In our Old Testament reading from last week, Job was self-absorbed until God gave Job the shock treatment he needed. And, as we see in our reading for this morning, it worked. Job responds to God, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear”—meaning, at second hand—“but now my eye sees you.”
God enables Job to see Him. And apparently that was God’s goal because now God restores Job’s fortunes.
That is also the theme in our Gospel reading for this morning. It too is all about seeing God, and not seeing God.
I start with what is obvious, but still worth remembering. Jesus was God incarnate. When Jesus comes to town, it should be a big deal.
In our reading, Bartimaeus is a blind beggar, but he knows that much. When Bartimaeus learns that Jesus is nearby, he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” People try to make Bartimaeus quiet down, but he won’t. He just cries even more loudly. Bartimaeus knows that a visit from Jesus is too good an opportunity to pass up.
In that knowledge, Bartimaeus differs from the people of Jericho. Jesus and his disciples enter the city in the first sentence of our reading. In the second sentence, they leave. Apparently nothing important happened in between. Apparently nobody else was calling to Jesus with anything like Bartimaeus’ enthusiasm.
Now, we have no reason to think the ordinary citizens of Jericho were evil. Surely most of them participated in the normal religious life of the community. But somehow they were blind to the incarnate God walking in their midst.
Ironically, blind Bartimaeus is the only one who can truly see Jesus. Blind Bartimaeus is the only one who can say, like Job, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.”
This contrast between Bartimaeus and the people of Jericho is directly relevant to us. Jesus promises to be with us always, even to the end of the age. Jesus is with us and around us all the time. But how often can we see him?
We are here, in Church to worship God, because we have at least glimpsed Jesus, because we have been touched in some way by Jesus. And yet, I know that I am often blind to Christ. I am often more like the people of Jericho than like Bartimaeus.
Those of us who want to see Christ more clearly need to know what prepared Bartimaeus to see Jesus in a way that the people of Jericho could not.
I suspect the answer was Bartimaeus’ blindness itself.
I pretty routinely visit a blind man in his room at a nursing home. His room is not big, but it is packed with stuff. And the remarkable thing is, he knows where everything is. He’ll ask me to get something for him, and he can always direct me to just the right spot.
But a few weeks ago, I visited him at the hospital. And there, out of his normal environment, he was totally disoriented. He didn’t know where his stuff was. He didn’t know what time it was, or if it was day or night. He wasn’t sure where he was. When his food came, he asked me to describe what it was, and where it was on his plate.
Out of his normal environment, he was totally dependent. He needed help, and he knew he needed help.
The same was true for Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus knew that he needed help. And so, when he heard that Jesus was nearby, Bartimaeus cried out for the help he needed, the help that only Jesus could provide. Knowing his own need, blind Bartimaeus could see Jesus in the way that really mattered.
In contemporary America, we don’t want to be Bartimaeuses. We don’t like to acknowledge our neediness. I certainly don’t. I like to pretend that I am self-sufficient, that I don’t need other people to do things for me. I can take care of myself.
Now my wife, who does a LOT for me, knows that is not true. She knows I am a lot closer to helpless than to self-sufficient. She is usually too kind to say it. And even if she did, I probably wouldn’t listen. But of course she is right, as even two seconds of reflection makes clear.
The list of things for which I rely on other people is virtually infinite. I rely on other people to produce my food. I rely on other people to make my clothes. I rely on other people to maintain my house and my car and my computer. I rely on other people for the power and the water that I need. I could go on. The ugly fact is, I produce none of my most basic necessities.
Some of you are not quite so helpless as I am. But in a modern economy, we all rely on a LOT of other people for virtually everything we need. None of us are self-sufficient no matter how much people like me like to pretend otherwise. None of us are even close. Whether or not we acknowledge it, we are like Bartimaeus in our dependence. The only question is, are we like Bartimaeus in our recognition of that dependence?
But this still only scratches the surface. Because, however much we depend on other people, our greatest dependence is on God, the source and ground of our very being. Everything we have and everything we are comes to us as a gift from God.
Before God, we are even more like poor Bartimaeus: blind, helpless, stuck. And then Jesus comes. Jesus calls us to him. Jesus meets our needs. Jesus heals our wounds. Jesus helps us to live. Jesus invites us to follow him.
Bartimaeus didn’t deserve for Jesus to do all that for him. We don’t have a claim on Jesus either. Jesus doesn’t owe us anything.
But out of love, Jesus comes. And all we have to do is acknowledge our need, cry out to him, open our hearts, to Christ and to each other.
We are now entering our stewardship season. Over the next five weeks, we are asked to reflect on what God has done for us, and what God is inviting us to do in response. Our focus now is on the stewardship of our financial resources. Early next year, we’ll focus more on the stewardship of our time and our talents.
In some ways, stewardship season is a pain. But stewardship season is also an invitation, an invitation to let go of our illusions of self-sufficiency, an invitation to notice the many ways that God meets our needs. Stewardship season is an invitation to channel our inner Bartimaeus, to truly see Jesus who is God with us, to cry out to Jesus who alone can meet our needs, and to follow Jesus on the way.
In this stewardship season, may we, like Bartimaeus, come to see God more clearly. In Jesus’ name. Amen.