Mark 10:46-52, Psalm 46
"Sliding Scale of Vision," Pastor Fred
Is there such a thing as, a sliding scale of vision?
When Jesus healed a blind man at Bethsaida on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, earlier in the Gospel of Mark, he went from blind, to a blurry, seeing people that looked ‘like trees, walking,’ to finally, completely healed. It took a couple tries to get it right!
And what about your vision? Where do you fall on the scale of sight? Hopefully you have good coverage for vision care, because, our eyesight is so important, and is mostly only getting worse, as we age. Myself, I have a stigma with my farsightedness, which means every year or two, the Ophthalmologist wants to strengthen my prescription, though, it wasn’t quite so urgent in the beginning. I first got glasses for reading in the 8th grade, but wouldn’t wear them at school because I was so embarrassed to put them on, and feared the taunts I might get from my classmates! Today, I’ve slid so far on the vision scale, I would hardly be able to read a Stop Sign without my glasses or contacts in, much less read a book.
My sister, only 3 years older than me, has been talking about cataract surgery for years already. She can’t wait to get her clear vision back! But the doctors tell her she has to wait, it’s not that bad yet.
I had a professor in seminary that lost his sight, slowly but surely, over a number of years. It might have been glaucoma – I’m not sure, but he had enlisted student readers to help him keep up with the many journals and books he was interested in. He never complained publically, but Kim was one of his readers, and she told me that privately he was, at first, quite bitter, which was understandable, because he was a very talented, well respected, writer. Even giving a sermon was now much more difficult. For his entire career he had always preached from a manuscript, and now had to re-teach himself to memorize what he wanted to say, and he was never, as satisfied.
Blind Bartimaeus has a very striking story of vision to tell us in the Gospel of Mark, too. A beggar by the roadside in Jericho, his childlike faith in Jesus, instantly changed his life. The sliding scale for his sight, went from zero to 100 instantly!
But it wasn’t a foregone conclusion for Bart! Like today, his begging was suspect, by those following Jesus. Was his story true? What was he really going to use his money for? And ‘many,’ rudely tried to shush him up. ‘Our Jesus shouldn’t be bothered, by the likes of such a sinner!,
But Bart will not be denied. He sees this as his chance. He’s had time to dream, and hope, for a moment such as this. Who hasn’t heard about the miracle worker from Galilee! And Bart knew that, of course, Jesus would have to come this way, sooner or later. Jericho was the gateway to Jerusalem, the last Rest Area on the Freeway before driving downtown into the big city of Jerusalem. It was actually about a 15 mile trek, all uphill, to reach the holy city of Zion. Jericho was by the Dead Sea, a warm climate, the Miami for the homeless, of Palestine.
So Bart tries again, and cries out with a surprisingly loud voice over the din of the crowds, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” “And Jesus stood still.” This is a voice he recognizes, a cry he knows – not just as ‘the Son of David,’ but as ‘the Son of God.’ This is a voice of ‘the last and the least,’ of ‘the hungry and thirsty for righteousness sake,’ those who Jesus has come to heal and to lift up, and to usher into the kingdom, to be first.
The whole Caravan stops now, and Jesus says, “Call him here.” And now the fickle crowd changes their tune and for the first time, addresses Bart like a real person, “Take heart,” they say, “get up, he is calling you.”
And you know the rest, right?! It’s a simple story, on its face. But one of the most seminal, in the entire gospel. This is the turning point of Jesus’ ministry in northern Galilee, ‘on the way’ to Jerusalem, and his mission of victory in the cross and empty tomb.
Jesus is “on the way” collecting followers, those who believe and show their support and faith, in action. And Bartimaeus is the perfect follower. Like the many ‘little-people’ believers in Mark’s gospel, Bart is a contrast, not only with those of unbelief, like the priests and leaders of Jerusalem, but even compared to his own Disciples who are following, still full of doubt, and never quit on board with Jesus kingdom message, during his lifetime, at least.
In the story immediately preceding Blind Bart, it’s James and John, from the inner circle of his Disciples, who come to Jesus, asking a favor. Jesus replies with the same question he will offer to Bart: “what do you want me to do for you?” James and John want seats next to Jesus in his glory to come, basically the highest honor anyone could have. And Jesus patiently walks them through how it works in God’s realm, one more time. Yes, you will be baptized with the same baptism that I am baptized with, and drink the cup that I drink, but to sit in glory with me in the kingdom to come is only up to God, not me. I live for you in this kingdom (on earth), to show you ‘the way,’ and that’s all you really need to know, and get right, for now. Jesus cannot grant the request of James and John.
When Jesus tells the crowds to call Bartimaeus to him, Bart ‘throws off his cloak, and springs up’ to present himself to Jesus. Again, Jesus asks the exact same question, “what do you want me to do for you?” “My teacher, let me see again.” And Jesus simply says, with the same words he addressed the woman with the flow of blood for 40 years who touched his cloak in the crowd of people, “Go; your faith has made you well.” From zero to 100, like a successful cataract surgery, “Immediately Bart regained his sight.” “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it,” Jesus had taught his Disciples! Faith and sight. Bart’s request is something Jesus can work with!
Finally, Blind Bart also outshines ‘the rich man’ who came to Jesus asking for an inheritance of life-everlasting. He promised Jesus he followed all of the 10 Commandments, and was a good man. But Jesus added an 11th request – go and sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and come and follow me. But his possessions were many, and he could only walk away dismayed, and more unsure than before.
Bart on the other hand, had nothing, save the cloak he spread on the road to gather the pennies he could, from his begging. But now, when his dream comes true, that Jesus is calling to him, Bart springs up and casts that cloak aside. He won’t need it any longer. The one who is ‘the light of the world’ has come to invite him to the banquet, he won’t be looked down-on any more, or considered a sinner, for his poverty. Today, in the presence of Jesus, he will be restored and made whole – and will follow Jesus on the way, to Jerusalem, to the life-giving tree.
The message of Mark’s gospel is clear sighted, even for his cataract riddled followers. The last shall be first, and the first shall be last. The new realm of life, the kingdom of God that Jesus is bringing, in the freedom of the gospel, is reforming the whole world. Bart is the model disciple. He sees more clearly than Peter, and James, and John. Neither is he a slave of the hierarchical laws that the scribes and keepers of the purse-strings in Jerusalem are. He springs up to encounter the power of the life-giving teacher, of the realm of God, and his child-like faith is reckoned to him as righteousness, as St Paul and Luther liked to say, and Bart becomes a follower on the way to Jerusalem, a true disciple.
Of course, we are much more like the 12 Disciples, full of doubts and tied to this world, almost as much as to the realm and kingdom of God’s world. In the sliding scale of vision, we fall somewhere between Bart and the rich man, somewhere between the woman healed of her hemorrhage, and the Pharisees. Some days we see clearly. Some days we see people that look like trees, walking, and our faith is not always what we want it to be.
But the thing is. Jesus is never about the ‘test of faith,’ never about getting his title right (is it Messiah, or Teacher, or Son of David?), never about nailing the 10 Commandments perfectly (as if we could be perfect), like the rich man, (allegedly!). Jesus calls us, to get up, and cast off whatever is holding us back, and follow him ‘on the way.’ And in the following, in the Caravan to the freedom land –together– the Spirit of God, will enliven us, and carry us. For the power of God, is in our faithful discipleship. God, will do the reforming!
Whatever it takes, we can’t forsake each other, we can’t let go of the power of ‘the faith of Jesus,’ ‘on the way.’ Only on the road to Jerusalem, is there clarity and truth, hope and love. It’s a sliding scale of vision. We are always being reformed by the Spirit of God. We walk together by faith!