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
There is a very special thing which all teachers know about. It is looking out into the classroom and seeing one student “get it.” Their faces show a sudden openness and surprise; and they almost always smile, as if they are amused that they didn’t understand it before. It’s as if the teacher and the student are suddenly both in on the joke, they both understand. Of course, there has to be some level of involvement before the moment of discovery. Good teachers know how to set it up so that those moments happen for most students, at most of the right times. But, there are the other students. The other students may want to learn, but they are too proud, too rich, too young to be engaged. They probably wish that they could be in on the joke too, but they are not willing to toss off their imagined mantles of coolness. Well, as they say, “You can take a horse to water, but you can’t always make him drink.”This pretty well encapsulates Jesus’s encounters with the rich young ruler, whom we met several weeks ago, and blind Bartimaeus , whom we meet today.The rich young ruler was a smart guy. If you’ll remember, he was really our kind of fellow. But he turned down the teacher’s invitation to life. In a rather stunning display of raw, bare honestly he told Jesus that the price of engagement was just too high, and he walked away. There is more integrity in his act of walking away than in staying around and pretending. We can admire the rich, young, unnamed, ruler for his honesty, but he will never be in on the joke because the price of engagement was just too high for him.
Bartimaeus, on the other hand, also sought out Jesus. He must have been sort of pesky about it too because the people who were in the crowd with Jesus ordered him to shush up. They didn’t do that with the rich guy, remember. Crowds are sometimes like that, though. They pick who can speak and who can’t based on how they look, or how much money, or honor they have. It’s no different in 21st century churches, clubs, and even faculty meetings than it was then.
Jesus is not like us, though. Jesus is a good teacher and so he recognized the teachable moment when it arose. “Come over here,” he said… and as Bartimaeus — blind Bartimaeus — somehow made his way to Jesus, the whole class looked on to see what would happen next. That’s a little teacher trick, in case you didn’t recognize it. Teachers build suspense and let it hang in the air for a few minutes. Students will learn the thing that comes immediately after the suspense dissolves. Watch for that in the gospel stories. Jesus does it a lot.
Unlike the rich young ruler, who wouldn’t give away all he had, Bartimaeus threw off the only thing he owned and went towards Jesus. Batimaeus was not rich, and probably not young. The only kingdom he may have ruled over was the one he created each day with his cloak as he spread it out and used it as a begging station. The cloak would have been his means of support and maybe the only set of clothes he had. That’s right, Bartimaeus might have been poor, old, and naked when he approached Jesus.
It might seem obvious that a blind man would ask for his sight, but when Bartimaeus asked Jesus to let him see he added a word: Again. He said. “My Teacher, let me see again.” This tells us that Bartimaeus had seen before. He had not been blind from birth. Medical science has shown that people who have been blind from birth can sometimes have their sight restored even into adulthood. The brain is hardwired to see some things. More things can be brought into focus by doctors working with the patient. There are some things, though, which the patient will never see unless they have seen them before.
Bartimaeus had seen before. He remembered what it was like to walk through the world with the confidence of the sighted. Maybe he had a trade, some skill to which he could return and earn a living for himself. Maybe he just remembered the dignity of being a part of the ebb and flow of the community instead of a poor beggar on the sidelines. Whatever motivated Bartimaeus was so compelling that he left everything that he had — throwing it off — to follow Jesus.
Some people have said that this is a story about Bartimaeus’s calling. I think it’s a story about his renewal. Let’s take it out of the literal history which we so love, and out of our metaphorical classroom too; let’s put this story in a purely spiritual context. Bartimaeus had been on the path, he’d seen the light. Something happened, though, which knocked him off the path. Or, more probably, things just went dim for him in the normal course of his spiritual life. We don’t know what happened to him any more than we can know what goes on with anyone, but something happened to take away his vision, the light on his path went out. The good news is that he didn’t give up. He wanted to see again!
If we are honest, following Jesus really should come with a warning label. It is not a bed of roses, and sometimes we do feel like giving up. There is often more dark than light. There are the prayers which are forced, or which seem to go nowhere. We set our minds on Christ, but they are quickly lost in grocery lists and what-if scenarios. It’s hard. We are blind. Sometimes all you can do is sit down and wait for the teacher.
Here’s the thing, though, and this is the hope: If you are following Jesus, even if the path is dark, you should be able to remember a time when you did see, and that memory is the thing that may enable you to see again.
If you are feeling spiritually sidelined, if the path is dark, you can have hope in the knowledge that you are not alone. We continually cry out, with Bartimaeus, and with one another, “Teacher, my teacher…”
Sight was returned to Bartimaeus. The rest of us live in hope. The story of Bartimaeus makes it a reasonable hope, so don’t despair. Just wait, and remember what the light was like until it returns.
Linda “Lindy” McMillan lives in Shanghai, China where the path is often dark, but we live in hope!
Image: Christ Giving Sight to Bartimaeus, William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons