Be Careful What You Ask For
The Rev. Keenan Kelsey
Noe Valley Ministry Presbyterian Church
October 28, 2018
TEXT: Mark 10:46-52
|46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.|
Life is full of hard questions:
- Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?
- Why is the third hand on the watch called the second hand?
- Why does “fat chance” and “slim chance” mean the same thing?
- Why is it called “after dark” when it really is “after light”?
- How come abbreviated is such a long word?
- What do you want me to do for you?
Bartimaeus is a poor blind man. He is of no importance in society. He sits by the road hoping for charity. When he hears the noise of the crowd, people tell him that Jesus of Nazareth is there. Who knows what he had heard in street chatter, or what he felt in his heart, or what hope might ever spring eternal, but Bartimaeus immediately shouts out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. Help me.” He couldn’t have been imaging a full cure from blindness. Perhaps relief from poverty or a break from obscurity, some food or just a blessing? But he was certainly hoping for something. And his instinct, his faith told him something else. He shouts ‘Jesus Son of David’. Messiah. This is the first time in the Gospels, after Peter’s private acknowledgement, that anyone has recognized Jesus as Messiah. A faith born of desperation, or perhaps perception?
Whatever it was, Bartimaeus had faith: faith enough to ask, faith enough to believe, faith enough to recognize and to risk. Do you?
The crowds tried to hush him, thinking to protect Jesus from an embarrassing pest or distraction. But Jesus stops and calls him, so the fickle crowd turns, gets on the bandwagon. “Hey blind man, Jesus is calling! Lucky you! Get up!” So Bartimaeus, not knowing what would come, throws off his coat and stumbles forward. Only then does Jesus ask “What do you want me to do for you?” Well that’s a silly question, isn’t it? rhetorical at best. What does Jesus think he wants, a pair of sunglasses? Usually Jesus knows. Or maybe he just wants Bartimaeus to articulate it, to say it. So, the blind man sums up his life’s desire in 6 words. “My teacher,” he says. “Let me see again.”
Wait, “again”? Bartimaeus must have been sighted at some point. Did he know what he was asking?
Jesus nods, gazing with compassion and understanding. With nary a touch, the Master, the Messiah, says “Go, your faith has made you well.” Made you whole, saved you.
Bartimaeus turns and follows Jesus and his group on the road toward Jerusalem. Crazy, you think. Suddenly he can see, and he wants to follow this ragtag, apprehensive, worrying crowd? You’d think sight would take you somewhere else. But perhaps Bartimaeus, more than even the disciples, knows better. Bartimaeus has faith enough to follow, faith enough to trust Jesus completely. Do you?
“Teacher, let me see.” This is not such an easy request. It is a “be careful what you wish for” request, because sight includes the hard realities as well as the joyful possibilities. Because the first thing we see is ourselves
Karen Heather told me about a play she saw last week. Doll House 2 is a follow-up to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, where the final scene shows Nora leaving her house, slamming the door, leaving behind her family and friends. This play begins 15 years later, and Nora is now knocking on the door, asking to come back in. Now a renown, if strident, feminist, a successful if scandalous writer, she is in trouble and she returns to get her husband to sign legal papers for a formal divorce. In the process her righteously annoyed, resentful, confused, angry family questions her, confronts her, and gradually her sight changes. Her self-image as a successful in-your-face celebrity tarnishes then falls apart, as she sees herself from her family’s eyes, from eyes of the heart rather than the ego. Painfully she begins to see truths for herself.
What is it you will begin to see, if you ask for sight? It may be the surprising and beautiful sunrise this morning, and you may pause and savor and say “thank you God.” Or it may be another headline about our country’s divisions and violence, and you may be anguished. You may see yourself in last week’s sermon about reacting to our world cries from a nonpolitical nonpolarized way. Or you may see an opportunity to claim your power and do something out of your comfort zone. You may see a homeless person anew, and engage, or your sight may be an alarming insight into your own arrogance, or your own narrow rationalization or your own fear or denial or festering resentment. It may be a touch of compassion for your enemies, it may be an incredible rush of honesty and appreciation. Whatever it is, it will be hard.
Annie Dillard wrote an amazing story nearly 40 years ago, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. It had a chapter in it entitled “Seeing,” one in which she writes about the work of a guy named Marius Von Senden who chronicled the case histories of the early recipients of cataract surgery—people of all ages who had been blinded since birth and were now given the gift of sight through surgery. But hold your expectations. His work revealed unexpected consequences. Unable to judge distances, the newly sighted would reach out for things a mile away, thinking pieces of furniture were just patches of color, they’d walk right into them, bruising their shins.
Some, having seen themselves in the mirror for the first time, now realized how often others had seen them without their awareness or consent, and fell into deep depression, even becoming so self-conscious that they refused to go out at all. The world turned out to be much bigger than they thought—bigger and infinitely more complex.
One newly sighted girl was so stunned by the radiance of the world that she kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When she finally opened them, she saw only a field of light against which everything else seemed to be in motion. She couldn’t distinguish objects, but just kept looking around and saying over and over again, “Oh God, how beautiful!” But another demanded that he be allowed to go to the Institute for the Blind. “No, really,” he said, “I can’t stand it anymore; I want to go back; if things aren’t altered I will tear my eyes out!”
Tear his eyes out? Are you kidding me? There must be some mistake! After being rescued from a lifetime of darkness, after being hauled out into the light and now shown a world of color and movement and beauty—tear his eyes out? How could that possibly be? Unless—unless, maybe it was simply too much—too much to see, too much to do, too much to be. It was better before—smaller, quieter, safer. It might be hard to see, risky to ask for sight.
The question Jesus is asking us this morning is this: Are we willing? Are we willing to see or not? Are we willing to bruise our shins, to learn our way around the obstacles, to learn our way through the newness of it all? Are we even willing to have our hearts bruised? Because if we are, then go your way, says Jesus, because your faith has healed you. Better yet, go his way—out the doors of this church, out into a broken world never more in need of God’s healing love, a world experiencing every kind of blindness and fumbling around. That’s where Jesus is headed even now. We can go there, too…
This little story might well demand of us something we don’t want. But it also yells at us. “Take heart! Jesus is calling you!” What will you do? What will any of us do? Because that is what this is all about. To see or not to see. Bartimaeus knew what he was asking. Do you?
Clear, open-eyed seeing starts with yourself. Are you like Nora camouflaging the truth? Are you willing to give away your veil of excuses? Are you willing to be Nora, stripped of illusions and facing her own truths, leading into even more clarity and power?
Immortalized in my being are instances of my own seeing. I used to go to meeting where there was a guy I really did not like. I had so many judgments and criticisms, I sat across the circle glowering, arms crossed, feet tapping. Then one day I looked up and for no real reason, saw him differently. O my gosh, suddenly he was just another pilgrim, just another poor bloke, trying his best to be better at life. We were the same, on the same journey. My whole being melted into clarity. Another day I realized, with profound amazement, that my lifelong habit of putting myself down was pride, hypocrisy. Whether I was self-deprecating or self-aggrandizing, I was living in the arrogance of putting myself first. Not you first, much less God first. Pride goeth before a fall.
You can stay where you are. You can sit in your familiar darkness where all the edges are rounded off so that you will not hurt yourself, where you need only concern yourself with that which is within your reach. You do not want to make a spectacle of yourself, after all, and it probably will not work anyway. No sense getting your hopes up, no sense thinking of yourself as a person who might see. Stay with what you know.
Or you can cry out, spring up, and ask for your hearts’ desire. He is calling you! Are you willing to see or not? And if you are willing, are you willing to see everything there is, the good along with the awful, the lovely along with the monstrous? The realities in yourself, in everyone you meet, in the world? Are you willing to bruise your shins? Are you willing to bruise your heart?
If so, go your way, because your faith has made you well. Go your way, seeing as if for the first time. If your own way does not look so appealing anymore, then try another way.
I don’t know what you will see when you open your eyes. All I know is, asking for sight from Jesus leads you in unexpected and often challenging paths. Asking to see means you can never un-see. Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God. What are you waiting for? Amen.