Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | October 24, 2021
“Objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear.”
That statement appears on the side mirrors of some cars; older cars. My 2019 Subaru Outback is the first car I ever purchased brand new. I hadn’t even owned a car for many years and so this brand-new car was a revelation in technology.
Front and rear cameras, lane departure warnings, a light on the side mirror lights up when another car is there, an alarm signals if a car is coming from behind. It even flashes a dashboard message if I take my eyes off the road or hands off the wheel. It’s easy to rely on these new technologies and take them for granted. We hardly give a thought to the blind spot because the car is equipped to see for us.
But there are other blind spots to contend with. Those spaces within our vision where we don’t see what’s there. The blind spot is both literal and figurative. We all have one – or more than one. We may see clearly or see ourselves clearly; but we can we ever see ourselves completely?
I wear glasses to correct my vision. I’ve worn them since I was ten years old. Early on I got used to the “stigma” of wearing glasses. By the time I was an adult my vision was so bad that my glasses were “coke bottle” thick.
Then I had laser surgery to correct my vision. But my vision was such that even laser surgery could not completely take away the need for wearing glasses. But they were not so thick. They could be stylish. If I didn’t have them on, I could still see well enough.
If someone was blind, you would think that they would want to see. It seems logical.
There was a guy named Erv in a church I served who had lost sight in one eye when he was boy. It was a farm accident and a shard of metal went through his eye socket and lodged in his brain. A centimeter one way and he would have been dead – or the other way and it wouldn’t have happened at all.
So that was it – blind in one eye.
One day Erv called me. He said a miracle had happened. He was outside on his driveway and he slipped on the ice and landed on his back. His head hit the ground hard. He blacked out for a minute or two and when he came around and got to his feet, he realized he was not hurt.
But something was different. The world looked different. It was like the world as he saw it suddenly took on a whole new perspective – an added depth.
Then it became clear. He was no longer blind in his blind eye. He put his hand in front of his good eye and was amazed that he could indeed see out of what had until then been his blind eye. His vision was fuzzy and dim, but he could see. When he hit his head, he dislodged the metal shard that had been in his head all those years.
“It’s just like one of those stories you read about in the bible,” said Erv.
Sometimes when you see the world or yourself in a new way, you can’t unsee. You get so used seeing things a certain way, that seeing the new perspective is hard work.
Erv had a difficult time getting used to his new way of seeing. He found it difficult to focus with his new sight and he suffered from double vision. It was very stressful, and he suffered from headaches. By the end of the day he would sit in a chair with the lights out and a cold compress on his head and a glass of whisky in his hand.
The he found a workable solution for his problem. He started wearing a patch over his previously blind eye. It was as close as he could get to going back to the way it was before. He could see again the way he was used to seeing.
The story is told of Jesus meeting a blind man and restoring his sight.
Bartimaeus suffered from a double whammy. He was both blind and a beggar. Here was a man totally without pretense. Here was a man completely without any sense of entitlement. Whatever he gained in life was given to him by passers-by who took pity.
But why should anyone take pity? In the world view of that time, if someone was blind it meant they must have done something to deserve it. God was not happy with them in some way and they were being punished for it.
At first when I read this story, I thought how nice it was that the blind man by the side of the road had a name. That must mean I thought, that the writer was trying to say that even the blind beggar was somebody with a name. I was curious to know what the name “Bartimaeus” means. The first part of his name was easy. “Bar” means “son.” Whenever there’s a “bar” in someone’s name, it means, “son of …” whoever. So Bar-timaeus means he was the son of Timaeus. So, who was Timaeus?
Timaeus means, “Israelite,” which is another way of saying, “just some guy.” It could be the story teller’s way of saying this blind beggar in the road was nothing special – the one on the margins; the one on the edge; the outsider. And it could also be that Bartimaeus, as a son of Israel, was just as much a part of the community as anyone.
We may be past thinking that someone with a condition such as blindness is being punished by God. But people will say things such as, “I believe everything happens for a reason.” Yet think about what that implies. If someone is in a bad state, are we saying there must be a reason? Is it because they somehow deserve their fate? We could add that to the list of what not to say to people in distress or grief.
Jesus went about breaking down the assumptions upon which the status quo relied – such as that people deserve to be pushed into the margins.
When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by he started to make a fuss. People told him, “Be quiet, you! Jesus can’t be bothered by the likes of you.”
But he cried out all the louder. Maybe it was the words he used and not the volume of his voice. The nobody, just some guy, called out to the somebody, Jesus, the son of David. Just some guy calling out to “the man.”
“Have mercy on me!” he cried.
What did mercy have to do with it? That’s a powerful statement when you think about it. The role of Jesus the Messiah is to enact mercy by removing the punishment that people deserve. We may not like it when people who it seems need to be punished are shown mercy.
The people around the blind beggar sternly they ordered him keep quiet. It’s not uncommon that when someone begins to cry out against the commonly held views of a group that there will be attempts to silence them. The status quo often stays in place because it requires myth in order to exist.
But Jesus heard. Jesus heard mostly because he listened.
“Send him over here,” he said.
“What do you want me to do for you?” That’s a powerful question. But also an unexpected question.
Oftentimes in church we will begin our inquiries by asking, “What is it we need to do?” A lot of times we operate with an “if you build it, they will come” approach to ministry. We define a need, create a response, and then hope that the people who resonate with the need and the response will be attracted to our response to their need; as we define it.
It’s interesting here that Jesus didn’t say, “Okay blind man, here’s what you need to do.”
He said, “What would you like me to do for you?”
“I want to see again,” said Bartimaeus. “That’s what I want. I want to see like I used to see.”
Asking to see again comes with risk. Seeing again is especially risky because if we’ve grown used to seeing things a certain way, we may be startled by new realities. Seeing is tied to insight and understanding. It involves taking the blinders off. It’s not as though what we might see is necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that once you see something a new way, it’s hard to go back to seeing it the old way.
Imagine Jesus asking you, “What is it you want me to do for you?”
If we were to say, “I want to see again,” then we must realize that world has changed since we went blind. It won’t be like it was before.