10/28/18: Let Me See Again, Mark 10:46-52
Let Me See Again
First Lesson: Psalm 126
Second Lesson: Mark 10:46-52
Rev. Scott Dickison
We’re told Jesus and the disciples have just come into Jericho, a city about 18 miles northeast of Jerusalem. Throughout the gospel to this point, they’ve been traveling in and around the area of the Galilee, to the far north of the great city. But now, nearing the end of the gospel, they’ve begun their ascent into Jerusalem. In the verses immediately following this story, Jesus will send his disciples to fetch a donkey, which he’ll ride “triumphantly” into Jerusalem to begin the last week of his earthy life. This encounter is his final act before Holy Week begins.
And for Jesus, it must have come just in time, because in all his travels he’s been waiting for someone like Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus—the last person Jesus will heal in the Gospel of Mark and the only one whose name is given to us. Mark wants us to make sure we remember him—who from the moment he learns of Jesus’ presence seems to know just what to do.
When he hears that Jesus is walking by him, Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Son of David is a messianic title, drawing on belief at that time that the messiah would be a kind of second-coming of King David. Bartimaeus is second only to Peter in the Gospel of Mark in recognizing Jesus as the Messiah. He begins to cry out loudly, so much so that those around him tell him to be quiet, but he cries out all the more: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Jesus either hears his crying or receives word about this man calling for him, and we’re told Jesus “stood still” and said, “Call him here.” Jesus stood still.
Now, throughout the Gospel of Mark to this point Jesus has been on the move and moving at a clip. The pacing in Mark is hard to miss. From the moment Jesus emerges from the waters of his baptism in the first chapter he never stops moving, “Immediately” being driven by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil, then going to call his disciples who “immediately” drop their nets and follow him. And all along the way we’re told he “immediately” does this and “immediately” does that—always on the move, always in a hurry.
Jesus does not stand still in the Gospel of Mark! Remember, the Kin-dom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe the good news! There’s no time to waste! There are people to heal and feed and teach and save—this is really at the heart of why Jesus is so short with the disciples: he knows that time is running out and they can’t seem to grasp his urgency. But here…
We’re told Jesus stood still. Like the wind and the waves he calmed so many chapters ago, Jesus hears the cry of Bartimaeus, Son of David, have mercy on me! And he stood still. Jesus, who all this time has been traveling and moving and searching for someone who sees him, Jesus, for who he is, and when it happens, he stops. He breathes, I imagine. And he calls Bartimaeus to him—not since he stood on the lakeshore and called out to those fishermen who would become his disciples has he called to someone—do you see how it’s all coming full-circle here?
Bartimaeus hears the call and, throwing off his cloak, we’re told, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Throwing off his cloak—quite possibly the only thing he owned in the world—and blind as he is, he tosses it aside, perhaps never to be found again, doing precisely what the wealthy young man who came to Jesus earlier in this chapter could not do when he asked Jesus, boldly, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and Jesus told him, “Go, and sell all you own and come and follow me.” He had so much and so he couldn’t do it. Bartimaeus, having little, could and did.
Jesus says to him, What do you want me to do for you?—the same question he asked James and John, the sons of Zebedee, just a few verse before, after they come to him.
What do you want me to do for you? he asks them.
We want to sit with you in glory, one at your right hand and one at your left.
They want honor and glory—not knowing what it would cost them.
What do you want me to do for you?Jesus asks Bartimaeus as he stands in front of him—Teacher, let me see again.
Not honor, not glory.
Not even eternal life.
Let me see again, he asks Jesus.
Jesus looks at him and says, Go, your faith has made you well—the word there is sozein, which can mean “to heal” and also “to save.” Your faith has saved you, Jesus tells him.
Immediately, he regains his sight, and follows Jesus on the way.
Of all the people Jesus heals in the gospel, only Bartimaeus is said to follow him “on the way,” which of course is more than just the road before them.
All through the gospel Jesus has been trying to get people to see what’s before them.
To see who he is,
To see the Kin-dom that’s breaking into the world around them,
To see what it will take, what will be required of them to join him in it, the humility, the sacrifice.
And no one is able to see these things, until this blind, destitute, courageous, relentless man calls out to Jesus from the side of the road and asks Jesus to help him do just that.
It seems the first step in coming to seein all the ways Jesus calls us to—to see the world and each other and ourselves as we really are, which is essential parts of the family of God—in order to see these things, we have to be aware of our own blindness, all the ways we cannot and do not see. And this is hard. Sometimes we’ve been stumbling in the dark so long we forget what the light looks like. It takes something or someone to flip the lights on for us.
Some time ago I spoke with a good friend who had just recently entered recovery for alcoholism. He described the pain of hitting rockbottom and coming to terms with the hurt he’d caused others—what it felt like to suddenly see all of this for the first time. But he sought help. He started seeing a therapist and going to meetings. Even going to church had new meaning. He found himself depending on people he never thought would be there for him in that way, and was overcome with their generosity and compassion. And receiving generosity and compassion from others led him to start offering these things himself. He said it was like seeing people for the first time and discovering he wasn’t alone in the world, that we’re all really in this together.
I remember he told me how he was walking one day and was crossing the street when this car came flying by way too fast. The lady driving hadn’t seen him, and so he jumped out of the way to avoid being seriously hurt. And he said before he would have yelled and screamed and said things he shouldn’t and been angry about it for the rest of the morning. But he found himself in that moment able to see her. He considered what was going on in her life. He wondered where she had to be. He said he’d always heard people talk about being able to do that but never understood how or even why. He found himself saying a prayer for her.
I don’t know if I believed it, he confessed. But I said it.
Let me see again, Bartimaeus asked him.
Seeing is hard.
Even for Bartimaeus, seeing led him on the way to the cross.
Sometimes it surprises us what we’re not seeing, but other times it’s not that we can’t see but that we lack the courage to look.
The grade on the test,
The results from the CT scan hanging there in front of us.
What follows when our loved one says over the phone, Actually, son, I’d like to talk about it now.
Sometimes it’s not that we can’t see but that we lack the courage to look.
A while back I received a letter from another good friend with whom I’d had a falling out. I just knew it would contain some things about myself I knew were true but would be hard to see written down. I put the letter in my desk and didn’t read it for six weeks. When I finally worked up the courage to read it, instead of listing my failures, my friend had listed his. I wrote back and said, I’m so sorry.
Let me see again.
Sometimes we don’t know our own blindness and aren’t aware of the things we’re not seeing. Other times we’re aware but it’s still too painful to look them head on. And other times it’s a little bit of both.
Last Saturday a group from our church traveled to Montgomery, AL with a group of friends from First Baptist on New St., a largely African-American congregation with whom we have shared history and have covenanted to grow in relationship and explore this history together. We traveled together to see and experience the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened earlier this year and stands as a witness to honor the over 4,000 known victims of lynching in our country from the late 19th century into about halfway through the 20th, as well as the countess other victims of racial violence whose names and stories have been lost to history. This is not a part of our nation’s history we choose to see very often. We acknowledge slavery, though I don’t believe we’ve actually allowed ourselves to fully see that, either. But rarely do we talk about the horror that was unleashed in its wake: the terror of post-Reconstruction white backlash. The world of fear and domination and terror and violence of which lynching was the chief cornerstone.
When we met earlier this summer, the leadership team from our two churches felt experiencing this incredibly moving memorial together would be an important next step, not only in deepening our relationship, but living into our covenant and confronting our church’s history with slavery and racism. And, perhaps even more challenging, to consider how that history of racial violence and injustice has taken new forms and lives on into the present, carried out through the criminal justice system and our nation’s troubling insistence on mass incarceration—which disproportionately affects people of color. In other words, to consider all the ways this history has to do with us, how our present must be seen in light of our past.
Knowing this would be an emotionally demanding and even risky trip to take together, we met for supper that Friday night to get to know each other a little more and share some about what led us to come on this trip. After we’d eaten, with folks talking and laughing and getting comfortable with each other, we turned our attention to what was before us and went around the table, inviting each person to share a hope and a fear for what they wold see at the memorial. And it was powerful.
Hearts opened up. Painful memories, long suppressed—some that were passed down through the generations—suddenly were unearthed and offered and received gently. Of course, the content of these memories differed between those from each congregation. But all were tender.
At one point, someone from our congregation said something that seemed to speak for all of us there from the church. They said, “My hope and my fear for tomorrow are the same: that I’ll feel responsible.” This was exactly it. We knew something of what we would see, enough to know it would be painful, but that this pain, this seeing, would also bring about the conditions necessary for healing, which, as you know, can also be read “salvation.
Teacher, let me see again.
The witness of Bartimaeus is that this is where discipleship begins: with the desire to see—again, or maybe for the first time. Sometimes even to muster courage enough to look at the parts of yourself you’d rather not. To see parts of the world, parts of the past, and see them as your own. To see others and how we’re all wrapped up together in this world. How our lives and our histories are intertwined, in large and small ways—how we’re all a part of the same whole. How this is what Jesus means when he talks about the world of God’s dreaming that’s at hand—close enough to see.
Let me see again, he said to him.
Lord, let me see.
I’m indebted to William C. Placher’s wonderful commentary on Mark in the Beliefseries, 154-156