What a wonderful story! A blind man, forced to beg because of his disability, hears that Jesus is coming. He shouts out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus hears him, calls him, heals him. “Immediately, the man regains his sight and follows Jesus.”
Isn’t that just the best story ever? A story of restored sight; of one who advocates for himself, despite all naysayers; a story of one who finds community in the companionship of Jesus’ followers. “Let me see again!” the blind man says. And he does.
So, here’s my question: Is seeing all it’s cracked up to be? I only ask because of what’s been happening with Jesus’ disciples to this point. After half-healing another blind man a couple of chapters before—it takes two attempts to restore that person’s sight—Jesus works just as hard to open the eyes of the disciples.
In Caesarea Philippi, he tells them that “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the religious authorities, and be killed, and after 3 days rise again.” Upon hearing this, Peter rebukes Jesus. He cannot see.
Then, passing on through Galilee, Jesus tells the disciples again that the Son of Man will be betrayed, killed, and will rise from the dead. “But,” Mark tells us, “they did not understand and were afraid to ask him.” They could not see.
Yet again, as they are going up to Jerusalem—where he will be betrayed and killed—Jesus tries one last time to show the disciples what is about to transpire: The Son of Man will be handed over. He’ll be killed. He’ll rise from the dead.
In an odd response to Jesus’ words, brothers James and John ask him for the right and left hand seats when Jesus comes into his glory. You can almost hear Jesus sigh. James and John still don’t see.
It’s easy to criticize the disciples for their inability to see the things Jesus is showing them. But the things he’s showing them aren’t easy. Suffering? Betrayal? Death? What might any of us do if our beloved teacher told us these things? Some things are just too hard to grasp; some things are better left alone; sometimes seeing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
That’s especially true in the life of faith, isn’t it? It’s much easier to focus only on the happy parts of faith—God’s love for everyone, God’s desire for our well-being, the hope we find in God. But faith doesn’t involve only the happy parts, does it? A mature faith also engages the hard things….things like suffering, betrayal, and death, and poverty and human trafficking and corporate corruption and climate change and hunger and domestic violence. All faith looks on the happy parts of life. Mature faith dares to look at the hard parts, too.
But really seeing the hard parts of life exacts a price, doesn’t it? When we see the world’s brokenness, we lose some of our innocence. When we see the world’s brokenness, we suffer. When we see the world’s brokenness, we feel compelled to change our lives.
Author Nora Gallagher puts it this way: “I remember thinking as I worked in the soup kitchen that I didn’t want to know what I was learning. Because then my life couldn’t go on in the same way as it had before: driving around in my nice red Volvo, thinking about what new linens to buy. What we learn we cannot unlearn;” she says. “What we see, we cannot unsee.” (The Sacred Meal, 22.)
Yes, it’s easy to criticize Jesus’ disciples for not seeing the truth he was showing them…. but maybe their not seeing was a protective defense. Maybe deep down they knew that once they really saw what Jesus was showing them, they wouldn’t be able to unsee it again. Once they got what he was saying about the reality of the world, their lives were going to have to change. Once they got that following Jesus would lead them to suffering, betrayal, and death, their rose-colored-glasses faith would no longer sustain them. Maybe the disciples avoided seeing what Jesus was showing them because deep down they knew — seeing can be dangerous.
Consider photojournalist Kevin Carter’s story. In 1993, while covering the famine in the Sudan, Carter took a picture of a small girl who had collapsed while walking to a food station. Just a few feet behind the starving girl, a vulture stalked her.
In May of 1994, Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for the photograph. Two months later, he committed suicide.
A close friend of Carter’s said that after shooting the photo of the starving girl, Kevin “sat under a tree and cried and chain-smoked” and couldn’t distance himself from the horror of what he saw. He could not unsee what he had seen.
Yes, seeing can be dangerous. It can call into question everything we’ve ever believed. It can dismantle our faith, our theology, our worldview. Seeing can devastate us.
And yet…and yet…a big part of following Jesus is seeing things as they really are. Why else would he try to show his disciples not once, not twice, but three times what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem? Seeing must be important to the life of faith.
But…If seeing is important to the life of faith and also has the potential to devastate us, what are we to do? Do we keep our hearts open but our eyes closed? Do we keep our eyes open but our hearts close? Is there some way as a person of faith to keep both our eyes and our hearts open? What I’m asking is, How do we survive seeing?
Here’s how Bartimaeus survived it: He started with Jesus. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” First Bartimaeus acknowledges Jesus; then he is healed. First Bartimaeus trusts in Jesus; then he sees. Before Bartimaeus looks at anything, Jesus becomes the context for everything he will see. After his healing, Bartimaeus won’t see anything without thinking of the one who healed him: Jesus. Before the first ray of light hits the first molecule of either retina, Jesus becomes the context in which Bartimaeus will see everything.
What does it mean to see everything in the context of Jesus? When we look at the world in the context of Jesus, it’s true— We will see suffering. We’ll see betrayal. We’ll see death. It’s unavoidable. The world is broken in so many places. A mature faith looks at those places. And sees them.
But, as Jesus tried to show his disciples time and time again, when you look at the world—even at its ugliest, hardest, and most fragile—when you see the world in the context of Jesus, you also see resurrection. You might have to look at the ugly, hard, fragile things a long time before it happens, but eventually, always in the context of Jesus, you will see resurrection.
How do we people of faith survive seeing? We follow the example of Bartimaeus: We begin with Jesus.
Let us pray. Holy One, we do believe that your love extends to the whole world, to every person, and into every situation. We believe that you are everywhere present, working with all creation for its redemption. Help us to see, God. Help us to see—with open eyes and open hearts–the broken places of the world. And at the same time, help us to see—always–resurrection. Amen.
They 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. 47
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! ’48
Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 49
Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ 50
So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51
Then 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.’ 52
Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.