“They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. “
Over the past weeks and months we have been moving through the gospel of Mark-- as we have learned- Mark is a fast paced, multi-layered text full of powerful story and deep meaning. These last chapters have been tracking Jesus and his followers as the travel along the way to Jerusalem. This path has led to many encounters, healings, and teachings.
A couple weeks ago Pastor Mark preached about the story of the righteous and rich man- who wants to know the path to heaven- he is instructed to ‘give’. Give all he had and join in the way.
Last week we heard of the disciples, James and John, who were jockeying for positions at the right and left of Jesus- they are instructed that following this way means letting go of their inklings of power and privilege, and embracing a way of service. This is how they are instructed to follow the way.
And now we come to todays text. Jesus and his band of followers are on their way to Jerusalem - walking through Jericho- when they pass by Bartimaeus- - a blind man- who is huddled on the ground, surrounded by a crowd of people on the side of the dirt road...... As Jesus and his followers walk by Bartimaeus calls out.
Jesus, son of David! Have mercy on me!
Those around him hush him- embarrassed by his outburst they shout at him to be quiet! He should accept his lot - to stay on the sidelines- as an extra in the play of life. They tell him to know his place and accept it with humility.
But- ill content with his own blindness- longing to see again- to be a part of the living-
he has a moment of deeper sight- he sees the identity of this man passing through- he knows that this is one who gives him hope. He sees beyond the do’s and don’ts of his place in life as a blind beggar- and he sees Jesus- and he names him! Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me! He sees Jesus - and he cries out so that he too may be ‘seen’.
Despite the efforts of the crowd to silence him, despite all that muddles the path between he and Jesus- Jesus hears his plea- he ‘sees him’ and asks him to get up- to come to him- he hears his voice and asks him to speak. Jesus encourages this one who is cast aside, relegated to the edge of the road-- off the path of ‘the way’... to speak up and ask for what he needs in order to be to be healed- to experience life fully.
As Bartimaeus stands up and works his way through the crowd- he surprises even himself when his voice becomes strong, his spirit becomes brave and he asks for what he needs-- My teacher, let me see again. He needs to see and be seen.
Isn’t this what we all need in a way?
When was the last time you were ‘seen’? I mean really seen? Seen for who you are- at your center-- not for a resume of accomplishments-- or a list of failures and shortcomings-- not for who everyone expects you to be....
But seen for who you are.
This week I had the privilege to spend a day with Reverend Yvette Flunder, an African American woman pastor who has been inspirational to me for years. Reverend Flunder shared a story of her childhood.
She tells of herself as a 6 year old little girl- she says she was a round little thing- looked like a 0. She said that when she was growing up in the 60’s - Chatty Cathy dolls were all the rage- all the kids had one- so everyone assumed she’d want one too. She speaks of receiving this hard little plastic, lifeless doll that talked a lot and didn’t do much else. Not only did she get a white doll, but some thoughtful person gave her a black one too. Either way she wasn’t really interested. So they both sat useless in her closet.
Her mother - being the wise and perceptive woman she was- saw in Yvette that these dolls didn’t quite fit- so she bent down, looked in her eyes and asker her- what is it you really want.
In this moment, feeling empowered- Yvette spoke up. I want a briefcase. Not a purse, or a backpack or a bag-- but a briefcase. A hard-case-business-man briefcase.
So her Mom went out and got her a bright red- hard-shell briefcase and filled it full of pencils and paper, tape and scissors. Upon receipt, a glowing, 6-year old, little-round Yvette picked up that briefcase- bending her elbow to keep it from dragging the ground, went out the the curb in front of her house- sat down, opened up that briefcase- and went to work.
This was the first great gift of life Yvette received. She had been seen. Seen for who she was.
This is the beginning of the story because it didn’t stop there. Being seen for who she was, allowed Yvette to see.
And through her life that has been a consistent theme.
Today she ‘sees’ all who are cast aside- those invisible, huddled on the side of the road- at her home in San Francisco- and now in the churches and communities of faith around the world which she has inspired. She seeks to call those who are broken out of the silence - tells them they are loved by God- they are seen for who they truly are- and invites onto the path- the way.
It is in being seen, that we are able to see. It is in receiving, that we are able to give-
In our earlier Marcan texts - we have seen instruction that called on people to give, to serve.... And in this text Bartemaeus is called to ask for healing, to use his voice to name his need and to receive with grace.
At times we can divide these two realities and get stuck in either/or thinking or either we are called to give-- or-- we are called to receive.....
We can hear only: give all you have, and serve. We can become self- righteous as a 'giver'-- we can begin to think that we are someone who is 'above need' ---
I remember after I had an accident and spent time in the hospital- I learned a painful lesson in how to receive. As someone who was use to being able to take care of myself - I felt frustrated and ashamed when I couldn't get myself out of bed and into the shower. Calling a friend to ask for help with making dinner and to take a shift with our kids was humbling.
When we are always in the position of 'giving' we can miss the reality that we all broken and in need of healing. We all need grace - we all need to receive- we all need to be seen.
On the other hand- we can hear only: name what you need - ask and you shall receive!
We can get caught up in only seeing our own lack.... Saturday Night Live recently did a skit about the complaints about the new Apple iphone 5.
The skit contrasts a panel of iphone users who complain that the phone is too thin and light, the map doesn’t work as well as they want... with a spoof of chinese factory workers who express mock pitty that the poor iphone users have to go to duncan donuts rather than starbucks because their map doesn’t work-- which isn’t a problem for them since they sleep where they work.
We can get so caught up in our own head, in our perception of our problems- that we loose sight of the needs of others.
We all need to see.
Giving and receiving, Seeing and being Seen- are not contrasting ways of being, but rather both necessary aspects of stepping onto the path- of following the way.
There are times we must call out to be seen. We must name our need and ask for healing. And there are times we must see others. We must give of all we have and be of service to others.
All of us long to be seen.... And all of us long to give- to share of our gifts.
When was the last time you were ‘seen’? How did this shape your life?
When was the last time you ‘saw’ another- and gave of yourself?