Saturday, October 24, 2015
Jesus, I want to see!
A healer came to the local church for a healing service and people came out in droves to be prayed over in the hopes of being healed. A young man had been in line for a long time when finally it was his turn. The healer looked at him and asked him what he would like prayed over. “Preacher, it is my hearing,” the young man said. So with great drama, the healer grabbed the young man’s ears and said many excited prayers. Finally, he let go of the young man and asked, “How’s your hearing now?” Shaken, the young man said, “I don’t know. I don’t go to court for my hearing until Friday.”
Last week was one year that I have lived here in New York City. Prior to moving here I lived in Boston, also a wonderful city, but on a much smaller scale than the Big Apple. In Boston, I would encounter the homeless and the hungry on the streets certainly on a daily basis and would try to find some way to reach out to them. Sometimes I would have some food to give, sometimes a little bit of spare change, sometimes just a moment or two to chat or just offer a “God bless you.” What I have been struggling with since moving here to New York are the sheer multiplication of so many people in similar situations. Where previously I might encounter one or two a day, here we walk past one or two every city block or so. What is a Christian to do? What is God asking of us in the face of this massive need?
I was thinking of this as I reflected on the healing story that we are presented today from Mark’s Gospel – the healing of the blind Bartimaeus. I was thinking of this because there is something very unique about this particular healing story in the Gospels. Of all of the healing stories that we hear in the Gospels, this is the only one where we are told the name of the person that Jesus heals and so that name must hold some significance. In fact, Mark mentions the name twice – once in Aramaic and once in Greek: Bartimaeus. The fact that Mark is mentioning the name tells us that the name is a clue to understanding the point that he is trying to make in the story.
So, what’s in a name? Well, in the ancient world, a name expressed not only the identity of the person, but also the personality or destiny of a person. In Aramaic, Bartimaeus means "son of defilement." And so, Bartimaeus could be a nickname given to him because he was a blind beggar and popular theology of the time believed blindness to be a punishment from God for sin or defilement. But in Greek, Bartimaeus could also be understood as "son of honor" possibly indicating his inner nature and destiny. By giving us the name with its double meaning, Mark tells us something important. Bartimaeus is supposed to be a man of honor but is being treated as a man of defilement. What Jesus did for him, therefore, was not simply healing his physical sight but, over and above that, restoring his God-given destiny and dignity. “Take courage; get up! Jesus is calling you!” This story is far more about healing his soul, his dignity, his perceptions, than merely his eyesight.
And, I think, this is the challenge for us today too. Bartimaeus is all around us. We encounter Bartimaeus in the many homeless and hungry on the streets each day; we see him in the people that we have marginalized because of their race, their ethnicity, their gender, their orientation, their immigration status, or silly things like the color of their hair or the clothes they wear. There are any number of people that we encounter regularly who we have determined - either as a society or as individuals – are sons and daughters of defilement; not worthy of our time, our concern, our care, our compassion, our affection. But, to any of those attitudes that reside in us, Jesus says today that we should see them as sons and daughters of honor, of dignity, of goodness, of holiness, and of glory.
This is where true and lasting healing lies – in lifting up hearts that were broken, in reconciling relationships that were shattered, in seeking out forgiveness when we have wronged another, in looking into the eyes of someone that the world has forgotten and saying, “I see you. You have value and dignity. You are loved and treasured in my eyes and in the eyes of God.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked Bartimaeus. May our answer be the same as his, “I want to see.” Jesus, Son of David, have pity on us for the times when we have been blinded to your presence around us; especially in those who need our presence, our care, our compassion. Give us the strength to see their dignity as sons and daughters of honor; as sons and daughters of God. Master, we want to see.
May the Lord give you peace.