Updated: Aug 14, 2021
Two Mondays ago, October 15 in the early evening I was traveling on public transportation to the former parish I served. I was going there to serve as the Deacon at a special mass. As I came up out of the underground streetcar station at Van Ness Avenue and Market Street I saw a young African-American man standing there. He was shirtless and had an extremely filthy shipping blanket wrapped around his shoulders. I had seen this young man on many occasions in the past and as he was always standing or seated outside the doughnut shop there and I would from time to time buy him a doughnut and coffee. But this time was different. He was standing staring out into space and appeared to be catatonic. I spoke to him but there was no response. As I got a little closer to him I was hit with the horrible smell of urine and feces and maybe garbage. I stepped back, I could not get past the barrier of the horrible smell. I walked past him and continued to the church, you see I had to go over the liturgy with all involved.
On the train ride home, I thought about my interaction with this homeless person. About how my repulsion and fear of this helpless person spiritually blinded me from seeing our Savior in him.
In today’s Gospel reading from the Evangelist Mark, Jesus returns the sight to a blind beggar outside of the walls of Jericho, on the way to Jerusalem.
Jericho at the time of this story is a wealthy suburb of Jerusalem. Indeed, Herod had his winter palace there and many wealthy Judeans used it as their winter resort. This probably made the road down to Jerusalem a good place to beg.
The author of the Gospel of Mark was writing probably in Alexandria Egypt to a predominantly Greek or Gentile church of the first century. So, he used a very classical Greek type of structure in his writing. It’s very notable that the name he has given to the blind beggar, indeed he is the only one healed in Mark’s Gospel who is named. Bartimaeus is a Hebrew and Greek hybrid. Bar which in Hebrew means son of and Timaeus a Gentile name. Timaeus was a character in Plato’s Dialogue.
He is the man who delivered the philosopher's important cosmological and theological treatise… one which involved sight as being the foundation of knowledge. So, this fits very well with what the Evangelist is teaching.
Jesus passes Bartimaeus is he seated on the roadside begging. Jesus is surrounded by the usual crowd of people and the twelve, so he probably couldn’t see Bartimaeus or hear his cries at first. Bartimaeus cries out “Son of David have on mercy me!” The crowd and the 12 tell him to be quiet because Jesus does not have time for him. Bartimaeus ignores the crowd’s protest of his pleas and shouts out again for Jesus to have mercy on him.
Jesus stands still, asks for Bartimaeus, the blind man is summoned, and the moment is here. Bartimaeus does not hesitate. He throws down the cloak that served him as a blanket. Like a homeless man of today, he had probably spent the night under this cloak, or maybe a shipping blanket, and now he throws it off and springs up like someone who is ready to run, someone with a purpose, attracted by the powerful presence towards whom the path now is open and not blocked, Bartimaeus goes to him.
And as in so many other instances, Jesus wants him to articulate his prayer. Bartimaeus had asked for mercy. But Jesus asks: "What is it that you want me to do for you?" You remember last week, we heard Jesus ask the same question of the two disciples who had come to him wanting to be first in the kingdom.
"What is it that you want me to do for you?" "Rabbouni, Teacher, let me see again."
Bartimaeus’s sight is returned immediately and Jesus tells him that his faith has made him whole, has saved him. Jesus tells him to go on his way but Bartimaeus instead follows him on the way. – – The way that leads Jesus to the Cross.
The 12 disciples are often used in the Gospels as foils that contrasts Jesus’ teaching with their and our need for understanding and sometimes preoccupation with maintaining an exclusive “Jesus club.” Jesus’ miracles of restoring sight and hearing are meant to teach that through faith we can be restored to spiritual sight and hearing.
What causes our spiritual blindness that would lead us to cry out to be made whole or saved. The major cause, I believe, for this state of sin is fear.
This is not the natural fear that causes our flight or fight response that is necessary for survival, it is the fear that draws us into ourselves and not to God. The fear that causes our spiritual blindness.
The fear caused by racism, which tells us to believe that one group is superior to another simply because of skin color or cultural heritage and that the other is a danger to us and will take away our power.
The fear of an imaginary foe that believes that citizenship in a state can save us and should be limited to one ethnic, cultural, religious, or identity group. Thus creating, as John McCain said, “spurious nationalism.”
The fear of a loss of patriarchal power and privilege.
Fear of migrants, immigrants, and refugees destroying our culture.
The fear of touching or interacting with a person that may be on the surface repulsive to us.
There are many more fears that may cause our spiritual blindness. Those that prevents us from seeing Christ in all people, especially the poor, the hungry, the destitute and refugee.
For fear is the opposite of faith not doubt. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, calls us to “Be not afraid.” We need to take his words to heart in these tense and often violent times.
How are we healed of our spiritual blindness? – It is by Love born from faith in our Savior.
As St. Paul said, “God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." The fear and pain from which we run fastest can be the greatest instrument for our health and strength, if only we will place our trust in the Spirit of God to lead us to where God most needs us.
By recognizing God’s love poured into our hearts by prayer, confession and absolution, listening to God’s Word, and receiving Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist we will be strengthened to throw off our cloak, that is deny ourselves, be restored and saved so that we may follow with Bartimaeus Jesus’ way even to the cross. Remember Jesus told us:
“If any of you want to come the way I’m going,” he said, “you must say no to your selves, pick up your cross, and follow me.”
Jesus’ way is not a way of fear but of love and if there is one thing we should shout from the rooftops, it is this – THE CROSS IS NOT A PLACE OF FEAR!
It is a place of awe and wonder of the Amazing Love that is lavished on us all, undeserving sinners that we are. Amen!