The Rev. Sheila M. Scott, Deacon
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus restores the sight to a blind man named Bartimaeus. His name means “the son of Timaeus”. Being blind in the first century meant he was not even entitled to his own name. Talk about being invisible.
With the technological advances of modern times, a blind person has so many options available to live a nearly normal life. The person who first came to my mind was Helen Keller, who was born blind and deaf in the late 19th century, but overcame great obstacles and became an author, political activist and lecturer. She was the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. What an amazing woman she was!
There are many skilled, creative and talented people in our society today, who did not let blindness define them, and who live a productive and successful life despite their lack of eyesight.
In the first century though, blindness meant living at the margins of society, begging for a living, and one’s entire life was dependent on the mercy and generosity of others. This was the life Bartimaeus knew all too well.
But Bartimaeus’ blindness is only one kind of blindness Jesus was talking about when he said: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has sent me to recover sight to the blind”. Truth is, Bartimaeus could see in his heart, that if he came to Jesus, he would be healed, he would regain his eyesight. He was so sure of this, that he left his cloak behind when he got up to go to Jesus. He had faith, he understood Jesus’ ministry more than his own disciples did.
Helen Keller said: “Better to be blind and see with your heart, than to have two good eyes and see nothing”
Although Jesus’ disciples could physically see, and have been with him from the beginning of his ministry, they missed Jesus’ message time and time again. If you remember, last week they were asking Jesus to let them sit to his right and to his left hand in his glory; and now when Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus, they order him to be quiet. The disciples believe that Jesus has more important things to do than to listen to a blind beggar. But he was persistent. So Jesus asks his disciples to call him, thus making them realize, healing the outcast is his ministry.
When Bartimaeus appears in front of Jesus, Jesus asks him the same question he asked James and John: “What do you want me to do for you? Jesus does not assume to know what Bartimaeus wants. Jesus wants Bartimaeus to tell him: “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus knows, you have to want healing, in order for it to work for you.
Being healed will mean major life changes, and one needs to be ready to face these changes head on. Bartimaeus is ready, and becomes Jesus’ follower.
We have to be careful in not reading too much into Bartimaeus’ physical healing by Jesus. If we pray to God to heal a specific illness and that healing does not occur, it does not mean we do not have enough faith, or we are not praying hard enough, or with the correct words, or we are not worthy enough for God to answer our prayer. That is not true. God heals everyone who comes to him in prayer, even if that healing is not in the manner we asked for in our prayers. Prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes us, and healing occurs.
While there is nothing wrong with praying for specific needs, for strength, for guidance, what we need to pray for today is that God would open our eyes and hearts to the plight of the outcasts of our times.
While we may have come a long way from 1st century Judea, we nevertheless have many very serious problems that afflict our society, among them: violence against women, gun violence in schools and communities, homelessness, poverty, very high incarceration rate among African American men, unjust targeting of minorities, the plight of the immigrants and refugees, and the list goes on and on. There are countless outcasts in our society, whether we want to admit it or not.
The question is, are we going to accept these and other problems as just inevitable problems of life in the US, and as long as it does not affect us personally, are we going to turn a blind eye to it?
Or are we going to open our hearts and eyes and admit that everyone is entitled to basic human rights such as food, shelter, and safety; and entitled to justice, not just those who can afford legal representation, but all human beings, regardless of their race, gender, religion, social status and circumstances.
We need to demand just and equitable laws that protect the lives of all. We need to make our voices heard by lawmakers that everyone deserves justice, and discrimination is not the American way any longer.
Jesus calls us to love our neighbor, and he is not talking about our next door neighbor who we happen to like, he is talking about all our neighbors near and far, whether they are like us or not. He is calling us to stand up for justice for all.
Without justice for everyone, there is no peace for ANYONE.
In the words of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero:
“Peace is not the product of terror or fear
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression
Peace is generous, tranquil contribution of all
To the good of all.
Peace is dynamism
Peace is generosity
It is right and it is duty”.