Message Manuscript of “I Once Was Blind” Mark 10:46-52
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Have you ever had one of those once in a lifetime experiences where you meet someone who changes your life forever? I have. I remember meeting the Lone Ranger at the Texas State Fair one year. That was the greatest moment until I met Batman the next year. This was the real Batman–Adam West. Even though these were amazing encounters, I have met other people in my life who have had deeper impact, who truly changed my life forever. Some of these people have been well-known, but most were ordinary people with extraordinary influence. And there are others as well–Mr. Blalock, a Sunday School teacher I had in Middle School; Dave Jobe, my college minister who unknowingly helped me get back on track with my life. There are other people I have met in church and as a hospice chaplain whose words and lives had great impact on my life. What these people have in common is the effect they all have had as they have intersected with my life: producing a story I continue to cherish and tell throughout the years. None, of course, can come close to having the impact from the life-changing encounter I have had with Jesus.
This is why I think it is easy for me to understand what is happening in the story we have heard read here this morning. I think it is why you, too, can so easily enter the story. It is the story of Bartimaeus, a blind man who survived on the work of begging. It is hard to imagine the life he lived every day, especially in our day of disability awareness and with the resources we now have for the blind. As author Barbara Kingsolver states, What you lose in blindness is the space around you, the place where you are, and without that you might not exist. You could be nowhere at all. Like others in his society, he depended on his daily bread. But his bread came from begging for it unlike others in his family and neighborhood who could work for it. His place of work was at the roadside, fully dependent on the charity of anyone who happened to walk by him. Some days were better than others, I am sure. One day, though, was best of all, when Bartimaeus met someone who gave him true bread, real manna from heaven. What happened that day gave him a story he would never forget and I’m sure never quit telling.
As Mark told the story, which was such a significant encounter that the other gospel writers also include it, Bartimaeus was rather tenacious in his begging on this day. There were a lot of people whose footsteps and voices he heard passing by him each day. His ears no doubt had become attuned to hear things no one else heard. He probably had developed a whole new sense of detecting if someone really cared or not. Maybe it was in the way they walked. Or perhaps it was in the tone of their voice or in their silence. These cues would give him direction to what he would say, how loud and how long he would say it. The bleeding-hearted passers-by wouldn’t need much persuasion from him. It was the ones he could hear crossing the street to not have to see him or the ones who had the nerve to walk past him every day seeing him but not seeing him. They were the ones who needed more volume in his voice, more sorrow in his face, and more desperation in his plea. I can imagine the possible scenarios passing through his mind each day as was taken to the familiar ground he would sit on.
The day we hear about from Mark here in our text must have been different, though. Maybe he woke up thinking it would be just another ordinary day, with some people dropping in coins while others passed him by. But something changed at some point in that day. He heard something that truly registered with his senses. It was a name he must have heard spoken before, of a man who had done miraculous things in other cities, of one who many people hoped would be the savior of their religion and their land. Maybe he had heard of the lame and sick Jesus made well. And maybe he had even heard about people born blind whose eyes miraculously opened as this man Jesus touched them with just the dirt from the ground mixed with the spit of his mouth. Their view of the world had changed forever, just as he hoped his view would change one day as well. This was all he must have thought about as he heard that Jesus was passing through town. This must have been what led him to persistently shout what he hoped for most in the world: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!.
Jesus did have mercy on Bartimaeus. It was a mercy on the Son of David showed in that moment. It was one only Jesus could give. It was one the entourage of disciples with Jesus had completely missed in that moment. “Quiet down and move out of the way!,” you can just hear the crowd and even the disciples say. But Jesus was sensitive to the cry of Bartimaeus and called out to him with the words of a different kind of king, What do you want me to do for you? That’s all Bartimaeus needed to hear. He sprang up from his well-worn place on the ground, threw of his beggar’s uniform, and went right to Jesus. The words he answered Jesus with didn’t require any careful thinking or tactful persuasion. They sprang from his soul so naturally in that moment, My teacher, let me see again. Mark reported that Jesus did just that, giving him his sight.
Unless you have had your sight, gone blind, and then regained your vision, it is hard to understand what this must be like. We can experience it on a physical and spiritual level. As we have heard in each rendition of “Amazing Grace” this morning, “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind but now I see.” John Newton, the author of these words, certainly understood what it was like to lose his sight, wandering in darkness of danger, spiritual confusion, and the evil of slave trading for years until he allowed Christ to open his eyes.
Could this be your testimony this morning? Any chance you can identify with Bartimaeus this morning? I think we all can. Surely we have all know what it is like to see only to lose our sight. You once enjoyed the sight of the world around you, taking in the beauty and light of life, only to have something happen to you where you lose sight of it all. Maybe you took your eyes off what really matters. It could have been a slow process, glancing away at first and then realizing you were in darkness. Or, it might have happened all at once, as you were blindsided by something or someone.
Or, maybe you know what it is like to see but not really see. It happens as we take our sight for granted, walking through life with our eyes on everything but what really matters most in life. Our eyes are open, but we are blind. We see things, yet have no depth perception. We are like the person Helen Keller spoke of, The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but has no vision. Like the crowd around Jesus that day who couldn’t see what Jesus saw in Bartimaeus, we may fail to see what we really see. If that is you, Jesus desires to open your eyes just as much as he did with Bartimaeus’. He wants you to see that he truly is your Savior, that he is the provision of everything you need, that he is the one you have been waiting for all this time. God wants to open your eyes through Jesus to see that mercy is truly yours. He wants you to know that you are not just one more needy beggar in the crowd, but a person of infinite worth who is worth stopping for. I also believe the eye-opening experience of Jesus allows you to see the reality of Jesus in your presence, so close to you that you hear, What do you want me to do for you” That’s a good question for us to hear today. It’s a good one for us to answer, even before we leave this time of worship this morning. What do you want Jesus to do for you? And what faith do you have that he will do it?
Bartimaeus sprang up, regained his sight, and followed in the way of Jesus. We don’t get anymore of the story, but we are left with the idea that his life was changed forever; that he never lost his sight again.