This is one of those Sundays where I’ll get to the Gospel reading, but only by way of the Old Testament.
For the last few weeks, our Friday Bible study has been working through the book of Job. Job has also been our Old Testament reading on Sundays, so some of us have been getting quite a lot of Job. That’s a good thing. The book of Job is challenging and can be a little depressing. But Job has a LOT to teach us. And the final lesson of Job comes in our passage for this morning.
At the start of the book, Job is wise, righteous, and rich. But Job loses virtually everything. Job suffers in silence for as long as he can, but eventually he explodes in anger and hurt. Job wants to know why these terrible things are happening to him.
Friends try to help, but they only make things worse. Finally, Job demands that God show Himself, that God answer Job’s challenge.
Last week we heard a small part of God’s answer. The line I quoted in my sermon was, “Where were you [Job] when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding” (38:4). God goes on like that for four long chapters.
At no point in this truly awesome speech does God answer Job’s question about why Job suffers. God doesn’t justify or defend what has happened. Instead, God confronts Job with God’s overwhelming presence.
Well, Job is overwhelmed, and basically reduced to silence.
But that’s not all. Job also comes to know God in a new way, to know God more deeply than he had ever known God before. In my favorite line in the entire book, Job says to God, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.”
Job already knew about God. After all, Job was wise and righteous. But until this moment, Job has, apparently, been blind to God’s true presence. Only now, says Job, has he truly seen God. Only now has Job come to know God in all of God’s overwhelming greatness. Only now has Job moved from hearing about God to seeing God up close and personal. Only now can Job truly see.
Our Gospel reading is less dramatic, but it has the same progression from blindness to sight, from hearing about God to seeing God.
As the Gospel story begins, Bartimaeus the beggar is blind, unable to see anything. Bartimaeus hears a large crowd going by. Bartimaeus hears that at the center of the crowd is Jesus of Nazareth. Bartimaeus hears of Jesus by the hearing of the ear. But of course, Bartimaeus’ eye does not yet see Jesus. Bartimaeus is blind.
In the Gospels, there are two forms of blindness. There is physical blindness, like when you can’t read the letters on the chart in the eye doctor’s office. And there is spiritual blindness, meaning you cannot recognize the presence of God even when God is all around you.
Bartimaeus is physically blind.
It’s less clear that Bartimaeus is spiritually blind. Bartimaeus knows that Jesus can heal him. Bartimaeus calls Jesus the Son of David, which is a messianic title. Jesus praises Bartimaeus’ faith. That all suggests that blind Bartimaeus had real insight into who Christ was.
But there is always room to see God more clearly, to grow in our awareness of God, to grow in our knowledge and love of God.
So, Jesus asks blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Pause there. If Jesus, God incarnate, asked you wanted him to do for you, how would you respond? What do you want?
I can think of a lot of things I want. I’d like to win the lottery. I’d like to have a full head of hair. I’d like to have both my children settled and living happily within easy distance of my house. I’d like ten families with children at home to join Saint David’s. I’d like the Atlanta Braves to win the World Series. I could keep going. I imagine most of us could.
But that’s not taking Jesus’ question really seriously. I want those things, but mostly those are surface wants. What is it that I, what is it that we, truly want, deep down inside?
It’s harder to answer that question than it might seem. At least I find it harder.
I went through a tough time when I was not quite forty. One time a counsellor asked me what I wanted. She didn’t mean things like winning the lottery.
I began, “Well, Carrie says,” but she cut me off. “Forget about Carrie for a minute. What do you, Harvey, want?” I started again. “Well, I know I should…” and she cut me off again. “I’m not asking what you should want. I am asking you what you do want. What do you want out of your life? What’s most important to you?”
At that moment, I didn’t have an answer.
Bartimaeus was wiser than I. When Jesus asked Bartimaeus that question, Bartimaeus was ready. “Let me see again.”
That may seem obvious. After all, Bartimaeus was blind. If I were physically blind, I’d probably ask for sight, too.
But there is more to Bartimaeus’ answer than that. Bartimaeus is asking for physical sight, of course. But, whether intentionally or not, Bartimaeus is also asking for spiritual sight. And Bartimaeus gets it. Bartimaeus’ eyes are opened, and the first thing Bartimaeus sees is Jesus.
After the healing, Jesus tells Bartimaeus to go. But Bartimaeus sees much too clearly to leave Jesus. Bartimaeus isn’t going anywhere without Jesus. Instead, Mark tells us, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way, the way, which was an early name for the Christian Church, the way, which is Jesus himself, who is way and truth and life.
This is not just a miraculous healing for Bartimaeus. This is also, and even more importantly, a moment of conversion, when Bartimaeus commits his life to following Christ with a new intensity.
Bartimaeus had heard about Jesus with his ears. But now Bartimaeus has seen Jesus with his own eyes, his physical eyes, but also with the eyes of his heart, the eyes of love. Seeing Jesus, really seeing Jesus for who he is, changed Bartimaeus’ life.
This story reminds us what our own deepest longing is, even if we don’t recognize it. We long to see, to see with our hearts, to see with love, the God we know in Jesus Christ, the God who is all around us all the time.
We aren’t totally blind to God, of course. Like Job, we’ve heard of God with our ears. Like Bartimaeus, we know that Christ has the power to heal and save.
We know even more. We know that God is always with us. That’s one of Christ’s promises.
But we are, all of us, blind at least some of the time.
So, our readings for this morning speak to our hearts. They invite us to open our eyes, to see God all around us, God who is visible in the Eucharist, in the fall colors, in the love of our friends and neighbors, in those times when we are alone, but get a taste of the peace that passes understanding.
In our Gospel reading, Christ says to us, “what do you want me to do for you?’ The answer that comes from the deepest place in us is, “Lord, let us see you more and more clearly.” May God grant that prayer.
In Christ’s name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan