn’t even know what seeing would be like.

But he dared to hope, he hoped against hope, that Jesus could help him. That’s all. He wanted to see, whatever seeing was, and he hope that Jesus could help somebody like him.

Most of us are at that first stage. We believe in God. But our belief is like the belief of Bartimaeus, before he was healed. We barely dare to believe that Jesus might be able to help us, or that Jesus cares enough to stop.

The second stage in Bartimaeus’ healing, is the stage of faith. He’d been sitting there forever, huddled under his ragged blanket, begging for help every day. And then he heard that the Lord was near him.

He threw off his ragged blanket, got up, and ran to where he thought he heard Jesus’ voice. He kept calling out, and calling out, no matter what people said. He kept on calling out, till out of the darkness, he heard a voice that he’d never heard before. Bartimaeus heard Jesus ask, “What do you want me to do for you?”

And that’s the third stage in the journey, the moment of daring to ask. It doesn’t matter whether our deepest need is light, or healing, or forgiveness, or peace, or help with our burdens, or whatever. When we hear Jesus calling to us, and get up, and run to the sound of his voice, and dare to ask for what we need most.

Bartimaeus knew what he wanted. “Lord,” he said, “I want to see!” And Jesus said, “Go. Your faith has healed you.”

But Bartimaeus didn’t just go home. He didn’t go back to being a beggar by the road side. When he saw Jesus, he never wanted to leave Jesus again. He followed Jesus on his way. And that’s the fourth stage of Bartimaeus’ healing, the one he spent the rest of his life doing.

Many of us stop at stage one, or two, or three. We don’t dare to hope. We don’t get up, and reach out toward the sound of Jesus’ voice. We don’t dare to ask for what we want and need most. And instead of following, we go back to the way we’ve always been.

For Bartimaeus, getting up and following meant leaving his beggar’s rags behind, and starting a whole new way of life. He wasn’t blind any more. He wasn’t going be blind ever again. He never complained about his blindness.

For the rest of his life, he said, to everyone who would listen, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

For other people, who have come close to Jesus, what they say for the rest of their lives is different. They might say, “I used to be enslaved, but I’m free now.”

They might talk about what chains they wore, or what kept them in bondage. But now, they say, ” Thank God, I’m free! I’m not a slave, God set me free!”

Or like Peter, they might say, “I was drowning, but Jesus saved me.” Or like Lazarus, they might say, “Jesus called me out of my own grave. I died, and he gave me back my life again.”

Do you see what I’m saying? God calls us back to life. Jesus does things we can hardly dare to hope for. And it’s a whole new program, from here on out.

These are the stories of all of us. God meets us in all kinds of ways. God has mercy on us. God gives us a whole new life.

And after that, we can’t go back to the way we were. We can only get up, and follow.

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