Another amazing Jesus story! A blind man, forced to beg because of his disability, hears Jesus is in town. He knows he’ll pass by his spot, so he starts shouting: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus hears him, calls him, heals him “Immediately, the man regains his sight and follows Jesus.” Another amazing healing story of Jesus. Despite all the naysayers in the community, the man advocates for himself, “let me see again!” and he does.
So here’s my question: Is seeing all it’s cracked up to be? I ask because of what’s been happening with Jesus’ disciples to this point. After half-healing another blind man a few chapters back – it takes two attempts to restore that fellow’s sight—Jesus works just as hard to open the eyes of the disciples.
In Caesarea Philippi, he tells them that “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the religious authorities, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Upon hearing this, Peter rebukes Jesus. He cannot see.
Then, passing through Galilee, Jesus tells the disciples again that the Son of Man will be betrayed, killed, and will rise from the dead. “But,” Mark tells us, “they did not understand and were afraid to ask him.” They cannot not see.
Yet again, as they are going up to Jerusalem—where he will be betrayed and killed—Jesus tries one last time to show the disciples what it about to happen: The Son of Man will be handed over. He’ll be killed. He’ll rise from the dead.
So in an off the wall response to his words, James and John ask for the right hand seats when Jesus comes into his glory. Talk about your lack of pastoral sensitivity! You can almost hear Jesus’ sigh. James and John cannot still cannot see.
It’s easy to criticize the disciples for their inability to see the things Jesus is showing them. But the things he’s showing them are not easy. Suffering? Betrayal? Death? What would any of us do if our beloved teacher told us these things? Some things are just too hard to grasp; some things are better left alone; sometimes seeing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
That’s especially true in the life of faith. It’s much easier to focus only on the happy parts of faith—God’s love for everyone, God’s desire for our well-being, the hope we find in God. But faith is not only about the happy parts. A mature faith also engages the hard things…things like suffering, betrayal, death, and poverty, and human trafficking and corporate corruption, and climate change, and hunger, and domestic violence. All faith looks on the happy parts of life. Mature faith dares to look at the hard parts, too.
But really seeing the hard parts of life exacts a price, doesn’t it? When we see the world’s brokenness, we lose some of our innocence. When we see the world’s brokenness, we feel compelled to change our lives.
Author Nora Gallagher puts it this way: “I remember thinking as I worked in the soup kitchen that I didn’t want to know what I was learning. Because then my life couldn’t go on in the same way as it had before: driving around in my nice red Volvo, thinking about what new linens to buy. What we learn we cannot unlearn,” she says. “What we see, we cannot unsee.”
So yes, it is easy to criticize the disciples for not seeing the truth Jesus was showing them…but maybe not seeing was protective, a defense. Maybe deep down they knew that once they really saw what Jesus was showing them, they wouldn’t be able to unsee it again. Once they got what he was saying about the reality of the world, their lives were going to have to change. Once they got that following Jesus would lead them to suffering, betrayal, and death, their rose-colored glasses faith would no longer sustain them. Maybe the disciples avoided seeing what Jesus was showing them because deep down they knew—
Seeing can be dangerous!
This puts me in mind of the story of photojournalist Kevin Carter. In 1993, while covering the famine in the Sudan, Carter took a picture of a small girl who had collapsed while walking to a food station. Just a few feet behind the starving girl, a vulture stalked her.
In May 1994, Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for the photograph. Two months later, he committed suicide. A close friend said that after shooting the photo of the starving girl, Kevin “sat under a tree and cried and chain-smoked” and could not distance himself from the horror of what he saw. He could nt unsee what he had seen.
Seeing can be dangerous. It can call into question everything we’ve ever believed in. It can dismantle our faith, our theology, our worldview, our certainty. Seeing can distress us and devastate us.
And yet, and yet, a big part of following Jesus is seeing things as they really are. Why else would he try to show his disciples not once, not twice, but three times what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem? Seeing must be important to the life of faith.
But…if seeing is important to the life of faith and also has potential to distress and devastate us what are we to do? Do we keep our hearts open but our eyes closed? Do we keep our eyes open but our hearts closed? Is there some way as a person of faith to keep both our eyes and our hearts open? What I’m asking is this, “How do we survive sight’s distress?”
Here’s how Bartimaeus survived it: He started with Jesus. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” First, Bartimaeus acknowledges Jesus, then he is healed. First Bartimaeus trusts in Jesus; then he sees. Before Nartimaeus looks at anything, Jesus becomes the context for everything he will see. After his healing, Bartimaeus won’t see anything without thinking of the one who healed him: Jesus. Before the first ray of light hits the first molecule of either retina, Jesus becomes the lens through which Bartimaeus will see everything.
What does it mean to see everything through the lens of Jesus? When we look at the world through the lens of Jesus, its’ true, -- we will see suffering. We’ll see betrayal. We’ll see death. It’s unavoidable. The world is broken in many places. A mature faith looks at those places. And sees them!
But, as Jesus tried to show his disciples time and again, when you look at the world—even at its ugliest, hardest, and most fragile—when you see the world in through the lens of Jesus, you also see resurrection. Now, you might have to look at the ugly, hard, fragile things a long time before it happens, but eventually, always through the lens of Jesus, you will see resurrection.
How do people of faith survive sight’s distress? We follow the example of Bartimaeus: We begin with Jesus.