Seeing Through Blind EyesYear B Revised Common Lectionary
Mark 10:46-52 (NLT) 46Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. 47When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48“Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him. But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.” So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” 50Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.
51“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “My rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
52And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.
The story takes place in Jericho. The city was about 15 miles from Jerusalem.1 Old Jericho, by this time, was "largely abandoned."2 A new Jericho was built close to the old city.3 We are not told in Mark's account if the story takes place in the old or the new Jericho.
One commentator indicates eye diseases were common in the ancient east. He cites the book Land and Book which blames eye disease on common ash heaps. When the wind blows, the dust is blown into people's eyes. According to Land and Book, a man walked along the streets and counted the number of men who were blind or had defective eyes. He found about half the male population had bad eyes.4
Listening to the story centuries after it was first told, the name of the blind man's father does not seem relevant. The father's name might have been given to clearly identify who the blind man is. Matthew Henry indicates some people feel Bartimaeus' father was also blind.5 The commentator Adam Clarke is a well-known commentator who believes Bartimaeus' father was blind.6
Bartimaeus' father was Timaeus. The name Bartimaeus can mean son of “the unclean.”7 The meaning is very interesting. The ancients tended to see physical illnesses as a result of a person's personal sins or the sins of a parent. Names were very important in ancient Israel. Names meant something. I am left wondering if people hearing this story may have assumed that Bartimaeus was blind because of his father's sins.
The blind man calls Jesus the Son of David. By calling Jesus the Son of David, the blind man acknowledges Jesus is the Messiah. John Calvin states the blind man indicates Jesus is the one "whom God had promised to be the only Author of salvation."8 There is something very important in this story. This story records the only time in Mark's gospel that Jesus is referred to as the Son of David.9 In the gospel of Mark, it takes a blind man to see that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.
There is rich irony here. I am certain the early Christian church understood the irony every single time this story was told. The blind sees. The sighted do not see. A sinner is touched by God, while the “saints” are not.
The man who many would have believed was a sinner stricken down with blindness as divine punishment for his sins recognizes the Messiah. The saints of the day do not receive a healing touch from Christ, but one seen as a sinner is touched by the Son of God.
Often those we expect to see the reality of God's grace the most, are blind to God's grace. Fundamentalist and evangelical churches are often the most aggressive at telling the world about God's grace. People who have grown up in these very evangelistic churches are often blind to the grace God has given gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people. They look on and see Jesus Christ hear the call of queer people. And they watch as Jesus reaches out and touches queer people. And the good news is that they wonder why. They wonder why.
Crowds were following Jesus. Eugene Peterson's paraphrase The Message says, “Many tried to hush him up.”10 Gary's paraphrase would read, "The crowds told the blind man to shut up." Messiah's followers told the blind man, a man who was calling on Christ, to shut up.
John Calvin lived long before Stonewall. I cannot imagine him being affirming. When reading John Calvin's commentary, I could almost hear a gay affirming Calvin speaking to the queer community. I would love to hear him speak on this text to a queer church. John Calvin observes that it “frequently happens that the greater part of those who profess the name of Christ, instead of inviting us . . . hinder or delay our approach.”11
Queer people might be able to relate to the blind man. When gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people recognize Jesus Christ and call upon the Messiah, they are told by the Christian crowds, the people who appear to be following Jesus, to shut up. But for those who refuse to be quiet, for those who refuse to sit in their pain of rejection, God steps in and personally touches, giving the desired acceptance and healing.
The blind man was sitting on the road. He just sat, while the world passed by him. Perhaps, you feel like you are just sitting while the world passes you by. That could very well be the way the blind beggar felt.12 The blind man could hear the excitement, the joy of a special holiday, but he was not part of it.13
Today, and every day, God is reaching out to you, helping you take part in life. God wants you to enjoy life, not just to be a blind spectator to the joy others have found in the Messiah.
There is more to this story than just assurance that queer people recognize God and are touched by the Lord's grace. There is also a call to see the world through eyes God has given you, not through human eyes.
In a sermon, Martin Dale tells a story about a magazine article Helen Keller wrote. The article was titled “Three Days to See.” In the article Helen Keller told what she wanted to see if she could only see for three days. She wanted to spend one day seeing her friends, one day seeing nature and one day seeing her home city, New York. She concluded her article with these words, "I who am blind can give one hint to those who see: Use your eyes as if tomorrow you were stricken blind.14
I invite you to see your world as if you would be struck blind tomorrow. Look at all everything and everybody as Jesus would. Use the eyes Christ gave you. And concentrate on the things of beauty God spends much time looking at. Look at people.
Redeemer, Comforter, thank you for touching us when we were blind,
for helping us see ourselves in a new light, for helping us see the
world in a different way. As You have given us new eyes, Your eyes,
give us new hands and new feet, Your hands and feet, so we can go
where you need us to go and lend a helping hand to those who need to
know your love. Amen.
1Kenneth Barker, et. al., eds. The NIV Study Bible. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Pub. House, 1995), 1513.
2Kenneth Barker, et. al., eds., 1513.
3Kenneth Barker, et. al., eds., 1513.
4“Vincent's Word Studies.” e-Sword. (Franklin, TN: Equipping Ministries Foundation, 2000), Bible Software.
5Matthew Henry. “Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible.” e-Sword. (Franklin, TN: Equipping Ministries Foundation, 2000), Bible Software.
6Adam Clarke. “Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible.” e-Sword. (Franklin, TN: Equipping Ministries Foundation, 2000), Bible Software.
7“Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries.” e-Sword. (Franklin, TN: Equipping Ministries Foundation, 2000), Bible Software.
8John Calvin. Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Vol. 2. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, n.d.), 430.
9Kenneth Barker, et. al., eds., 1513.
10Eugene Peterson. The Message. (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Navpress, 2003), 1845.
12Rodney Buchanan. Healing the Blind Man. Sermon Central. (August, 2001, Internet web site www.sermoncentral.com/sermon.asp?SermonID=38706)
13Buchanan (Internet web site www.sermoncentral.com/sermon.asp?SermonID=38706)
14Martin Dale. Bartimaeus, the Blind Man. Sermon Central. (October, 2003, Internet web site www.sermoncentral.com/sermon.asp?SermonID=62686)