Looking Good or Seeing Well?


Mark 10: 46-52

It was as good a place as any for him to do his panhandling. It hadn’t always been this way. He hadn’t always made his living this way. He once had a job and a family. But then came the terrible accident. He saw it coming, but his hands were too slow. In a flash, his hands came up to shield his eyes, but the damage had already been done. He could tell from the intense pain that ravaged his face that he was seriously injured. Weeks later, when the bandages came off and he could open his eyes, he opened them to utter darkness. He was blind.

But of course, the blindness wasn’t the worst of it. One morning, many months after the accident, he awoke to find his rented house strangely quiet. Earlier that week the landlord had been by to deliver an eviction notice. He hadn’t worked since the accident, and there had been no money to pay the rent. At first, the landlord had been patient and understanding, but that had worn thin. And so, to avoid the indignity of being homeless, his family had quietly packed up during the night and left him. He never heard from them again.

This week though, the panhandling had been especially good. It was just a few days before Passover, and the traffic between Jericho and Jerusalem had been tremendous. Wealthy merchants were leaving Jericho with their wares, heading for the festival in Jerusalem, and they had been generous, anticipating, perhaps, the huge wind-fall in sales that they could expect once they arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover. But the real generosity had come from the thousands of people traveling through Jericho, making their annual spiritual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover. This time of the year, more than any other, had put them in a compassionate state of mind for those less fortunate than themselves. Even beggars have something to celebrate at Passover.

But this Passover there was something even more wonderful to celebrate than the garnering of a few extra coins. Jesus was coming through Jericho, and when blind Bartimaeus heard about it, he started to put up a ruckus. And it must have been quite a ruckus because it attracted the attention of the local sensibilities squad.

Now why blind Bartimaeus’ ruckus became such an inconvenience to the local sensibilities squad is a bit of a mystery to me. We’re only a few days away from Passover. There’s a festive atmosphere in the air. The streets are thronged with people who are passing through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem. Merchants and vendors are already hawking their wares. There’s noise and hustle and bustle everywhere. Certainly one blind beggar shouting out at the top of his lungs is not going to make a whole lot of difference in an already crowded and noisy environment. And yet, blind Bartimaeus’ shouting somehow became an inconvenience, somehow it was viewed as being inappropriate and out of place. And Mark tells us that many people sternly ordered him to be quiet. I don’t get that. It doesn’t make sense.

Unless…unless blind Bartimaeus has some sort of reputation. Maybe blind Bartimaeus is known for being an embarrassment, maybe he’s a troublemaker, maybe he’s a bit of the local color that some of the locals wish would fade away. I don’t know. The only thing I do know is that lots of people didn’t want blind Bartimaeus to be part of this story. Maybe they thought it didn’t look good to have the blind guy creating a disturbance while Jesus was passing through Jericho. It all remains a mystery.

Jesus, though, does not seem to share the nervous concerns of the local sensibilities squad. When Jesus heard blind Bartimaeus shouting, and when he heard the people telling him to hush up, Jesus stopped. I can almost see a few of the locals with embarrassment welling up within them, getting ready to run up to Jesus to apologize for the unintended and unanticipated ruckus. “We’re really sorry for all of this mess, Jesus, really we are, and we didn’t mean for this guy to be shouting at you like this, we know this doesn’t look good, but this blind guy, he’s an awful embarrassment to all of us, we really just wish that he wasn’t around, he’s certainly not showing you much respect shouting after you like that, we’re really sorry, if there’s something that we can do…”

But before they can say that, Jesus says to the crowd, call the man here, bring him to me.

And as soon as blind Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was asking for him, he jumped up, threw off his cloak, and made his way toward Jesus. Now there’s a picture here not to be missed. It’s a scene that needs to be seen. Bartimaeus was a beggar, a panhandler, and in all likelihood, Bartimaeus’ usual posture was to sit by the road, cross-legged, with his cloak forming a sort of pouch between his legs into which passersby could toss their coins. When blind Bartimaeus jumped up, the coins, which he had so carefully cradled, which were indeed his life, must have gone flying everywhere.

If this is the case, then we’re already getting some insight into the depth of this man’s faith. Suddenly, the coins don’t matter so much. Suddenly, the life, the living, everything that is meaningful to him, ceases to be of concern, because now he has the opportunity to encounter Jesus. Even if Batimaeus had been collecting his coins in a tin cup, it is highly unlikely that he carried the cup with him when he came up to Jesus. The picture is that of a man leaving his past behind and risking all for an opportunity to be with Jesus. That’s faith. And, up ’till now, Jesus has done nothing for him. Not a thing. All Jesus has done is call for him.

When the blind beggar got to Jesus though, Jesus had a question for Bartimaeus. At first, it may seem strangely out of place. It’s one of those questions that my daughters would say “No, duh” to. It’s a painfully obvious question. The guy’s blind, he wants to see! Doesn’t Jesus know that?

But what if Jesus looked straight into our eyes and asked the same question? What if Jesus peered right into our souls, and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” How would we respond? “Well Jesus, my car’s 12 years old now, and I’ve seen those new Cadillacs, and they’re quite fetching, and if you had it in you, a new car would be…”

No! Not at all! If we were face to face with Jesus, the coins of our lives would drop to the ground, they’d be scattered all around us, suddenly meaningless, and we would share with Jesus the greatest and deepest need of our hearts. Thing is, Jesus asks that question of us every time we close our eyes in prayer. The question is, are we prepared to answer? Our replies could radically change our lives.

Blind Bartimaeus was prepared to answer that question, and because his heart was open, his eyes were opened. Once again, he could see, and a whole new world and a whole new life opened up for him. So that’s a nice story about a blind guy who met Jesus, and had his life’s greatest wish fulfilled, or is it?

This is the last healing story that Mark records in his Gospel. Chapter 11 begins with Jesus and his disciples just outside of the city of Jerusalem, with Jesus giving instructions to his disciples to make preparations for his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In less than a week, Jesus will be dead. His earthly ministry will be completed. And Mark has positioned this story very strategically. It is Mark’s way of telling everybody that now is the time to make up their minds about Jesus. Now is the time for everyone to decide just who Jesus is, and how they will respond to him.

This is a story about a man who once was sighted, became blind, and, after encountering Jesus, regained his sight. In Jesus’ day, there were those who knew the truths of God. There were those who had insight into the ways of God. They understood God’s truth. But even though they understood God’s truth, they also refused to acknowledge that Jesus was the living embodiment of those truths. And so they became blind to the truth. The ones who were once sighted, became blind. And ultimately, they chose looking good over seeing well, and they rejected Jesus, unwilling to believe that he could be their long awaited Messiah.

In Mark’s Gospel, blind Bartimaeus functions as someone who once could see, became blind, and because he could see truth in Jesus, regained his sight.

But Bartimaeus gained much more than his sight. Bartimaeus found salvation.

Interestingly, in Bartimaeus’ case, Jesus pronounces the healing before the miracle occurs. Bartimaeus has faith that can see and faith that can understand. Bartimaeus can see far more with his faith than he ever will with his eyes. The healing of his eyes is a minor thing compared to the wellness of his faith. It is Bartimaeus’ faith that Jesus commends, and it is the lack of faith in others that Jesus so strongly condemns.

With the healing comes a choice. Jesus simply tells Bartimaeus to go…implicit in that is, go Bartimaeus, choose your path. Walk where you will. For someone who formerly had to be led around by the hand, this is a tremendous invitation.

But Bartimaeus has already chosen his path, his mind is made up, he’s made the decision. He will follow Jesus. And so, he steps out, on to the road to discipleship. Unlike those who rejected Jesus, Bartimaeus had chosen Jesus.

Looking good is awfully important in our culture. While waiting in a doctor’s office not long ago, I picked up one of those magazines that show the insides of houses where obviously no one lives, you know the kind I’m talking about, the one’s where the fruit flies don’t hover around the bananas sitting on the counter, and there’s no tipped over box of cereal? And I was reminded of the great lengths that some of us will go to, and the huge costs that some of us will incur in our pursuit of looking good.

Some of us even want to look good when it comes to matters of the faith. We don’t want to appear as though we’re overly committed to Jesus. We might be more comfortable visiting with Jesus than living with him. We don’t want to look like we’re fanatics or nutcases. We might come to Jesus, but we gather up our coins and wrap them up in our cloaks before we come along.

Looking good is good for now, but seeing well is good for eternity. Jesus is calling us to discipleship. Jesus is calling us to deeper fellowship with one another. Jesus is calling us to follow him. What path will we choose?