Pentecost 23

Yogi Berra once said that “You can observe a lot just by watching.”  This is, of course, true, and like most of the odd quotes we get from Yogi, somehow both profound and obvious.  Yogi was talking about observing and watching in terms of using his eyes – technically the sentence would make more sense if he had said that “you can observe a lot just by looking.”  Our Gospel story today, the story of Bartimaeus, blind from birth, shows us the difference.

If we are observant, we can see immediately that this is not an ordinary healing story.  “Mark’s typically terse prose is simultaneously, on the one hand, personal, earthy, and immediate, and on the other, symbolic, transcendent, and universal.  Mark makes an exception to his rule of not naming the people Jesus heals, which strongly suggests that Bartimaeus was not just a real person, but someone his audience knew, or at least knew about, a man whose zeal to follow Jesus never dimmed, perhaps a leader in the first generation of Christian communities.  Mark was especially interested in people on the margins of society, associating them with the transformational power of God that is emerging in the world.  At first the rest of the world tried to silence Bartimaeus, but to his enduring credit, he responded to Jesus, not to them, and “he cried out even more loudly.”

“So already this is an unusual story. In other places the crowds are indifferent, or even bringing people to Jesus for healing.  What Bartimaeus says is also unusual. He calls Jesus “Son of David.”  Only twice before in Mark has someone correctly identified Jesus: the first time it was a demon, and the second time it was Peter, though he needed some nudging before and after his confession of faith.  Bartimaeus identifies Jesus correctly, spontaneously, and publicly.  Too publicly.  Calling Jesus “Son of David” was not just a profession of faith, it was a political statement, connecting Jesus to the hope of a national leader who would drive out the occupying Romans and re-establish the glory and dignity of a united and sovereign Israel.  You know, the sort of thing that would get you killed, especially if you said it around Jerusalem, especially at the time of Passover.

“This is the moment in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus is leaving Jericho to go to Jerusalem.  Passover is near.  This is the very last story before the sequence of events we call the Passion of Jesus begins.  Mark ends this story by telling us that Bartimaeus followed Jesus “on the way,” that is, the Way of the Cross.  He didn’t have to.  Jesus had already healed him and even told him to “go.”  But Bartimaeus stayed with Jesus, abandoning the cloak that was probably his only possession, his only protection from the elements.  His cloak was not physically preventing him from meeting Jesus, being healed, and following him, but the symbolism is obvious: he is leaving behind his old way of life, trusting Jesus and not an object of comfort and safety, responding to Jesus’s unconditional love with unconditional discipleship.”[1]

All of this makes me wonder what I am not seeing.  It makes me wonder if I am seeing Jesus clearly, if my discipleship is unconditional.  Am I being watchful and observant, or am I just looking around?  What’s making me blind to the Lord?

So, I did not win 1.5 billion dollars this week.  I did buy a ticket – 2 of those 1.5 billion dollars came from me – and I did my share of thinking of all the good things I could do with that kind of money.  If I did win, there would be a lot of happy churches, that’s for sure, and I certainly wouldn’t ever have to worry about where my next meal is coming from.

But on Tuesday afternoon it struck me that 1.5 billion dollars would ruin everything.  No dynamic in my life would ever be normal, no relationship unchallenged; my ministry to Bordentown would be based on money, not relationship.  I would have ended up with a 1.5 billion dollar cloak that I could likely never leave behind to follow Jesus on His way.

I had failed to observe, to observe and watch over what and who I really love.  That realization opened my eyes, if you’ll excuse the terrible cliché, to see Jesus more clearly, to watch more closely for where He is leading us.  It seems that you can observe a lot just by watching.  What are you watching for?

[1] Fr. Bret Hays

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