That I may see
One day a boy was walking up and down the street pulling a wagon.
In the wagon there were some blankets and you could hear some faint mews.
Inside the wagon there was a bunch of cute baby kittens.
On the side of the wagon was a sign:
For sale. Kittens - five dollars apiece.
Next week the same boy came walking up and down the same street, pulling the same wagon with blankets. This week the mews were louder maybe even miaows, but they were the same kittens.
But a different sign on the wagon.
For sale. Presbyterian Kittens – ten dollars apiece.
One of the neighbours stopped and questioned him:
“If these are the same kittens, why are they now Presbyterian Kittens, and why are they now ten dollars?”
The boy answered calmly; “Well this week their eyes are opened.”
If you grew up on a farm or in rural Canada you would probably know that kittens are born with their eyes shut and it takes about a week before the eyes start to open.
And of course, it is a joke. Many if not most Presbyterians are as blind as any other Christian, or sinner…
…and you might even argue that faith is all about having our eyes opened and it is a life-long process.
So, I ask you…
When have you had your eyes opened? And to what?
What has been eye-opening to you?
I remember over twenty years ago, serving as a volunteer chaplain for the RCMP in Yorkton, Saskatchewan that my eyes were opened to the nature of police work.
And one of the things that I realized, was the vast majority of calls the police did were related to drugs and alcohol.
There is hardly a crime committed where the perpetrator wasn’t high or drinking, or seeking drugs, or participating in the trade.
And it made me think that maybe one of the root issues for crime is addiction.
One of the police officers I rode with took me back to home on break one night and was telling of his experience of being an RCMP officer sent with the UN to Bosnia to help develop and stabilize policing after war in the Balkans.
While he was a police officer and was not stranger to crime or weapons, his eyes were opened by the level of violence, to ongoing strife, but also to extreme poverty and deprivation.
He told me that he would never complain about paying taxes again.
Taxes here pay for roads, schools, hospitals, police, law enforcement, pensions, help for the poor, public utilities, recreational facilities, public transit and many other things.
He said that in Bosnia at the time there was nothing. People just starved. There were no doctors, hospitals, schools to speak of at the time. Nothing got fixed. Streets, lights, water, buildings just were in decay and kept decaying.
He said he gave half his income away just to keep people from starving to death.
His eyes were opened.
Many people who have gone to other countries where cultures are different have experienced something called culture shock.
Their eyes were opened to something so different it was hard to deal with.
And one young woman I met after a yearlong exchange program to Brazil where she experienced culture shock, experienced an equally profound shock coming back to Canada. In light of her year away, had her eyes opened to rampant and soul-sucking materialism, waste and privilege, which she said was considered the norm as she grew up, but after a year away, she was devastated by how materialistic our culture is.
Some of us who deal in theology and doctrine and the church have had eye-opening moments as we came to some new understanding of Christ, or the bible, or of faith and we changed.
Some of us have gone through deep, difficulty and even traumatic personal experiences, of loss, or conflict, or abuse, or sin, or addiction, or crime, or moral failing…
and have had eyes opened to our sin, or to the forgiveness and grace of God, or to reconciliation, or to peace and wholeness…
And I have hardly scratched the surface of the various ways our eyes are opened to truth, nature, beauty, love, forgiveness, each other, to God, or to our own inner worth.
And so, we come to the story of Blind Bartimaeus.
It is an eye-opening story in a number of ways.
And first of all, it is because of the name of the blind man.
In Mark’s gospel the blind man is named. Not in Matthew and Luke.
And his name means Son of Timaeus. And Timaeus has a double meaning. It can be honoured one or despised one. He is either the son of fame or the son of shame.
I am guessing that the meaning is son of fame, because who would call their son, the son of shame. But the other interesting thing is that Timaeus is a Greek name
It is likely that the one screaming out that Jesus is the Messiah is a Greek, a gentile. Maybe that is why he is named, because often the recipients of healing are not named, unless they play a larger role in the gospel. But Bartimaeus is named, maybe to show that he was a Gentile.
And where is this happening? A place called Jericho. Again, most of you have heard of Jericho before. When the children of Israel came to Jericho, the story goes that a prostitute Rahab helped the spies. She later married one of the Hebrews and is mentioned as an ancestress of Jesus.
And the children of Israel marched around Jericho seven times with trumpets and then everybody is to give a great shout, and as the song goes:
And the walls came tumbling down
So, there are two connections hear. One, the prominence of a Gentile in the story.
And two shouting.
And it tells me that this is a story about walls coming down. Not physical walls though…
The word cry in Greek is krazõ (long o) and it something of an onomatopoeia in Greek, which is to say that the word is formed from the sound associated with the word. Like cuckoo or buzz.
Maybe a comparable English word would be squawk.
Interestingly enough the Greek word krazo is similar to the Greek word for preaching kerusso. Maybe you have heard some preaching that sounded like squawking.
And Mark the gospel writer uses the word krazo, to cry out, several times in his gospel as when the man with the demons Legion cried out, or when the ones with an unclean spirit cried out, or when the child with an unclean spirit cried out…
It speaks to extreme situations.
But it is also used when Jesus comes into Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday. The crowd cried out. They squawked out. This was extreme joy.
But the point is that Bartimaeus the Greek blind man is squawking out in a loud voice, that irritated the others, and also got him noticed. It is extreme
And what he is squawking is that Jesus is the son of David. Son of David is a Messianic title.
This story of Blind Bartimaeus is the story that precedes the triumphal entry into Jerusalem where the crowds spread their cloaks and palm branches and squawk out:
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David.
So, the Greek is squawking out at the top of his lungs that this is the Messiah.
And the crowds shush him
The crowds rebuke him.
They might be rebuking him because he is a Greek. They might be rebuking him because he is squawking. And they might be rebuking him because he is saying that Jesus is the Messiah. And it is likely all three
And the Greek word for rebuke is epitimao. Or epi-Timaeus. Remember I said that Timaeus could be son of shame or son of fame. The word for rebuke and the name Timaeus are from the same root.
So, the crowds are shaming the son of fame. The crowds epi-Timaeus, Timaeus.
But Jesus stops and says, I think, to the crowd who are shaming, and rebuking Bartimaeus, to call him.
Not to get him, or bring him, but to call him. Again, another interesting term. That is what the it means to be a disciple. They are called and then they follow.
And the crowds tell Bartimaeus to “take courage.”
Where have we heard that before? When Jesus came walking across the water to the disciples beset by the winds and the waves in the boat, Jesus says: “Take courage. It is I.”
And then Bartimaeus throws off his cloak. Another detail that is easily missed.
I think I said in a sermon a couple of weeks ago that for poor people often the most valuable possession they owned was their cloak. So valuable that is could be used as collateral on a loan.
And for beggars, the cloak was the tool of his trade. He would spread out his cloak to receive coins.
So, when Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, he is doing exactly what the rich young ruler wouldn’t do. Only two stories ago in Mark’s gospel, the rich young ruler wouldn’t give up his wealth. And here Bartimaeus throws off the only thing he has of value.
He comes to Jesus and Jesus says:
“What do you want me to do for you?”
Only one story ago, James and John come to Jesus with a request and Jesus asks them:
“What do you want me to do for you?”
They want power and greatness, to sit on Jesus’ right and on Jesus’ left.”
And it is obvious that they are still blind to what it means to follow Jesus, what it means to be a fully loving human, which Jesus sums up as the last words before the story of Bartimaeus.
Whoever wishes to be great among you must be a servant and slave of all, for the Son of Man didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for all people.
Jesus says to Bartimaeus: What do you want?
And Bartimaeus answers; “Rabbi, that I may see.”
All through Mark’s gospel people so not see. They do not understand. The rich young ruler was blind to the true nature of the Messiah. The disciples frequently do not see what Jesus is all about. James and John do not see what it is to follow Jesus.
And Bartimaeus wants to see and Jesus opens his eyes.
And when Jesus tells him to go his way, Bartimaeus does not go, Bartimaeus followed Jesus.
Bartimaeus sees the Messiah and has new sight that for Jesus the traditional walls come down for who is accepted and included. Jesus is for the poor. Jesus is for all including Gentiles. Jesus is for the sick, Jesus is about service.
It is the appropriate story to end this section of the gospel as Jesus immediately afterwards enters Jerusalem in Mark’s gospel and begins what we call the Passion.
The Passion is the time from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and the cross and then resurrection which is over a third in Mark’s gospel. It is the defining story of what and who Jesus is, climaxing maybe, with the centurion saying that this is the Son of God. For Mark it is only on the cross that you really understand Jesus.
Blind Bartimaeus is one of the first to see what Jesus is about. Bartimaeus ends the section before the passion.
And Jesus tells him that his faith has made him whole. The Greek word for “made whole” is sozo (long o’s). It is often translated saved, but has a fuller meaning than saved from sin, or saved from death. To me it is a resurrection word, or a transformation word. It is not just saved from, but saved to… saved to wholeness and new life. One who follows Jesus, dies with him and is raised to a new way of living.
And in Mark’s gospel, it is about service and sacrifice and suffering and giving, and helping, and resisting evil, and being inclusive; and subverting that order of power and bringing the walls down, so that all are equal including the poor, the outsider, the sick and the unclean.
Today, it is about having your eyes opened to see who Jesus is and what Jesus’ ministry is all about.
…so maybe you just go and start squawking about love, about inclusion, about the richness of service, about the power of sacrifice, about bringing wholeness to people who are not whole and who are hurting and left out.
Maybe your squawking will help bring walls of exclusion and hate and prejudice down.
Barbara Brown Taylor in her book “Learning to walk in the dark” tells the story of Jacques Lusseyran, a French resistance fight who in a childhood scuffle fell into the teacher’s desk and his glasses went into his eyes and destroyed them and he was blind.
In his memoir “And there was light,” he wrote that his parents did not pity him, and he became a discoverer of a new world.
And he made a wonderful discovery that even though he was blind he still experienced light.
I had completely lost the sight of my eyes; I could not see the light of the world anymore. Yet the light was still there. Its source was not obliterated. I felt it gushing forth every moment, brimming over; I felt how it wanted to spread out all over the world. I had only to receive it. It was unavoidably there. It was all there, and I found again its movements and shades, that is, its colors, which I had loved so passionately a few weeks before.
This was something entirely new, you understand, all the more so since it contradicted everything that those who have eyes believe. The source of light is not in the outer world. We believe that it is only because of a common delusion. The light dwells where life also dwells: within ourselves. (pp 103-4)
Lusseyran could tell trees apart by their sounds. He could tell how tall or wide a wall was by feeling it. He said that the light within him decreased when he was sad or afraid.
He was capture by the Nazis and taken to Buchenwald and was one of only thirty of two thousand to survive.
There he learned that no one could take the light from him without his consent. Hate took the light, and he learned that the best way to see the light was to love.
His story speaks to me very directly that even in our darkest times the light is there, and that we can learn to see.
Sometimes it is the very darkness in our lives that helps us see in new ways, using touch and smell and taste and even our spirits, to sense and experience things in new ways.
In some of my darkest days as a minister when I had opponents and enemies and false stories were told about me, I found that I had new sight.
I saw myself better including my faults. I saw others better. I saw Jesus better. And I think I became a better minister. And what I would to in those darkest times is not only hold on to the love of friends and family, but hold on the times when I had been light to others.. Two stories in particular.
I remember a teenage girl in Arthur saying to me one day. “I never went to church before you came to town. Since you have been the minister, I joined the church and went to youth group and have been going to church every week,”
I remember when a bunch of people complained about my imperfections to presbytery.
The presbytery group met not only with detractors but with those who appreciated my ministry.
One of those told the presbytery: “ it is really since Harry came that I have understood that the real gospel is that Jesus loves me, loves me enough to die for me, and that Jesus loves everyone and died for everyone.”
Those are two of the stories that I held onto, and still hold onto, as I seek to have my eyes opened, and be light to others, that they may see the light of Jesus Christ.