Proper 25 B
October 28, 2012
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22
Seeing is believing. What you see is what you get. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.
Today, Jesus restores sight to a blind beggar. What is going on here? What does Jesus want us to see?
Two weeks ago it was the rich young man. Last week it was James and John. Today a beggar by the side of the road. In these three stories, who is the true disciple? Which one was truly blind, and which saw what was truly going on?
All during the Epiphany season -- you may or may not remember as far back as last winter -- we read stories of Jesus healing and teaching. Traveling through Galilee, he proclaimed that God’s rule was now here. Everything he did was to show that what people thought of as “the norm” was not the way it truly was. Isolated, poor, an outcast in society? Jesus showed that you were at the center of God’s care. Sick in body, mind or spirit? Your nature was restored to wholeness with God’s justice. Even the dead were brought back to life. And this was not just for a few people – it’s like “Save the Rain” in Onondaga County: everyone benefits, whether you would have lived next to that sewage treatment plant that didn’t have to be built or where you just benefited from better control over your water rate. In these stories from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was not acting as a prototype for Robin Hood, robbing from the rich, the secure, the privileged and the happy to give to the poor; right and wrong were not merely re-ordered: Jesus revealed the true order of the world as God created it to be, just as “save the rain” falls on the just and the unjust. It’s all right there, if you could only see it.
All of this terrific healing stuff Jesus did throughout Galilee has caught the attention of people with power and privilege who just don’t want things to change. Throughout the Gospel, we read rumblings of discontent from people who benefit from keeping things the way they are. Over and over Jesus tells the disciples this is not going to be easy; this is the Way of justice and wholeness and healing, yes; but it is also the Way which leads to suffering, and even death. It’s like what St. Paul will later write, the whole creation is groaning – as God’s order is revealed the old order is cracking, breaking, resisting with all its might.
The disciples don’t want to see this. The rich young man, devout as he is, doesn’t want to see this. James and John, who just want some of the privileges of the new age, certainly don’t want to see this. Riches, privilege and power are not Jesus’ to grant, but those closest to Jesus just don’t seem to want to see it that way at all. Jesus is on the Way to Jerusalem. Jericho is the last stop before the entry into Jerusalem, riding on the donkey, the beginning of the Passion, the Way of the Cross. Who will go with Jesus on this way? Who is the true disciple?
Bartimaeus sits by the side of the road, blind, with his beggar’s cloak as a sign of his station in life. He, like the other people Jesus has healed, is not only poor and disabled, but a social outcast – someone who can never better himself or pull himself up by his bootstraps. The whole system of who has money and land and family and status and health and a future will never let him have any of those things. Unlike the rich young man, he does not ask about eternal life. Indeed, in his eagerness to approach Jesus, he leaves behind his cloak, his one possession of any value. Unlike James and John, he does not seek out “top posts in the new administration,” but asks only for mercy, for sight. And what is Bartimaeus’ response to receiving sight? To follow Jesus on the Way as the true disciple, the one who really sees what is going on.
But the other side, those – even those friends of Jesus – who resist the demands of discipleship? What of them? What are the costs of not seeing? Of not being able to part with possessions? Of not taking that risk to follow Jesus? Of not leaping up off the side of the road joyful but turning away sad? What is unbelief but despair, despair that nothing will ever really change, despair that paralyzes us and locks us into what is and keeps us from seeing what could be, what God wants to be.
But really: the Gospel of Mark is not about them, way back there in history. The Gospel is about us: do we see what is going on? After all, the characters in the Gospel of Mark do not know the ending of the story. They do not know that through the suffering, through the passion, through the death on the cross that something else happens. In fact, we are more like Bartimaeus: once we were blind but now we see, and we see that following Jesus on the Way, to the other side of the cross, through all the disappointments and losses and griefs and sorrows, through trials and errors, through sickness and health, through leaking roofs and crumbling foundations: on the other side of the cross is life abundant. It’s like being able to swim once again in a clean and clear Onondaga Lake – impossible, but within reach. Do we see it yet? It’s just coming into focus …