October 28, 2018, I Remember the Blue – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
To listen to this sermon, click here: Z0000105
There are at least four different accounts in the gospels of Jesus healing the blind. It’s a little hard to be sure exactly how many, because the different gospels tell the same stories in slightly different ways. And certainly there were many more blind people whose stories never got written down. But among all those stories, the story of Bartimaeus is unique. First of all, Mark tells us his name. Bartimaeus is pretty much the only person in all the gospels who was healed by Jesus, who is given a name. The only other one is Malchus, the soldier whose ear Peter cut off when he came to arrest Jesus in the garden. In every other healing the person is referred to as “the Centurion’s servant” or “the woman with an issue of blood” or “the man with the withered hand”. But here, even though he was “just” a poor beggar who happened to be sitting along the roadside as Jesus passed by with a huge crowd, Mark gives us his name. Bartimaeus wasn’t just an example or a statistic; he was a human being. Bartimaeus was a man who hadn’t always been a beggar. He was a man who had a story like you and me, who was once a child, who was named after his father – because Bartimaeus means “son of Timaeus”.
And we know something else about Bartimaeus. We know that he hadn’t always been blind. When the people brought him over to Jesus, and Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus answered him, “Teacher, I want to see again.” There was another time when Jesus healed a man who had been born blind, but Bartimaeus had once been able to see. He remembered light. He remembered the blue of the sky and the green of the grass and the gold of the ripening grain in the fields. He remembered the way the stars looked, strewn across the night sky like a million jewels. He remembered how the lamplight shone in the windows of each house in the village every evening. He remembered the face of his father, Timaeus. And so he begged Jesus, “Teacher, please, let me see again.” “Go, your faith has made you well,” Jesus said, and that very moment he could see again. Just like that, just like turning the lights on in a room that had been dark for a long, long time.
There are so many amazing stories of healing in the gospels, like this story of Bartimaeus, and I always feel like they need to be read with caution. If we believe the Bible, as we do, the story of Bartimaeus teaches us that Jesus has the power to do things like that – he is able to restore the sight of a blind man. No matter what disease or accident had robbed Bartimaeus of his sight, Jesus was able in one instant to undo what had been done to him. One moment he was in the dark and the next his world was full of light and color again. Jesus can do that. He could do it along the roadside just outside of Jericho. And he can do it today.
But he doesn’t always heal. We have all known times when we and people we love have prayed for healing – healing of all kinds, healing of blindness, of cancer, of injuries – and the healing doesn’t happen. Not in an instant; not after a long, long while and much prayer. In fact, the apostle Paul himself prayed earnestly that God would heal him – probably of some affliction of his eyes – and God’s answer was, “No. My grace is all you need. In fact, I can work through you most powerfully when you are weak.” We know that when we pray God always hears us. We know that he always cares about us and wants what is best for us. And we know that he always answers us. But physical healing is not always his answer. To read the story of Bartimaeus with real understanding we have to remember all that.
But unlike physical blindness, I believe there are kinds of blindness that Jesus will always heal if we ask him. Just like Bartimaeus, we can all look back on times when we saw more light and less shadow. We can all remember a time when things looked clearer than they do now. I’m not talking about our physical eyes, astigmatisms and cataracts and glaucoma, things like that; I’m talking about the way we see with the eyes of our minds and hearts, and how that changes as we grow older in this world, for so many reasons.
For example – a couple of months ago, Carroll and I had the great privilege of attending the wedding of Romi’s eldest daughter Liza. We got to stay in a hotel overnight, which is pretty rare for us, and we had the unusual experience of watching TV with commercials. I am fairly sure there were more ads than there was show. The world is very good, and very persistent, at telling us how much we need. TV ads, magazine ads, billboards along the roadside, the world wants us to know that whatever we have, it’s not nearly enough. That’s one kind of blindness that has reached epidemic proportions. We might call it discontent, or maybe ingratitude.
Maybe we can almost remember what it was like when life was absolutely full of delights: sunshine and rain, the smell of supper cooking when we got home from school, getting to pat a puppy, finding a penny on the sidewalk. Or when we were a little older, maybe, we remember the joy of saving for months to buy a rug for our apartment, and rejoicing at how beautiful it looked, even though there wasn’t much else there. Sometimes we think the world has gotten darker, and there is certainly a lot of darkness in the world, but that’s not our problem. Our problem is that our lives get so overshadowed by the things we don’t have and think we need that we become blind to the real good we already have.
But sometimes it’s not so much the past or present that worries us, as the future. It seems like the older we get, the scarier the future is. Some of us make a whole career out of worrying. We worry that we are not doing enough. Or we worry that we aren’t good enough at doing what needs to be done. We worry about all the things that might happen to the people we love. We worry about being failures. We worry about being alone. We worry about all the very real things that happen to people – sickness and old age, failed marriages and broken friendships, poverty and homelessness. The evil that might be casts a shadow over everything that is and darkens it.
Fear, I think, is the world’s most effective tool in robbing us of our sight. Over the past week two men have been arrested for crimes against people they didn’t even know because they were so full of fear. Cesar Sayoc made pipe bombs and mailed them to people he thought of as “liberal” because in the darkness of his mind he believed the whispers all around that “those” people were going to destroy everything we hold dear. And Robert Bowers brought deadly weapons into a house of worship and killed 11 people because he believed that Jews were evil people, that they were out to kill “his people”.
And it’s not just crazy people. The fear is out there, everywhere. Fear the “other”, whoever that other might be. Fear those migrants, even if they are tiny children; fear liberals, or fear conservatives; fear Muslims, or black people, or gay people, or transgender people. Fear blinds us to the humanity of our fellow human beings, and when we live in the dark we do anything we can to defend ourselves, even if it means hurting or destroying someone who is just as much a child of God as we are.
And then inside, within our own hearts and minds, we become blind when we hold onto hurts and betrayals and injustices, when we are unable or unwilling to offer forgiveness and instead let roots of bitterness spread deeper and deeper. I feel like I harp on forgiveness an awful lot, but I have reasons. First of all, Jesus harped on forgiveness, too. When he taught his disciples his prayer, what we call the Lord’s Prayer, he hammered home the part about forgiveness. “If you don’t forgive your brother or sister when they sin against you, neither will your Father forgive you your sins,” he told them. I don’t make these things up. Unforgiveness is a killer. It poisons our thoughts, it makes us unable to receive forgiveness, it blinds us to the light by filling us with the darkness of our pain and resentment.
That’s not to say that healing might not take some time, especially when our blindness comes from old hurts or deeply-engrained prejudices. I had a relapse only a couple of days ago of an old, old wound. I was reading one of those psalms where the psalmist is calling out for God to smite the enemy who betrayed him. And I could feel the old darkness creeping in. “They pay me back evil for good,” the psalmist writes, “when they were sick, I dressed in mourning, but when I was in trouble they all gathered around and made fun of me.” I read those words, and I could just feel the old hurt and resentment acting up all over again like an old football injury. But when I hand that over to God – even for the fiftieth time – he is always gracious to heal. He is always willing to take that kind of burden from us. He is always there to heal the blindness of our hearts and minds, and to let us see again, with the light of his love and grace. Always.
I am always ready to pray for healing, for anybody, for any need. But I would never guarantee that God will heal any physical ailment in any particular way. My own understanding is too limited. But I am willing say that I can guarantee 100%, 1000%, that if you really ask God to heal you of the blindness of discontent, or the blindness of fear, or the blindness of unforgiveness, or the blindness of worry – I guarantee that he will absolutely answer that prayer and he will heal you. I can say that without hesitation because I know that those are not God’s will for you. I know they are not his way.
John wrote: “God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.” And he also wrote: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” “Don’t be anxious about anything,” Paul wrote, “but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, tell God what you need. And the peace of God, which is greater than anyone can comprehend, will guard your heart and your minds in Christ Jesus.” And to Timothy, Paul wrote: “God didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
A couple of weeks ago, Noah was here with us, and I still feel like smiling every time I think about his sweet face and incredible smile, so full of light. Jesus said more than once that we must become like little children if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven. And he wasn’t saying that we’d better try to make ourselves childlike or we won’t get to go to heaven when we die. He was saying that he wants us to be childlike now, so we can see that he is bringing us into the kingdom of heaven now.
Our problem is that most of us have given up hoping that we could ever be like Noah again. Most of us don’t really believe that we ever will be able to see again the way we could see when we were young. We have made our peace with our blindness; we have become more or less comfortable with living within the four walls of our dark little lives. We have gotten so used to feeling afraid, and anxious, and discontented, and hurt, along with a heavy dose of guilt, that we have convinced ourselves that’s what being grown up is supposed to feel like. And so, we never think of praying that God would heal us. We never think of begging him, “Teacher, please let me see again.”
But when you do, I guarantee it, he will heal you.