Author: Philip Sloat, Pastor of Franklin and Macon UMC’s in Nebraska
At the end of the tenth chapter of Mark, Jesus and his disciples pass through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem. As he prepared for his final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus repeatedly told the disciples what awaited him. Three times he told them: “See, we are going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” [Mark 10:33-34] The disciples had been told but they refused to accept it. They could not conceive of such a fate for their master.
As Jesus and his disciples left Jericho, a large crowd followed them. On the side of the road, in his usual spot, was a poor, blind beggar named Bartimaeus. He heard the noise of the crowd and asked what was going on. When he was told that Jesus was passing by, he started to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” When he could not be heard over the noise of the crowd, he cried out even louder until he was heard. At this point the disciples tried to silence him. After all, Jesus couldn’t be bothered by every poor beggar between Galilee and Jerusalem. But Bartimaeus would not be quiet. He cried out even more loudly until Jesus stopped and called for them to bring the beggar to him.
Some of the people then went to Bartimaeus and said to him, “Take heart, get up. He is calling you.” They brought Bartimaeus to Jesus. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” and he responded, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said, “Go, your faith has made you well.” Immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus on his way to Jerusalem.
This story is about more than just one blind beggar getting his sight back. Jesus is traveling with a dozen of his closest followers who refuse to see what he has shown them. They have their physical sight but they won’t see the fate that awaits Jesus in Jerusalem. And the authorities who are waiting for Jesus in Jerusalem, they too have their eyesight. But they also refuse to see the truth that Jesus has tried to show them. They refuse to acknowledge that they are guilty of pursuing their own agenda instead of God’s kingdom. They refuse to admit that what Jesus is teaching is truly the good news from God. The irony is that while Bartimaeus was physically blind, he could see with the eyes of his heart—his spiritual sight! He knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of David, the one who could heal his blindness.
What causes spiritual blindness? Sin blinds us to God’s truth and to our own need for God in our lives. Lack of faith may also shut the eyes of our hearts. Anger can render us blind, hence the saying, “a blind rage.” Pain, trauma and grief may make us blind. Think about the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb on Easter morning. Her tears prevented her from recognizing the risen Jesus standing before her! Fear can also make it difficult to see. When we feel threatened our adrenal glands flood our bodies with chemicals that produce the “Fight or Flight Instinct.” When this kicks in, we lose our peripheral vision and experience tunnel vision.
Our current political environment is the most polarized since the Civil War. Very few moderates remain in congress and moderate voices are rarely heard in the media. Instead, folks on the left think the folks on the right are evil and must be stopped. Folks on the right think the folks on the left are evil and must be stopped. Everyone is focused on acquiring power and maintaining control. No one seems to believe in serving the common good, seeking compromise and having government that works for everyone.
In 1958, in his book Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, Martin Luther King, Jr wrote: “Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.”
Unless something changes in our current political climate, we will soon all be blind! I believe that on most of the important issues that we face as a nation, all sides have some things right. I also believe that if we start to talk to each other and stop calling each other names and overreacting, we might find that we have many goals we share.
This also applies to the current situation in our United Methodist Church. As we near the General Conference in St. Louis in February 2019, the vitriol directed toward those who disagree with a particular position will increase and the voices defending various positions regarding LGBTQ persons will become even more strident. The call for schism will also grow louder. All of this negative activity will only make us more spiritually blind. To recover from our spiritual blindness we will need to be healed of our anger, fear, sin and pain. We will need to be a non-anxious presence in the midst of all the heated rhetoric. We will need to talk to each other and listen to each other. We will need to consider positions that differ from our own.
Noted theologian and Christian leader, Walter Rauschenbusch wrote a powerful prayer for the church. He wrote his prayer addressing the church in the third person female. I have substituted the third person plural in the text of his prayer because WE are the church. I believe that this prayer is even more relevant and needed today that when it was first written. It is so appropriate for a time such as this.
O God of all times and places, we pray for your Church, which is set today amid the perplexities of a changing order, and face to face with new tasks. Baptize us afresh in the life-giving spirit of Jesus. Bestow upon us a great responsiveness to duty, a swifter compassion with suffering, and an utter loyalty to your will. Help us to proclaim boldly the coming of your kingdom. Put upon our lips the ancient gospel of our Lord. Fill us with the prophet’s scorn of tyranny, and with a Christlike tenderness for the heavy-laden and down trodden. Bid us cease from seeking our own life, lest we lose it. Make us valiant to give up our life to humanity, that, like our crucified Lord, we may mount by the path of the cross to a higher glory; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May Jesus open the eyes of our hearts so that we may truly see him and follow him, even in the midst of these perplexing and contentious times! May Jesus open the eyes of our hearts so that we might work together for the common good and for the kingdom of God on earth!