Blindness to God and neighbor

The story of Bartimaeus, as told in Mark 10, seems very straightforward: Jesus restores the sight of a blind man.

First, Bartimaeus calls out for Jesus to have mercy on him.

When Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus answers, “I want to see.”

Jesus says, “Go; your faith has healed you.”

And Bartimaeus regains his sight and follows Jesus.

I love Bartimaeus’ response to Jesus (click here to read a post on that), but as I have read, listened to, and told this story several dozen times in the last several months, I have come to appreciate an irony in it.

Bartimaeus is not the only one in the story who is blind, and Jesus is doing two kinds of healing: he is restoring physical sight to Bartimaeus, and he is revealing the spiritual blindness of those who think they already see.

They have good reason to believe this; they see the sun, the sky, the trees, the grass. They see quite well the people around them who are wealthy and powerful. They see those who run in the “same circles” as they do themselves. Most of all, they see themselves.

They even, to a certain extent, see Jesus: see his miracles, see his power, see the possibilities following him might bring them.

But they are spiritually blind, and this is revealed in their response to Bartimaeus. They don’t notice him, don’t acknowledge him, don’t listen to him. They even try to shut him up when he dares to speak.

Bartimaeus, though, is named in Scripture. Though so many others are not, including those with wealth and/or status (the rich young ruler, most of the scribes and Pharisees who interacted with Jesus, the Centurion), both the personal and family names of this blind, begging man are shared. Jesus, the Son of the Creator God, filled with the Spirit of Life, hears and sees Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. He loves him.

Jesus does not want the crowds to be wowed with his miracles. He does not want them enamored with his power. He wants them to know God; he is revealing God! He wants them to understand that the God who rescued them and made them his people did not do so in order for them to become proud and separated. God did this so he could teach them to love as God loves, with heart and soul and mind, to love both God and neighbor in this full, complete way—and then to be a light to all people, being themselves a mini-revelation of this incredible God.

Bartimaeus somehow understood this, at least on some level. He was not truly blind, for when he regained his physical sight, he didn’t use it for his own purposes. He followed Jesus, and I can imagine Bartimaeus running up to downtrodden individuals all along the way, inviting them to Jesus. “Come and see,” he would say, “Come and see Jesus!”

It was the people around Bartimaeus who were actually blind. They chose not to see God as the Yahweh who had rescued and covenanted with them for no reason other than love. They chose not to see God’s love for all people, and instead they loved as the world self-servingly loves, showing attention only to those whose response might be beneficial.

All this was evident in their attitude toward Bartimaeus. “Be quiet,” the crowds around told him. “We don’t want to hear about your needs. We don’t want Jesus’ attention to be focused on you. Stay down there, on the ground.”

But Jesus stopped to listen to Bartimaeus’ cry, and he responds in an interesting way. He does not call out directly to Bartimaeus. He tells the crowd, “Call him here.” See him, Jesus is saying. Notice him, talk to him, interact with him. You are both creations of the living God. You cannot love God and refuse to love your neighbor.

In Jesus’ view, Bartimaeus already possessed sight; he had faith vision. Maybe he’d heard stories of Jesus announcing himself with Isaiah’s words and then actually doing them, preaching good news to the poor, restoring sight, pronouncing healing and freedom to the downtrodden and burdened. Bartimaeus was convinced by what he’d heard. He knew he needed Jesus; he believed Jesus would want to help him (and could!); and he cried out for help.

The crowds, however, were like the Pharisees, who saw no reason to throw themselves on God’s mercy and lovingkindness. They believed they possessed special favor, and they didn’t want God’s favor to be extended to anyone else.

In Jesus’ estimation, they were the blind.

Jesus longs to heal our blindness. He longs for us to see God more and more clearly, to love him more dearly, to follow him more nearly…

And to love our neighbors–all our neighbors!–as ourselves.

Anything less is blindness.

 

NOTE: I have been thinking about this post for a long time. I do not write it only as a response to the white supremacy march in Charlottesville this past weekend, but it is very linked in my mind. We (meaning the Church) must not ignore the spiritual blindness of racism, especially when it is held by those who say they are following Christ or doing the work of God. Christ did not keep peace with the blind; he named their blindness; he called them to admit it and turn to God. We must do the same. Here’s a blogpost by Michael Frost that is very pertinent to this. And here’s another by Jen Oshman–also excellent.

Hymns and Hydrangeas

Tuesday evening I had the privilege of doing a Bible Telling session with a group of women. I chose for us to work with the story of Bartimaeus (partly because it’s very short), and by the end of the session, the women were telling each other the story. This was supposed to be just a quick example of a Bible Telling followed by a time of my sharing about Greenhouse Movement, but when I asked everyone to share what jumped out at them from hearing the story, they had so many insights the session stretched much longer!

Darlene Krueger hosted the event, and I want to tell you about Hymns and Hydrangeas, the business she and her friend Pam Wyma have started to support missionaries. I am one of their missionaries (which I think is so amazing!). They design and make beautiful fabrics with the words of hymns on them and then make tea towels (which would be suitable for wall hangings!), pillows, and baby blankets from the fabrics. Please check out their wonderful work and consider buying something! Your purchase supports their missionaries.

Go to the “About” page on the Hymns and Hydrangeas site to read about Darlene, Pam, and the three missionaries they support. Go to the “order” page to make a purchase. They also have a Facebook page.

One last thing: I am now sending out a monthly email update. If you would like to receive that, just fill out the form below. Thanks so much!

 

 

What do you want me to do for you?

 

My daughter, Emily, did this piece. If you’d like to see more of her work, visit her Etsy shop, appropriately name Lettering by Em

There were a lot of things that had to be “just so” in my son Jake’s life when he was a toddler. Unfortunately he was a late talker, so he wasn’t usually able to tell me what they were. He simply threw himself on the floor and wailed. I had to figure it out by trial and error—and sometimes I never did!

 

I remember standing in front of him (more than once), yelling, “What Do You Want Me To Do?”

He couldn’t tell me. Sometimes I’m not sure he knew. Things Just Weren’t Right.

~~~~

Bartimaeus squatted by the side of the dusty road, one hand outstretched. He waggled his fingers when he heard people pass and sometimes felt the weight of a coin dropped into his palm, mostly light ones but every once in a while a heavier piece. One evening, as he sat, his body aching from the hard ground, his arm tired, people gathered around him, jostled him. A parade? Some government official passing by?

He asked.

“Jesus,” someone told him. “The Teacher. Surely you’ve heard of him.”

Bartimaeus had. Word of Jesus had spread among the beggars in the city. They shared tales of lame men whose legs had suddenly grown strong, lepers whose skin had become smooth, and blind men who’d had their sight restored. Jesus had been part of every story, right in the middle of it. What had Isaiah said the Messiah would do? Proclaim good news to the poor, freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind.

“Jesus!” It was too crowded for him to stand, but Bartimaus could yell. “Jesus!”

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Son of David, have mercy on me!”

“Shush,” those around him said. A few people stepped in front of him. He was smothered by the crowd.

But Bartimaeus yelled louder.

“Son of David, have mercy on me! Have mercy on me!” Someone slapped his head, but Bartimaeus shoved the hand away. “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Suddenly the people around him stilled. He felt those in front of him move to the sides.

“Call him over.”

Who was that? Who said that?

Voices close to him said, “He’s talking to you! He wants to see you! Get up! Get over there.”

Bartimaeus shoved his cloak off his shoulders and jumped to his feet. Someone gave him a push in the right direction. He stumbled forward.

He stopped. He knew he was close. He could sense the man in front of him. Bartimaeus began trembling. “Son of David,” he whispered, “have mercy on me.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” said the voice.

~~~

What do you want me to do for you?

Jesus, his King, was asking him, a blind beggar, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go your way,” Jesus told him. “Your faith has healed you.”

But the first thing Bartimaeus saw was Jesus, the Son of David, his King.

And his way was no longer his own.

His way was following Jesus.

~~~

Like Bartimaeus, I cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” Sometimes it is loud and articulate; sometimes little more than a whisper. Sometimes, like my then-toddler son, it is no more than a wail, a sob, a plea. And as he did with Bartimaeus, Jesus, the Son of David, King of the universe, my Lord, asks me, “What do you want me to do for you?” He never says it in frustration, and he doesn’t ask because he doesn’t know. He does know. He knows what I want—what I need!—more than anyone else. He knows it far better than I know it myself.

What do you want me to do for you?

I want to see you, Jesus. I want to see you.

 

I want to see

Bartimaeus the beggar was sitting alongside the road when he heard a great crowd pass by. “Hey,” he asked someone nearby, “what’s going on?”

“It’s Jesus!” they said.

Now Bartimaeus may have been blind, but he was in the know. He had heard of Jesus.

And Bartimaeus had no shame!

I love this about him. He understood his great need, and he let go of inhibitions and the desire to please people.

“He shouted, saying, ‘Jesus, Son of David, take pity and have mercy on me!’

But those who were in front reproved him, telling him to keep quiet; yet he screamed and shrieked so much the more, ‘Son of David, take pity and have mercy on me!’” (Luke 18:38-39, Amplified version)

This past Sunday night our church held its monthly prayer/worship night. Philip, who is from Uganda, led the service. “We must realize how desperate we are for God. Only then will we really seek Him,” he said. “People in my country are desperate because their needs are obvious, as basic as food, medicine, jobs. Great needs and loss surround them. Here in the U.S., we are not so desperate for physical things. But if we want to really follow after God, we have to realize that we are just as desperate spiritually. Then we will seek Him.”

It reminded me of something I heard a pastor from Ghana say. He was asked what advice he would give to U.S. believers. “You have a decision,” he said. “Will you seek God out of desperation or devastation?”

Bartimaeus recognized his desperation. It was easy for him to: he was blind; he was a beggar.

We, too, are desperate. Appearances may testify otherwise, but Scripture tells us that without Christ, we are blind, lost, and imprisoned (Acts 26:18). We are sick and injured (Jeremiah 17:9). We are walking dead—true zombies (Ephesians 2:1).

It just isn’t easy for us to realize this in our culture. If we’re not in a place of being devastated, it’s really easy to forget that we are desperate. We distract ourselves with stuff and activities and media, and our desperation stays hidden.

But when we don’t realize our desperation, we don’t cry out. We politely ask for growth and help. We share requests and sometimes remember to pray for others.

But desperate prayers are different. Bartimaeus is a good example of that. Out of desperation he cried out! More than that, he screamed and shrieked! He was NOT going to let anything keep Jesus from hearing him. Even when the crowd “reproved (him) and told (him) to keep still, … (he) cried out all the more” (Matthew 20:31).

Jesus, of course, answered Bartimaeus’ plea for mercy and pity.

“Then Jesus stood still and ordered that (Bartimaeus) be led to Him; and when he came near, Jesus asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ (Bartimaeus) said, ‘Lord, let me receive my sight!’”

Jesus will answer our pleas, too.

But we have to ask. Really ask. Desperately ask–because Jesus knows our hearts. He knows when we’re simply going through the motions, mouthing prayers, checking devotions off our to-do list.

We MUST recognize our desperation to cry out authentically. Desperation is an absolutely necessary step. All other steps follow it. Again, Bartimaeus serves as an example: out of desperation, he cried out; Jesus met him and healed him; and then Bartimaeus followed Jesus. Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has healed you” (Mark 10:52). But because Bartimaeus realized he been saved out of desperation, he saw with greater than physical sight. He knew his way was now with Jesus. “(He) began to follow Jesus, recognizing, praising, and honoring God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God” (Luke 18:43).

I often want to skip right to the following part and the praising part. I want to be a witness to others.

But an acknowledgement of desperation is a prerequisite for all of it.

God, I need you desperately—and I need to know that I need You.

Help me, please.

I want to see.