They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher,* let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. — Mark 10:46-52
What is it like to be blind? I think about times when I’ve been in the dark and I realize that after a few minutes my eyes seek out a tiny glow somewhere, anywhere, that will give me some idea of where I am in relation to things like furniture, trees or people. But what if I didn’t have that glow? What if there was never any light anywhere?
It’s hard to imagine a totally dark world because it seems that no matter where I am, there’s always a light source somewhere to give me some illumination, even if only a pinpoint. The hallway to my house is dark when I turn off the light but the light in my neighbor’s front yard peeps through the slats of the bedroom blinds creating enough light that I can walk with some confidence of not running into the bookcase or the bed. But what would it be like if even in broad daylight my whole world was totally dark?
I think of the world of Bartimaeus, the blind man from Jericho. Even with the hot bright sun, his world was dark. His only occupation was that of a beggar and perhaps a friend to sit and talk to pass the hours. I wonder what he thought when he first heard the oncoming crowd speak about Jesus. Had he heard of him before? Did he ask his friend or perhaps a passerby who was coming that caused such a stir? However he came to know it, he wasn’t shy about calling out of his darkness, asking for Jesus’ help. Some in the crowd tried to shut him up, probably considering that he had was paying for his sins by his blindness but he wouldn’t be quiet and Jesus heard his cries for help.
I always wonder what silence is like. Even in the quietest of places I have a ringing in my ears that won’t go away. I wonder, if I were deaf would I still have that ringing? If I had been born deaf, would I have any concept of what sound was? At least in my mind I can “hear” symphonies and hymns and the like despite the ringing, but what if I had never heard the music in the first place? Would it just be — nothingness?
I think of blindness as a kind of silence of the eyes; there are no visual cues to distract and the mind creates its own world based on the remaining senses. Often when one sense is damaged, missing or even voluntarily put aside for a time, the others become more acute, but probably no one would miss the opportunity to have that missing or damaged sense restored and a voluntary absence can always be recanted.
Everyone has a blindness of some sort even if it does not extend to seeing nothing but blackness or even indistinct shades of gray in front of their eyes. There’s a physical blindness where the eyes do not function but there is another kind where something can be right in front of a person with totally normal vision and they simply do not see it. Remember the last time the car keys got mislaid? Chances are they were somewhere that had already been searched and were just overlooked. What about the guy at the bottom of the freeway off ramp near the stoplight holding a sign asking for help? Easy to overlook, wasn’t he? How about the kid with who had been bullied whose eyes are dull and lifeless? Or the woman with the really heavy layer of makeup who may be trying to cover bruises she doesn’t want to have to explain? Were they invisible, cloaked in darkness or just overlooked because of the silence of the eyes made them so?
We often go through life at least partially blind. We are concerned with our own lives and problems and don’t always recognize anyone else’s. In our culture of noise and distractions, we’ve learned to selectively tune out things we don’t want to hear but we’re totally uncomfortable with silence. Same with our vision; We see what we need to and can selectively ignore those things we don’t feel are necessary or attractive but take away our sight entirely and we’re as rudderless as a leaf in a whirlpool. We shield ourselves from things that disturb us and thus set up a third kind of blindness – the silence of the heart.
I wonder, who really was blind in Bartimaeus’s story, Bartimaeus himself of those who couldn’t see what Jesus was and was offering to them much less their duty and service to those around them. I have to consider what I’m not seeing and where I’m tossing a coin in a begging bowl when what I needed to do was reach out a hand to help. When was I deaf or blind or heartless to the needs of others around me?
Jesus passes by us many times a day and we don’t see or hear him. When will we wake up, open our ears and eyes and realize that? A bigger question is what difference will it make to and in us if we do notice? I wonder, what would it mean if Jesus were present in the Bartimaeuses of our modern life, not necessarily begging for help but offering us the opportunity to do some kingdom work right here and now?
I think I’ll have to open my eyes a bit wider and practice seeing a bit more clearly. There is a time for the silence of the eyes and ears, but only for short periods. The world has too many needs for us to linger long silence.