Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost – October 28, 2012
In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Amen.
“I’m free. They check me every three months, but I’m free, I’m free. Thank God!” That’s the brief conversation I heard as I was leaving Stew Leonard’s Friday afternoon. It was the security guard speaking to a passing shopper he knew.
We can all probably guess what he was talking about—most likely some form of cancer. The woman to whom he was speaking and I were passersby—on the road, getting on with life, on a journey, going our respective ways.
My mind turned to the Gospel story we just heard. I could almost hear Bartimaeus exclaiming what that man had said at Stew’s, “I’m free, I’m free.” Like most people, Bartimaeus met Jesus on the road. Jesus and his disciples were part of a large crowd leaving Jericho that day. This was not at all unusual for them. The Gospels may differ on some things about Jesus, but they all concur that Jesus lived his adult life as a wandering homeless, jobless person. This was the rub for those who were waiting for a different kind of Messiah: they never expected God to show up as a single, unemployed, vagrant.
Jesus had no business cards. He had no home office or web site. If you wanted to meet Jesus, you had to meet him on the road—like blind Bartimaeus. Jesus was God in motion, constantly on the move, healing and teaching, finding food and shelter wherever it was offered. If you wanted to get to know him, to meet him, hear him, you had to do it on the road because he was a traveling man, often to places he was not invited.
The crowd that day was not happy about the intrusion caused by this blind beggar named Bartimaeus. They were anxious to get on their way and did not want to be delayed by his demands. When he began to shout they told him to shut up. But no dice. Bartimaeus had no sight but he had darn good vocal chords. He shouted even the louder, assured that Jesus would hear him: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Did you get that? What he said? The title, “Son of David” is a messianic name most likely not used until after crucifixion and the Resurrection. This blind man was acknowledging Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God—an affirmation in the Gospel not yet made by anyone but the disciple Peter and that in private, not in public. No surprise it got the attention of Jesus and then some.
Jesus met many people on the road and a lot of them asked for healing or had questions for him. This man was different. No bargaining for positions or power like James and John. No trick legalistic questions like he got from the Pharisees. No playing to the crowd like the Rich Young Man—who made sure they all knew that he had kept all the commandments. Bartimaeus wasn’t trying to impress anyone. He just wanted to be able to see…again.
The story of Bartimaeus is a story about the restoration of sight. How did he lose it—since we’re told he once could see? We don’t know. How long had he been afflicted with blindness? We don’t know. What did he most want to see? We don’t know.
We only know that he did everything in his power to get the attention of Jesus so that he could escape his own personal darkness, gain the light, and be free. And this is a story about us who probably want the same thing: to trade in whatever blindness each of us has, to trade it in on sight, so that we can see ourselves and our world as God sees us, to see Jesus clearly, without cloud or haze or dimness or tinted glasses.
For most of us, the restoration of sight in this story is a metaophor. Much of what “we see” or “don’t see” doesn’t involve our eyes. “Can you see where I’m coming from?” We ask. “I just don’t see it that way,” we answer. “Let’s see how things pan out,” we qualify. Much of what “we see” we don’t see with our eyes but in our head and our heart.
Marius von Senden wrote a book called Space and Sight which is about the first people in the world to undergo cataract surgery. They were all blind from birth and were interviewed after it was restored. One girl was amazed at something in photographs that her mother explained were “shadows,” one of the way the eye knows that things have shape.
Another was so stunned by the radiance of the world that she kept her eyes shut for two weeks. When she finally opened them she saw only a field of light against which everything seemed to be in motion. She could not distinguish objects, but gazed at everything around her, saying over and over again, “Oh, God! How beautiful!”
But not everything was so beautiful or wonderful for these patients. Unable to judge distance, they bruised their shins on pieces of furniture they perceived as patches of color. The world was much more complex than they thought. Some became very self-conscious of their appearance and refused to go out at all. Some became depressed. One teenage boy demanded to be taken back to the home for the blind where he had left his girlfriend behind. “I can’t deal with this,” he cried. “If things aren’t altered, I’ll tear my eyes out.”
Tear his eyes out? After being freed from a life in the dark and flung into the world of light and color, and depth, and space? “It was better before,” one person shouted. “It’s just too much.” But we were made to see. We were meant to see and the gem that this story of Bartimaeus holds for us is about the choice: to see or not to see.
So when we meet Jesus on the road—on our journey—what will we do? Sit quietly as he goes by? Just stay where we are? Hunker down in our familiar dark? Concern ourselves with only what is within our reach? Stick with what we know? Maybe, like Bartimaeus, we’ve been sitting on the roadside for a long time…waiting for something to happen, waiting for God to surprise us.
The problem here is that God is alive, in motion toward us, in movement beyond us. Jesus is a traveling man and is still leading us on a journey as a living, moving, savior, teacher, and friend. If we want to meet him, get to know him, we’ve got to move as well.
So listen to Bartimaeus this morning. Take your cue from him. Cry out, spring up, and ask for your heart’s desire. Abandon whatever it is that keeps you in the dark or too quiet or cautious or afraid just as he threw off his cloak. Take heart! Get up. He is calling you.
And when he answers and you see things in a new and different way, and your own way of looking at life isn’t so appealing anymore, perhaps, like Bartimaeus, you’ll try another way and, sight restored, be able to say with profound gratitude: “I’m free! I’m free! Thank God!