October 25 2015

22nd Sunday after Pentecost

‘Seek and You Will See’

BIBLE READING
Mark 10:46-52

REFLECTION

Zatoichi is a popular fictional character in film and television in Japan. He was a sword master who lived in 19th century Japan. But unlike other sword masters, Zatoichi was blind.

One of the latest movies about him was made in 2003. The movie was titled The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi and awarded the Venice’s Film Festival Silver Lion for Best Direction.

In the last scene of the movie Ichi (the short name for Zatoichi) came face to face with the boss of his enemies. The boss mocked his blindness saying, “A blind man won’t slay me easily." To this challenge Ichi revealed his innermost secret. He faced his enemy and opened his eyes. Zatoichi had never been blind; he just pretended to be. Surprised his enemy asked, “Why do you act blind?” Ichi replied, “Because the blind can sense people better!”

Bartimaeus the blind was also a man who was able to perceive things that others failed to perceive. Our story today from Mark’s Gospel is not only a story about healing; this is a story about calling as well. Bartimaeus was not only the beneficiary of Jesus’ healing; he stood as an example of a true disciple.[1]

First Bartimaeus correctly called Jesus as Son of David. This was the designation of the Messiah. Now, he was not the first and only person who correctly identified Jesus.

Later on the crowd who welcomed Jesus in Jerusalem would also call him as the one who came to restore David’s Kingdom.[2] Previously Peter correctly identified Jesus as the Christ, a Greek translation of the Messiah. Yet immediately after Jesus rebuked Peter for having the wrong expectation of Jesus’ mission as the Messiah.[3] What about the crowd in Jerusalem?  Well you know how it ended: they likely became the same crowd who shouted, “Crucify him!”[4]

On the other hand Bartimaeus showed a consistency in his faith. After he was healed he didn’t go his own way; he followed Jesus on “the way”.[5] Remember two weeks ago we learnt that the phrase “the way” is not only a description of location; it serves as a description of discipleship as well. So after he was healed Bartimaeus did not continue with his old life; he became one of those who followed Jesus “on the way”.

There is another positive thing about Bartimaeus. Unlike the other blind man whom Jesus healed,[6] Bartimaeus took an active role in his own healing. When he heard Jesus he cried out and asked for his mercy and refused to be silent when others rebuked him. His faith and trust in Jesus did not waver even though he could not see Jesus with his own eyes. Indeed, Bartimaeus fit the description of the person whom Jesus commended when he said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who do not see, but still believe.”[7]

In our reading last week, when Jesus asked James and John, “What can I do for you?” they asked Jesus to let them sit next to him in his kingdom.[8] James and John failed to understand the true meaning of discipleship; they followed Jesus because they wanted to be rewarded in glory. But when Jesus asked Bartimaeus the same question, “What can I do for you?” Bartimaeus simply answered, “Teacher, let me see.”

Now in Mark’s Gospel, seeing was not only about using our eyes to see; seeing was also about perceptiveness. Previously Jesus told his disciples that he spoke in parables so that others would hear, but did not understand; see, but did not perceive.[9] Once Jesus rebuked his disciples’ because of their hardened hearts by saying, “You have eyes, but you do not see; ears, but do not hear.”[10]

Yes of course Bartimaeus wanted to see with his own eyes, but there was something more in his request. Bartimaeus wanted to see Jesus; he wanted to know more of Jesus and be a part of his mission. Unlike the disciples, Bartimaeus took the initiative and expressed his desire to follow Jesus even before he met Jesus.

Bartimaeus was spiritually hungry. When he was told that Jesus would like to see him, he threw off his cloak and ran to Jesus. His cloak must have been the only possession he had.[11] Two weeks ago we heard the story of the rich man who was disappointed after Jesus told him to give everything that he had to the poor and follow him.[12]  But here Bartimaeus threw away his possession without a second thought so that he could answer Jesus’ call. And Jesus granted his wish: he could not only see with his own eyes again; he now became a follower of Jesus.

Indeed Bartimaeus was like the seed that fell into a fertile ground in Jesus’ parable about the sower.[13] The seed grew into a plant with a deep root that no adversary, no trouble or persecution, no worry or worldly desire could choke and kill it. The plant grew and became very fruitful.

Friends often it is not that we cannot see, but that we refuse to perceive. Just like the disciples often we are too set in our mindset that we lack the willingness to open ourselves to God.

But whatever is the cause of our ‘blindness’, the first step towards healing is to admit that we are ‘blind’. Perhaps, the disciples’ hearts were hardened because they did not want to admit their ‘blindness’. They thought they knew when they actually did not. On the other hand Bartimaeus knew that he was blind, not only physically, but spiritually as well; and these kinds of openness and trust in Jesus healed him.

Friends, life - with all its desire, temptation, and even trauma - can make us blind to see the world through God’s eyes. Yet what important is to admit our blindness and do something about it.

Liam Haven was only 18 years old when he enlisted in the army in 2006. Two years later he went on a tour in Iraq and during one of his routine patrols, a roadside bomb exploded. The explosion sent flying shrapnel to his face, wounding both of his eyes. He lost his left eye and retained only 2% vision in his right eye.

After undergoing treatment to treat his wounds and dealing with depression because of his blindness, Liam began his journey to recovery. He invests his time in music and shares his personal story to inspire other people.

In 2013 he joined Soldier On, a charity group that supports Australian service men and women who were wounded, physically and mentally, in recent conflicts and training. As part of his charity work Liam walked more than 350 kilometres between Sydney and Canberra for two weeks. In his trek, he was accompanied by important people like the former PM, John Howard and former/current Chiefs of the Australian Defence Force. When he arrived in the Australian War Memorial, he was greeted by the former Governor General, Quentin Bryce.

Liam raised $50.000 through his trek. He planned to make his walk a bi-annual event and had already made a plan for another walk this year.[14]

Perhaps Liam is our modern Bartimaeus who can teach us how to see with our soul and not only with our eyes. His limitation didn’t stop him from reaching out to others.

Friends life can throw things at us; things that can stop us from following Jesus on his way. Today we learn from Bartimeus how to have a heart that is open to God’s invitation regardless of our limitations.

Indeed we only have a few options: giving up in the face of life adversaries; letting ourselves be swept away by the tide of desires that the world offers; or, like Bartimeus, reaching out to Jesus and crying out, “Lord, help me to see.”

Amen.

[1] Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Commentary on Mark 10:46-52, onhttp://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2642 (retrieved on 21/10/2015)

[2] Mark 11:9-10

[3] Mark 8:31-33

[4] Mark 15:6-15

[5] Mark 10:52

[6] Mark 8: 22-26

[7] John 20:29

[8] Mark 10:35-37

[9] Mark 4:10-12

[10] Mark 8:16-18

[11] Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Commentary on Mark 10:46-52, onhttp://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2642 (retrieved on 21/10/2015)

[12] Mark 10:17-22

[13] Mark 4:1-20

[14] Liam Haven, on https://www.soldieron.org.au/how-we-help/their-stories/liam-haven/ (retrieved on 23/10/2015) and What We Do, on https://www.soldieron.org.au/how-we-help/what-we-do/ (retrieved on 23/10/2015)