Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Psalm 34:1-8; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52
What does it mean to truly see? We hear and look a lot but do we see? Each week we hear the scriptures as they are read but are we able to “visualize,” to see, where God would lead us, how God would renew and restore us? Are we able, are we willing, to see the world for what it really is: beautiful and created by God and, at the same time, struggling and barren in many places? I speak of not merely the physical landscape but the spiritual one, as well. We are invited by the psalmist to “taste and see” that the Lord is good. But we can only truly see God, be transformed by God, and see the road and journey ahead if we keep both eyes open, hearts un-shuttered, and ready to follow Jesus, imperfectly, but continuously.
We once again find ourselves located in old Jericho, believed to be one of the oldest continuously occupied geographies in the world. The city has been constantly re-imagined. The walls of Jericho came tumbling down after Israel’s armies, led by Joshua, came across the Jordan. Luke has Jesus famously encounter the short, tax collecting Zacchaeus in Jericho. And now, we have blind Bartimaeus, who wishes to see again. Unlike the beggar born blind in the Gospel of John, Bartimaeus says he wants to see … again. And Jesus touches him, heals him, and the man’s reaction to this newfound sight is to follow. He can see Jesus, he can see the world stretch out before him and, so, he follows Jesus. The opening of our eyes causes us to see not only new things but to see some things as if for the first time. The Apostle Paul, still Saul at the time, is blinded on the road to Damascus; one might say he has been blind for a while, as he persecuted the community of Jesus. He will be physically blind for several days. He is then healed by a man sent by God to lay hands on him. Now, he will move out into the world as a transformed human. He is now Paul and, now that he sees with new eyes, now that he has tasted and seen that the Lord is good, loving, and merciful, he can do nothing more than follow Jesus.
John Newton is one of my favorite historical church figures. He is the author of our entrance hymn, Amazing Grace, one among many he would pen in his lifetime. Newton lived a life of powerful testimony that when our eyes are opened to the grace, beauty, and blessings of God in the world, we are transformed and must follow. John Newton was born to a severe father and the young Newton took to the sea early, at age 11. He became a rather ruthless and reckless character and eventually, after attempting to desert, was pressed into servitude under the arm of an even more nefarious slave trader on a plantation in West Africa. He was eventually rescued but continued to participate in the slave trade, even after beginning to becoming a more serious Christian around 1748. It wasn’t until 1754 that he gave up seafaring altogether and applied to be a priest in the Church of England, which happened after six years of waiting.
He would become a renowned preacher but it would only be after some years that he would begin to repent his work in the slave trade. In his late life, as he was losing his eyesight, he mentored William Wilberforce on the issue of the abolition of slavery in England and its provinces. He published his famous hymn now known as Amazing Grace in 1779 about an experience of the revelation of God many years before. He famously writes that he “once was lost but now is found, was blind but now I see.” Ironically, he became blind as an old man, but his vision of a merciful, loving, and saving God grew. He saw with his spirit, even as the eyes of his physical body betrayed him.
The ending of Eucharist Prayer C says, in part, “Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us.” How can our eyes be opened by God? Perhaps, as we listen intently to each other, we see each other more clearly. When we open our spiritual eyes to the sin of racism, for instance, so prevalent in the world about us, we begin to experience and view the racial tensions in the world and, more importantly, the part that we play in it. And with that opening up to our fellow humans of all races and backgrounds, God arrests our fear, our defensiveness, and real love and communion become possible.
When we pray to God with openness and not merely a list or agenda, we see and hear God more clearly. When we seek encounter with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist with hearts wide-open, we see our salvation and our hope there. When we look at the natural world, we see the sacramental love of God for all creation; when we treat the earth and all that is in with love (maybe mosquitoes excluded), we see God’s love even more. Our lives are what we have, one of a series of opportunities to open our spiritual eyes to the wonder of God’s amazing love. Let us begin the process of opening ourselves to the possibilities of relationship, work, and life as see our Lord more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly, day by day.