My favorite part of being a teacher was getting to tell stories. And even still today, I love to tell a good story, because a good story pulls us in, holds us for a moment, and then sends us back to your own world with a little more insight into ourselves or into how the world works. And I believe this is equally true for all stories, from the Three Little Pigs all the way to Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. I love a good story because it invites us into another perspective on the world.
When I hear the story read today in our gospel passage, I find it interesting to pay attention to whom I most identify. In the past, I have identified with Bartimaeus who cries out in faith, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Here the disciples and Jesus leave Jericho and are surrounded by a large crowd, and a blind beggar, named Bartimaeus, was sitting by the roadside. When Bartimaeus heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout for the Messiah to have mercy on him.
The crowd scolded him and ordered him to be quiet, but in their attempts to suppress his cries for mercy, he raised his voice even louder, begging for mercy that only the Christ could offer. Jesus, at the hearing of the cries for mercy stands still and calls Bartimaeus to him; so excited that he throws off his cloak, Bartimaeus sprang up and came to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t follow suit of the crowd in trying to quiet this beggar, but asks first and foremost, “what do you want me to do for you?” The blind man asks to see again and Jesus heals him and tells him that his faith has made him well. Rather than going on about his way, this blind beggar, this man named Bartimaeus chooses to continue to follow Jesus on the way.
In this brilliant story of one of Christ’s miracles, it was not Bartimaeus with whom I most identified this time, but rather the crowd. It is the crowd who tries to quiet his cries; it is the crowd who tries to overlook this beggar and his need because they were searching for the joy and prestige of seeing Jesus. It is the crowd who once Jesus calls to Bartimaeus immediately changes their tune and encourages Bartimaeus as he runs to see the Christ. It is the crowd, not Jesus, who sees Bartimaeus as invisible. I’m not sure why on this go-around, it is the crowd that is convicting to me. Maybe it is Bartimaeus’ ability to truly see the Messiah, that contrasts so starkly with the crowd’s inability to see the blind beggar. Maybe it is because the one who was unseen is the only one who can truly see.
And I’m equally convicted by Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus. Jesus knows that he is blind, and all the realities of the world in which he lived that made it almost impossible to live safely. And even though Jesus knows what Bartimaeus faces daily, he does not assume, but rather asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus no doubt knows what Bartimaeus needs, but it is his willingness to see the one who sees him that is piercing. Jesus – the very Messiah – did not dare assume what the he would need, but saw him and embraced him in relationship. Bartimaeus, in his faith responds, “My teacher, let me see again.”
The unique thing about this response is that it relays a relationship. “My teacher,” here is the word rabouni, only used twice in the gospels, here and at the tomb with Mary when she can’t recognize the risen Christ until he calls her by name. Rabouni is intimate; it conveys relationship and conversation. This is an exchange between a student and a teacher. It is an exchange where Bartimaeus’ beggar status or physical capability are less important than his willingness to seek the Messiah and his faith therein.
Today’s gospel is a story about seeing and being seen. It is a story about Bartimaeus no longer being invisible and Jesus engaging in a conversation and relationship. But it’s also a story about a crowd of people; a crowd of people who *were* followers of Jesus. A crowd of people being unwilling or unable to see the space in which Bartimaeus could teach them. A crowd unable to see, and perhaps even being unwilling to be seen. And this is where our gospel story today holds me.
This crowd of followers were probably doing their best; they wanted to follow Jesus and all of his teachings, and yet still failed to see. This is where our story today holds me; this is where our gospel story forces me to ask myself if I’m part of the crowd. It’s the crux of wanting to do the right thing, and yet failing; it’s the intersection of being unable to see and unwilling to be seen that makes me ask where is the Good News? If I see myself in the crowd, where is the Good News?
When it comes to the miracle stories of Christ, I try to see and appreciate the miracle, but also to see beyond that to ask what is the Good News? The truth of this miracle story, I believe is that it isn’t just good news for Bartimaeus who was able to see the Messiah, but that it’s also the Good News for the crowd who fails to see him. It is good news, because our story doesn’t have to end with us being unable or unwilling to see. Christ can enlighten who we are and what we do. The question is how will take what this story has to teach us? How will we carry the lessons not just from Christ or Bartimaeus, but perhaps especially from the crowd into our lives this week.
This is a story about seeing and being seen. It is my hope and prayer that as we go out this week that we will have the eyes to see like Bartimaeus, the compassion of Christ in his openness to relationship with him, and that we, when we are like the crowd, will choose see and to be seen. My prayer is that we will let this story change us; that we will let it change how we move through the world, and that we will over and over again choose to be more like Christ and less like the crowd.