Seeing Clearly Don Childers

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                                        “Seeing Clearly”
                                          Don Childers
                                  United Church of Los Alamos
                                         Mark 10: 46-52
                                       October 29, 2006

Three blind mice,
See how they run!
They all ran after the farmer’s wife
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life,
As three blind mice!

          This little nursery rhyme that we often share with children is really not

something for children to hear. Originally this rhyme was social commentary on

Queen Mary I of England who lived centuries ago. The “farmer’s wife” refers to

the daughter of King Henry VIII, Queen Mary I. Mary, a staunch Catholic,

violently persecuted Protestants. The “three blind mice” refers to the massive

estates that she and her husband King Philip of Spain possessed. The “three

blind mice” were three noblemen who were Protestants and who were convicted

of plotting against the Queen. The Queen did not chop them up but she did burn

them at the stake.1 SOMETIMES THINGS ARE NOT AS THEY SEEM.

                                                 -1-

          With that let us turn to the gospel of Mark. The story appears to be the

story about the healing of a blind person named Bartimaeus. Yet, this story is

really a religious commentary on the church of Mark’s time and dare we say—our

time?




1
    “Three Blind Mice Rhyme, Nursery Rhyme and History”, www.rhymes.org.uk/three_blind_mice.htm.
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       Our first clue comes from the location of the story in the gospel. The story

appears in what we refer to as chapter ten. There is a similar story in chapter

eight. These two healing stories serve as bookends enclosing other stories.

       The implication of the other stories, taking into account the two bookend

stories of the healing of blind persons, is that everyone around Jesus, including

us, are the truly blind people who are in need of sight. These two healings

bracket stories of religious blindness of the leaders of the time and even of the

disciples of Jesus.

                                         -2-

       Have you ever poured out your heart to someone and then the person

looks at you and says, “What’s for dinner?” Have you ever sat down with

children and told them about something only to discover they did not hear a word

you said? How do we feel when this happens?

       Jesus told the disciples THREE TIMES that he was going to Jerusalem

and that he would die in Jerusalem and that God would raise him back to life.

Each time the disciples not only do not understand but demonstrate that they are

BLIND to what it means to follow Jesus.

       In the stories bracketed by the healing stories the real blind people are

people like you and I. It is we who fail to SEE God, fail to UNDERSTAND what

God is calling for, and fail to FOLLOW God.

       It is no coincidence that Jesus will say to the disciples a few verses earlier

exactly what he says to the blind person named Bartimaeus. Two disciples,

James and John, come to see Jesus. Jesus asks them “What do you want me
                                          3


to do for you?” This is just after Jesus has told the disciples about the cost of

faith in that he was going to die. Yet, James and John, seeing an opportunity

when Jesus offers to do something for them, ask Jesus to make them his number

one and two persons in the coming kingdom. They totally miss what Jesus has

said and instead are worried about their status and position in the world.

       Now here in our text Jesus asks the blind man the same question that he

earlier asked James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?”

Bartimaeus requests that Jesus enable him to see.

                                         -3-

       On the surface this might seem like a self-centered request not unlike the

request for power and honor made by James and John. Think about the request

for a moment.

       People with disabilities in the time of Jesus did not fair very well. Many

people in that time believed that a disability was the direct result of your personal

sin or the sins of your parents. Disease and disability was punishment for

wrongdoing.

       So when you became disabled or were disabled from birth you were often

cast out of the synagogue---kicked out of church. You were forced to make your

living begging for alms. In some cases you were forced to live outside the city

walls. You were scorned, ridiculed, and pitied by people.

       After Bartimaeus was healed what do you think happened to him? He

became just like everyone else. He would be expected to get a job and pay his

own way. Yet, in his case there would be no work training programs. All his life
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he had begged---what could he do? Regaining his sight only meant that

Bartimaeus would lose his main source of income and would find himself a

healthy---poor person.

           Mark is contrasting the request of James and John and the request of

Bartimaeus. When given the opportunity in that Jesus asked them what he could

do for them—James and John went for the golden ring. Bartimaeus, an outsider,

asks to see knowing that regaining his sight might actually make his life tougher.

                                                    -4-

           What could Bartimaeus have asked for? He could have asked for

REVENGE. Think of all the people who had ridiculed him and treated him poorly.

He had every reason to request retribution against all those who had mistreated

him.

           This is how we tell the story. In the great American western (and other

similar stories) we have stories of down and out people who suddenly become

empowered. The town drunk that is forced to dig coins out of the spittoon

suddenly picks him self up from the gutter. What does he do when he is

transformed? He straps on his six-shooters, gets on his horse and seeks

vengeance against all those who had mistreated him and spit on him. That is

how we tell the story.

           For example look at the storyline in the popular movie The Mask of Zorro

that was released in 1998.2 The older Zorro is arrested and imprisoned for 20

years by the evil Don Rafael Montero. Finally escaping the old Zorro rescues a

man whose brother had been killed by Captain Love who is now the enforcer for
2
    “Mask of Zorro”, directed by Martin Campbell, starring Anthony Hopkins and others, 1998
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a returned from Exile Don Rafael Montero. The old Zorro rescues the drunk and

teaches him to become the new Zorro. Both Zorro’s, one freed from prison and

the other freed from his drunken stupor set out to get vengeance and win the girl.

That is how we write the story. In Mark given the chance the healed man does

not seek revenge.

       Another variation might be that given the opportunity the blind man could

have asked for the treasure at the end of the rainbow. Like James and John he

could have gone for the golden ring. “Jesus, make me rich and I will give you

back 20%---well maybe 10%---well maybe 5% for I have a lot of ground to make

up. Jesus make me rich and I can hire people to serve me.” That is the way we

write the story.

       But Bartimaeus asks only to see.

                                          -5-

       Mark always has a “sting” in his stories. His gospel is intended to make us

feel uncomfortable. In reality, given the chance, we are more like James and

John than Bartimaeus. We expect God to give us what we desire, to make us

comfortable and successful.

       Yet, one clear message from the story of Jesus is that following God might

be costly. We might be asked to sell all our possessions---to leave behind family

and friends----to put ourselves in a position where we are ridiculed or persecuted-

--or to even lose our life for the sake of the gospel.
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       We do not like to hear that nor does such a message preach very well.

We would rather hear about how God will reward us with all we desire in

exchange for our faith. Like James and John we go for the golden ring.

                                         -6-

       I mentioned before that this story has more to it than we might notice. Do

you find it ironic where Bartimaeus is positioned? He sat between Jericho and

Jerusalem.

       Jericho was a beautiful city during the time of Jesus. It is located east of

Jerusalem but it sits at a much lower altitude. A person “goes down” to Jericho

and travels “up to” Jerusalem---much like Santa Fe and Los Alamos.

       The altitude difference means that the climate of the two cities is also

different. In the winter time Jericho is warm while Jerusalem can be quite cold.

Because of this many of the wealthy people and the politically important people

and the religious leaders spent their winter in Jericho.

       Archaeologists have determined that Jericho had wide streets that were

lined with beautiful trees. Some of the homes in Jericho are among the most

luxurious of the ancient world. Jericho was a symbol of power, wealth and

success---the success of Rome and Israel.

       Jerusalem was the religious center of Israel. There in Jerusalem sat the

great temple. God was believed to be more present in Jerusalem than any other

place. In Jerusalem lived the priests who carried out the rituals and who offered

the prayers of God’s people. There in Jerusalem rested the Ark of the Covenant

and the Ten Commandments.
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       In between these two cities---one a symbol of religious power and the

other a symbol of secular power---sat blind Bartimaeus. He sat between the

great cities. He sat and begged. Day after day, people from these two cities,

walked right by him and hardly noticed him.

       In 1970 I traveled to Mexico and visited one of the great cathedrals in

Cuenevaca. It was beautiful. The artwork was breathtaking. The spires rose

into the sky. Here was a place of prayer, a place where scripture was read, and

a place where people confessed their sins and committed themselves to God.

       Outside the cathedral sat beggars. One I have always remembered. He

had no legs and pulled himself along by his arms. There he sat, right outside the

great church as people, including myself, walked by.

       It was not that people hated Bartimaeus as much as they just did not

notice him sitting between the great cities. They were in a hurry. They had

important things to do. They were on their way to Jerusalem or Jericho. How

many are unseen among us?



                                         -7-

       Jesus, however, noticed him. Jesus who was on his way to Jerusalem to

die noticed him. Jesus who has a huge crowd around him asking him for this or

that—notices him. Jesus, whose disciples are arguing about which one of them

will be the greatest fail to notice him. Amid all the noise, all the people, and all

the commotion---Jesus sees him and when he cries out Jesus hears him.
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      There lies both our challenge and our hope. There lies the good news

that no matter who we are, no matter how invisible we may seem, God hears and

sees, and heals.

      We like Bartimaeus must cry out for mercy and then when healed must

follow Jesus ON THE WAY. Jesus has the power to restore our sight---our real

sight---our spiritual sight. Jesus can help us to see God and to see what God is

calling us to do. Then, like James and John and now Bartimaeus we are to

follow Jesus along the Way. Amen

				
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