To See Again
May 9, 2021
God Restoring Our Vision
Sitting on the curb with calloused hands, weather-worn feet, and a dejected spirit that’s tired of pleading for money and begging for food is a blind man. He has been sitting in this spot as a default, for he is afraid that there will not be other safe places for him to exist. All he possesses is a coat and the clothes he is wearing. He doesn’t need it to warm his body because of the blistering heat of Jericho. Instead the coat laid over his legs is there to collect change. To us he is a famous blind person that we know only by his father’s name: it is Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus). I am sure you, like me, are not surprised by this scene from Mark’s Gospel. We expect blind beggars to be sitting in a place of dependence. This condition does not take a way from the fact that he wanted to see again…
If we are to understand the scene of Bartimaeus we need to be escorted into the back-story that Mark, the evangelist writing this Gospel, wants us to see. There are two scenes that come before Bartimaeus’ plot. The first is the story often referred to as the “Rich Young Ruler.” A person who says that he has kept all of the laws of Moses since he was a boy, asks Jesus for the one thing he needs, the one thing that he can’t buy. He comes to Jesus and “falls on his knees…[asking]…what must I do to inherit eternal life” (10:17). Jesus explains that he must give his many possessions to poor, and Mark gives us picture of his emotions: “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mark 10:22). This man couldn’t see, and did not want to see.
The second scene is of two of Jesus’ faithful disciples, James and John, as they ask Jesus, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask” (10:35). Now this is quite a request. It reminds me of kids saying to their parents, “I am going to tell you something really bad, but I don’t want you to be mad at me.” Jesus courteously responds, “What do you want me to do for you?” And essentially they ask for political positions in his kingdom, like asking to be to be Secretary of State and Vice President. Jesus painfully describes the weight of their question, alluding to the fact that they are missing the point of Jesus’ ministry. These men did not yet see…
Then Mark brings us a picture of someone who is completely opposite of the rich man and the self-aggrandized James and John. He presents for us a poor blind beggar, a person who is mocked by crowds. Do you remember or have you ever seen someone picked on by crowd?
I am a faithful Chicago Bears fan. One year while my parents were living in St. Louis they got tickets for us to go the Rams-Bears game. We all put on our Bears outfits and went to the game, only to discover that our tickets were at the very top of the dome. Coming in late [after the holiness meeting], there we were walking up the isle, in a sea of blue and gold, and seemingly everyone was commenting or yelling at us about what they presumed to be our stupidity. I felt like all of St. Louis was against me. It didn’t help that we walked in late because we went to church and by the time we arrived the Bears were loosing by a wide margin. This embarrassment all happened to Bartimaeus because of his disability. He’s already been thrown down to the curb, he’s already been denied access to society, he’s already caught in a position he can’t control— because he no longer had his sight. You can imagine why he wanted to see.
The world itself is also suffering from a kind of blindness. Are we aware of the dysfunction of our world where people are living in hunger and the resources to help them are held in our hands, and yet people die from preventable causes? William Booth when asked “what is the problem with the East side of London?” and he quickly said “The West Side of London.” There is a relational problem that blinds our world.
We know that many people are searching for something that only Jesus can provide, seeking self-satisfaction through work, friendships, media, cell phones and we might be able to sense that our world is still shouting like Bartimaeus, “I want to see again.” There was a time when our world could see, it had direction…at creation, but sin perverted that vision and purpose. That is why our world is longing for something else, it is looking to see again.
We in The Salvation Army might say, “Well, that isn’t us. We ‘do justice.’ Or, I took a workshop at Youth Councils, or my corps took a mission trip.”Others might respond, “We have case workers who handle these things at our Corps.” Certainly in The Salvation Army we have a polished image of helping our blind world, but what about you? Work is done, people are served, funds are raised, and we are doing the most good, but have we personally been involved in helping a blind world?
I am afraid that too many Salvationist are not in the “fight.” For Officers we go a-wall when we simply see the Corps as the place we work. And Soldiers go a-wall when they see the Corps as simply a church. They pull into the Corps on Sundays and maybe for music practice and see it as their church of choice. Participating in the Corps in this fashion takes just about as much faithfulness as watching a favorite television show every week. These are marks of a blind fighting force within The Salvation Army.
As an Army there is no doubting the vision we had at the beginning of our movement. We had a picture of where we were going-We were going to bring the world to Jesus, or rather we should be saying “We are going to bring Jesus to the world.” This vision can too easily be lost, and we can find not only the world blind, but we find the Army blind as well.
In Bartimaeus we see a persistent person who is not willing to be satisfied with his place in life. He could have very easily said, “I’ll keep this nice spot in the curb, I’ll keep my coat, I’ll keep my spare change, and I’ll be satisfied with what I have.” No he is not satisfied. In his blindness he persisted, in his blindness he cried out for Jesus, in his blindness he had hope, in his persecution he cried out. He was not willing to become a victim of his situation. Why? To reclaim, he persists to reclaim his vision.
It is interesting to note not just the fact that he cried out but what Bartimaeus said. When Jesus comes by and he becomes aware of the event, he immediately shouts, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” (10:47). There is only one other time that Jesus is called the Messiah and that is when Peter makes his confession (Mark 8). But even Peter doesn’t go this far, to say “son of David.” This is a clear messianic title. Both the gospels of Matthew and Luke make extended points at the beginning of the accounts to list Jesus’ genealogical connections to David. Though Mark does not go into the same detail, we get a consistent theology (or a high Christological formula) of who Jesus is. Many scholars believe that this is a climactic point in Mark’s gospel, and the reason for that is its placement directly before the beginning the Passion (Jesus’ triumphal entry happens in the next chapter, AKA Palm Sunday).
Jesus hearing this persistence halts his steps and says “Call him” (10:49). I love the way that Bartimaeus responds to Jesus, as he throws his coat down. We read that, “he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus” (10:50). Notice that Jesus did not need to come to him, but instead he comes to Jesus. Listen to what Jesus says to him, “What do you want me to do for you” (10:51)? Where have we heard this before? This is the exact question that Jesus asks James and John (10:36), but they responded in a selfish way.
Bartimaeus says, “rabbi, I want to see again.” Because it says ‘again,’ it indicates that he knows what he is missing. I can almost hear him crying as he says these powerful words which expose his soul: “I want to see again.” Jesus heals Bartimaeus. I think there is something powerful in these last few words that follow. Jesus heals him, “and [he] followed Jesus along the road” (10:52). A literal translation is he “followed Jesus on the way.” “The way” is the earliest description of the people latter known as Christians—they were first called followers of the way. In Bartimaeus we see a prototype disciple, who hears Jesus call, responds, has faith, and follows Jesus.
We might be challenged to be the same kind of disciple. Just as Bartimaeus could have been happy to hang on to his coat, hang on to his change, and hang on to what he knew. He decides to seek something better. Do we as a Salvation Army look at our coat, and our pocket change, all that we know, and stay on the side of the road? Are we satisfied with where we are today, satisfied to simply be a charity, satisfied to have a shelter? We could look at what we have, and not risk public scrutiny of calling out to Jesus. This non-confrontational position will cause us to lock our doors and avoid what God is doing in the world.
If we play the safe card holding onto our coat, we will be more likely to play the roll of the victim. We could easily whine about how we aren’t like the local mega churches, whine about the undesirable people we serve, whine about our Corps not being cool enough to have Starbucks in the fellowship hall. What counts is how we respond to Jesus’ call, like Bartimaeus, and then we see who we can be as a movement in light of his calling us.
The missional question then is not “What would Jesus do?” Rather the better question is “What is Jesus Doing?” I believe that Scripture and tradition show him being with the Bartimaeuses of this world. God is at work in the world and we have the privilege to join him.
Of any quality that Bartimaeus demonstrated it was that he was persistent. Recently in my Territory there was a great new missional conference called “Reclaim.” The work of reclaiming is not at all easy. Do you love the Army’s mission of enough to be persistent? Do you believe that God wants to use the Army, and he wants us to become better? I hope you answered yes, but the harder question is this, are you willing to persist to reclaim?
I believe that Jesus is looking at our world and our Army today asking the question that he asked twice in the passage: “What do you want me to do for you?” Will we be like the (1.) self satisfied rich man, (2.) the power seeking James and John or will we say with (3.) Bartimaeus “Master, I want to see again.”Do you want to see again? This implies that at one time we saw what God wanted for our world and for our movement. Do you remember ever having excitement about the Army’s mission, something that led you to serve in this way? If so, say with Bartimaeus, “I want to see again,” in order to See the potential of the Army, see the unending channels of service, see a movement that is inspired to walk with Jesus, and see what the Holy Spirit wants to do with his Army. This might mean that you are serving meals regularly in your Corps’ Soup Kitchen or Shelter. It might mean that we try something novel and learn the names of the people staying in your Corps’ shelter.
I have committed the next 38 years of my life to serve as an officer and my entire life to be used within the Army, I wouldn’t an officer if I didn’t believe that God wanted to restore our vision, but we surely can not do it by ourselves. We don’t restore or reclaim our vision; instead this is a gift of God, and it is grace. The opportunity to reclaim our vision was initiated by God in Jesus’ incarnation, his life, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension. Meanwhile we faithfully wait for his return. Do you want to see? Then let God reclaim your vision.
Silently now I wait for thee
Ready my God they will to see
Open my eyes illumine me
Spirit divine. (SASB, 308)
Interestingly we are group that wouldn’t be here today if William Booth had not have come upon an Open Air meeting in front of a bar called the Blind Beggar.
 This title itself is not used anywhere else in the synoptic gospels, and the only other place is in John 20 when Mary Magdalene discovers Jesus in the garden
 Aorist subjunctive word avnable,yw