Back in the late 1700s a man named John Newton, a man committed to destroy the Christian faith and an alcoholic libertine, was by the grace of God, rescued, restored, healed, and given the sight to see what he was and what God wanted him to be. He wrote a hymn with words you will recognize:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
We could spend the rest of this day discussing the various types and forms of blindness along with answering the question “Who is really blind, and who really sees?”
From my perspective, the most debilitating form of blindness is that found in folks who think they see the truth when they really don’t. There’s no more pitiable form of blindness than one who thinks he or she has all of the right answers, who thinks he or she knows all that one needs to know about God, about Jesus Christ, about the Church, and about religion…but really doesn’t.
Moreover, these days there is a prevailing philosophy that claims there is no reality worth relying upon or acting upon, other than that which one perceives in one’s self; there is no truth one can rely upon other than that which one understands to be the truth in his or her own mind. This is the vision of the Imperial Self – an ego that self-defines reality, morality, truth, and the only things that really matter.
The stark reality of the Imperial Self is no more clearly revealed than when you encounter an alcoholic, a drug addict, or one who is mentally deranged. There is no arrogance, no self-centered defiance greater than that found in a raging alcoholic or drug addict. What you see in such a person is a soul raging in hell’s inferno.
To a lesser degree we all know, and personally know, what it means to have one-dimensional vision. By that I mean the sort of narrow way we see others. Perhaps we see only how their bodies look. Or maybe we judge them solely on the basis of their level of intelligence. Again, some judge and see others on the basis of their net worth, or their fame, or their acting talents, or their ability to entertain others. I have no doubt that we have, each one of us here, seen and judged others only with a one-dimensional basis vision.
As in so many other stories and parables that come to us in the Gospels, we need to see ourselves in the various characters. Today we need to see ourselves today in the character of Bartimaeus.
In the Gospel account (Mk 10:46-52) for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), we find Jesus at the threshold of Jerusalem. He was about to climb on a donkey and ride into Jerusalem, an event we celebrate every Palm Sunday. Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting begging along the way. We don’t know for how many years he as a beggar but evidently it was many because he was well known by the local citizens. He was regarded as a nobody, so much of a nobody that he wasn’t even called by his own name. He was known only as the son of a man by the name of Timaeus.
Bartimaeus had evidently heard about the miracle worker, Jesus of Nazareth, and here was Jesus entering into Jerusalem with the crowd shouting and singing hosannas, alleluias, and such. Amidst all of this din and commotion Bartimaeus shouts out to Jesus.
I want to draw four points regarding this Gospel account. The first and the most important point is that Bartimaeus knew he was blind. Do we? Do we know that we really don’t see reality as Jesus sees it, that we miss seeing the works and the hand of God in our lives, that we’re bedazzled and blinded by the glitz and glitter of this world, and that our souls are surrounded by a spiritual darkness, and that we often do not let the light of Christ illumine our way through that darkness? Do we realize we are blind when it comes to seeing ourselves as Jesus sees us?
The second observation I have is that those around Bartimaeus tried to hush him up and keep him from Jesus. It’s significant because that’s the situation in which we find ourselves today. There are a whole lot of voices and forces attempting to keep us from contacting and personally encountering Jesus Christ. If you don’t think so then you really are spiritually blind.
Bartimaeus took the courageous risk of going against the crowd. He didn’t let his hope be deterred by the local populace and the voices of those who tried to keep him down and in his place. Any faith response worthy of the name requires the same sort of risk. Bartimaeus is a true hero because he went against the crowd and in his darkness took the risk.
Thirdly, Jesus stopped everything to pay personal attention to him. St. Mark records this as the last miracle Jesus worked before entering into Jerusalem there to suffer and die. As He enters Jerusalem to suffer and die, Jesus brings His whole redemptive journey to a halt in order to respond to this blind man’s request – that’s how important he is to Jesus. I have no doubt whatsoever that you are just as important to Jesus as was Bartimaeus and that, if you call out to Jesus, He will drop everything to give you the same level of attention, love and compassionate care as He gave to Bartimaeus.
Finally I want to note that after Bartimaeus received his sight he followed in Jesus footsteps, which is a shorthand way of saying that Bartimaeus followed in the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus. He wanted to see and experience life as Jesus did.
What in the world do we see? What do we deliberately not see? What do we fail to see due to apathy, indifference, selfishness, pride and arrogance? Do we see the hurting, the hungry, the miserably poor, the outcast, and the little people? The media presents us with the glittering beautiful people, those at the pinnacle of political and corporate power, the superstars in the sports and entertainment industries. Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II invite us to see other people, not just ourselves but those around us. Do we see them and really look at them, or do we ignore them?
And what about the little people, the no-names hit by tragedy that never interest television and newspaper reporters? Christ leads us to pay attention to those who are marginalized, those whom this world holds in little regard, whom this world bids us overlook, whom this world condemns to be of little value. This blindness needs to be cured. More tragically, the world would have us not look at an ultrasound picture of a living, moving fetus. The world would have us rid ourselves of the dying. The world would capture our attention by images of the glamorous and the glittering, blinding us to the ones who are really hurting.
All of this leads us to the great question of the day. How does Christ see you? What is Christ’s vision for you? The answer is, of course, not simple. But what is at issue is the question of what it means to be a human person. And what it means to be a human person is the overriding question of our day.
Why can’t we see that?
Join with me now in asking our Father in heaven for vision:
Heavenly Father, help me to see myself as you see me;
Help me to see others and the world around me as Jesus, your Son, sees them.
Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us all, that we may see what you want us to see
And do what you want us to do.
You have filled your world with beauty;
Each and every one of us is precious in your sight.
Heal our blindness and bring us to walk in the Light of your Son.
For we ask you this through Christ, who is our Lord. Amen.