My eyes, my eyes, You touched my burning eyes.It's a great narration and conveyance of this coming Sunday's reading from the Gospel of Mark. I admit that most of the wellspring of my preaching life comes from the tales of Jesus' calling of the disciples to come, follow him and become "fishers of people." Nowadays, though, I find myself resonating more and more to Jesus' encounters with stubborn, broken and hoping people who seek from him healing light and energy. Bartimaeus is one such. The Syro-Phoenician woman is another. People come to him, seeking his intercession in their lives. Sometimes, Jesus himself rebuffs them. Often, the crowds-even the disciples themselves-push the seekers away, or counsel them to silence. "Keep quiet, the master is passing/preaching/teaching. What right do you have to disrupt his time and attention?!?"
Sitting on a corner trying to beg for a piece of bread. Oh God of King David I ask you why my life is so dread? You came unto me I felt your love pierce right through me. You touched me with your healing hands and you wept. Who are you man?
So I thank you friend for what you've done for me. Yes I thank you friend was blind but now I see.
You filled my eyes with fire. My eyes were filled with fire. My eyes, my eyes were filled with fire. My eyes were filled with fire.
For so many years I've been cursed, afflicted with darkness. Giving me the gift of sight was a blessing that seemed otherwise hopeless. You've set my eyes on fire, given me my hearts desire. This compassion you have shown was an act of love, I've never known.
I must admit I don't know who you really are. Could it be you are the Son of God? Wherever you go that's where I would like to be because you were the only one that was ever there for me. MY EYES ON FIRE!
Listen here man of mystery; where are you from? Where's your destiny? You've shocked me with your burning vision I want to follow you on your mission.
Bartimaeus is in many ways my hero. He is a person who travels unseen and unseeing through the landscape of human society. People pass him by and don't think twice about who he is, how he got to be the way he is or if there is anything about him worth knowing, at all. Yet, when he hears that Jesus is passing by he raises his voice and in the truest sense of the word, creates a scene that becomes memorable, a movement in the symphony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that has come down to us through the ages. "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!"
Jesus may not know him, see him or have "time" for him in the eyes of the crowd; but Bartimaeus won't hear it. He shouts, he squirms away from hands that seek to quiet him, to put him aside, to divert his intent to seek healing from Jesus. Louder and louder, he refuses to relent.
That is when Jesus stops, bringing the crowd up short in the middle of the road.
"Call him here."
How many times have we faced these moments in life, when we have been sidelined, excised, pushed away from the center of things into the shadows and told to keep quiet? Too many, really. There have been sad chapters written in the history of the human race when whole populations have been silenced in the most obscene and inhumane ways. Words like genocide, slavery, inquisition, pogrom, ethnic purges illustrate that insult. But that insult can be intimate and direct as well. Homeless, vagrant, beggar, fool, idiot, etc.
When anyone is pushed aside, when their humanity is denigrated or minimized...then that person and more than a little bit of ourselves winds up curbside with blind Bartimaeus with our cloaks wrapped around our shoulders and tucked up under our haunches, begging for enough money to afford bread for today.
My interest in Bartimaeus has grown, I think, as I being to emerge from my own time curbside. Believe me, I have little to complain about compared to the blind man in the Gospel story. I have my relationships with my wife, family and friends. I have my health, a home, work in the Church. I have the respect of colleagues and the support of the parish I am serving. Still, I have made my journey and am continuing to learn how to see myself with new eyes-how weakness, pride, fear, arrogance, anxiety and a host of other traits I am sorry to say exist within me have led me into and through the tough times in life--and those tough times go all the way back to my childhood. As the man says, we repeat patterns until we learn to make the changes habit that lead to change in life.
So, let's dwell with Bartimaeus for a while and get to know someone that no one wants to know. First, let's acknowledge his name. He doesn't really have one. His name means "son of Timaeus." He has a father, but other than that we don't know him. "Bar" is like adding "son" to the end of a name in Nordic cultures. Who am I as I sit next to my blind friend? I don't have a name. I have no personal history. I don't deserve an identity....just call me Robertson. Robert is my father's name. Next to Bartimaeus, I don't have anything else to speak of...
Now, the reality of my life is different from that slightly histrionic self-portrait. I have a past, a present and God-willing a future. Still, there have been moments in my life where I have felt like past, present and future have been torn from me. I have had a moment when all that I thought I was, remembered being and hoped to be was torn away. I was nothing and in the eyes of so many, I no longer counted for much of anything.
You learn something about yourself in the face of that rejection. I learned something about myself in that moment, and I continue to learn as I hunker down next to Bartimaeus in the street and watch as he stubbornly and relentlessly calls out for mercy from this Jesus, son of David. I learned that there is something in us that overcomes the dehumanization we suffer at the hands of the things that shatter us (both within and in the eyes of our neighbors). Our yearning for God, that voice that surges up...the spirit that pulls us to our feet and tells us "just five more steps...just five more" when strength has left us...that is what kept me moving in those dark moments. That is Bartimaeus' cry:
"Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!"
From there, Jesus stops the crowd. From this point on, God focuses on us. After yelling for attention, making a scene, demanding a moment before the savior...we actually GET TO HAVE ONE!
"What do you want me to do for you?" is Jesus' query.
If we summon up the guts to actually ask for time from God, go figure, God makes time for us.
So, in our blindness, in our need...from a place of being no one and nothing to so many...we get to ask what God can do for us.
I can only hope that my prayer continues to be the one Bartimaeus tenders at that moment, "My teacher, let me see again."
From those darkest moments in my life, I have had the chance to have God actually stop the world long enough to give me the choice to ask what I would have...and I pray that I will have the strength to ask again for the chance to see...to simply be alive in my ministry and in my life and relationships.
I wish it were a once and for all thing with me. The blind man gets to see and then to follow Jesus. Me, I keep on coming back to that point when my life breaks apart like a ship being dashed on the rocks during a storm...but when I do find myself here, I also find Bartimaeus again-urging me to raise my voice and cry to the son of David, to ask for and seek healing and sight....again, and again and again......