“Believing is Seeing”
When Bev and I lived in Ottawa, we used to take day trips downtown. We would go to see the sites, do a little shopping in the Byward Market, to do something a little different than our usual daily routine.
These trips were also my first real encounters with street people. People who had clearly spent the night on the street, probably right where they were sitting, or not very far away. You can’t help but wonder about what brought them to this point in their lives. But at the same time, you feel sorry for and a little frightened by them.
There’s one memory that sticks out in my mind from one of these trips. As I was walking along the street one morning, I saw a young man walk up to one of these street people with a muffin and a coffee. He sat down next to him and offered to him. It made me think about how I felt as I walked through the streets of downtown Ottawa. Why am I feeling afraid when I pass them by?
What I’ve learned since then, from talking with a retired policeman who walked the streets of downtown Halifax, is that living on the street is a strategic operation. If you want the prime corners where you’ll get the most money, you’ve got to get there early and before anyone else does.
And if you happen upon someone in one of these prime locations at peak hours, don’t stop and talk to them, or offer to take them somewhere to eat, because your presence there, or taking them away, will lose them money. If you are talking to them, people don’t drop money into the hat. And if they aren’t there, then they don’t make any money either.
Street people are simply trying to survive. As our cold Canadian winter approaches, this becomes more difficult each and every day.
How little this has changed since Jesus’ day.
This morning we read of Jesus walking through Jericho, a city about 25 miles from Jerusalem. On his way to the great city for the final time.
On his way through town, Jesus passes a man by the name of Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus is blind and sitting on the road side begging for money. Because he is blind, he not only cannot work, he also is an outcast. He is forced to beg for money just to survive.
Jesus is nearing the end of his earthly ministry, so when Bartimaeus hears word Jesus is nearby, Bartimaeus knows exactly who they are talking about. He has heard the stories of Jesus as people pass by in front of him. Jesus is well known, and so are his works and his teachings.
So he begins to call out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Over and over he calls out to Jesus. People in the crowd get disturbed by his actions and order him to keep quiet.
But he didn’t give up hope. He kept calling out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Calling Jesus the “son of David” would have caused some tension in the crowd. Which probably is indicated in the way many in the crowd responded to Bartimaeus. By calling Jesus the son of David, Bartimaeus is calling Jesus the Messiah. The Jews in the crowd know this very well. They are expecting the Messiah, the one who has come to save God’s chosen people. The one who was prophesied in the Old Testament.
How is it then they want to silence Bartimaeus? Don’t they know Jesus is the One? Don’t they realize who they are following down this dusty road? Haven’t they been listening to what he says or seeing what he has been doing?
Who is blind in this scene?
Bartimaeus is physically blind, his eyes don’t work properly. But what about all those who are walking this road behind Jesus. This great crowd that has gathered to hear him speak and to see him heal. What do they see?
They see a man. They call him a prophet or a teacher. They respect the words he says and appreciate the work he does. They see with a narrow vision. They are being a little nearsighted.
Bartimaeus sees Jesus wholly as the Messiah. He may be blind, but he can see better than anyone else on that road. He sees Jesus for who he is, the son of God, from the line of David, the promised one to bring God’s people together.
Jeremiah 31:7-9 tells us of God’s desire to bring His children back together, from the corners of the earth they will return to His care. “With weeping they shall come… I will lead them back” we read.
I wonder about how well our vision is? Does the church in the western world, our world, still see Jesus as the Messiah? We have had it pretty easy as a church for a very long time. The challenges we face are minor compared to many Christians in other places in the world.
Do you know there are still people being executed in our world today simply because they are Christian? When is the last time that happened in North America? Has it ever happened in North America?
We are still part of the dominant culture here. Sure, maybe we have less influence than we used to, but we still have significant power compared to our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
Our vision has become blurred through inappropriate care of our eyes. Our spiritual eyes. The eyes Bartimaeus used to see Jesus.
The eyes he saw with when Jesus called back to him, saying “Come to me.” Upon hearing those words of hope and love, he jumped up, threw his cloak aside, the cloak he used to collect the coins of passers-by, sending them scattering across the ground, and he made his way to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?”
“My teacher, let me see again.”
“Go; your faith has made you well.”
Such a simple exchange. Yet, an exchange which had a life changing impact for Bartimaeus.
Don’t we wish it was so easy. Don’t we wish we could simply run to Jesus and have him say “Your faith has made you well”?
Don’t we all wish we could be in Bartimaeus’ shoes?
How often do we find ourselves in the place of the crowd though? Following Jesus, yes, but what are our actions? Are we just watching like so many people in the crowd around Jesus that day? Simply comfortable knowing we are near him?
Let’s face it. That’s the easy way. Let’s just walk along quietly, oblivious to the world around us.
What happens when the the world cries out for help? Do we ignore it or try to make it be quiet, like the crowd? I think that’s how we usually react. It is the easy way.
But what would happen if, like Jesus, we stopped and listened to the cries? And when we heard them we responded saying, “Come to me”?
Look at what happened to Bartimaeus. He regained his sight. A miracle happened. He was made whole.
What is our blindness? What keep us from seeing Jesus Christ with a clear vision? The thing or things which keep us from being fully aware of Jesus Christ in our midst?
Bartimaeus, sitting on that roadside as Jesus passed by, had the best view of our Saviour.
Shouldn’t we then be praying to our Lord for the same vision as him?
We are all broken in some way. We are all in some way like the crowd, just happy to be following along quietly. Let us see Jesus in a new way. Let us come to him with our eyes wide open, our souls laid bare, and ask him to make us whole so we may see him more clearly in our lives.