Father Nicholas Lang
Twenty-Second Sunday After Pentecost
Updated: Oct 26, 2021
There was a TV commercial for an eye doctor in Connecticut in which a patient talks about how she shared with her doctor her fear of having cataract surgery. The ophthalmologist looked at her and said, “I know that your eyes are the window to the soul and I will take very good care of them.”
Let’s have a look at this episode in the travels of Jesus. This blind beggar named Bartimaeus is one of the few recipients of healing in the Gospels who are given names. It’s always striking when someone’s name is preserved for us. The vast majority of the folks Jesus healed are anonymous; almost all of them are unnamed.
As Jesus is leaving Jericho with his followers, Bartimaeus calls out: 'Son of David, have mercy on me!' and he persists even though the crowd tries to silence him. Jesus has them bring the man to him and asks what he wants; he asks to be able to see again. The beggar, on being called to Jesus, discards his cloak.
Why is this significant? Because that cloak would have served as his only protection from the weather. It would also have been his “sleeping bag.” You may have seen how homeless people you may encounter covet the little they have, often stuffed in a shopping cart. Once Bartimaeus cast his cloak aside, there was no guarantee that someone would not take it or that in his blindness he would not be able to retrieve it again. Bartimaeus made himself totally vulnerable to Jesus and to the crowd.
What is it like to be that vulnerable? I can only try to imagine it. Yet to some degree we are all vulnerable, all exposed to the elements of life and what it brings our way. Some of us to illness or loss, or financial burdens, some more vulnerable than others to ridicule, prejudice, and belittlement. We are all vulnerable at least some of the time. I suspect that is one of the reasons we are here. I suspect that sometimes, in our helplessness, we want to cry out to Jesus, “Have mercy on me!” And I suspect that all of us have in some way known God’s mercy and compassion, God’s healing power and abundant grace, just as did Bartimaeus.
Even if we have 20/20 vision or have no major impairment to our sight, blindness is a metaphor for more than obstruction of sight. I think these words of Episcopal bishop Steven Charleston may hit home. He says, “We have all been in dark places that shadow-land just next door to what we call reality, where clarity is lost and doubt swells, where we are uncertain what tomorrow will bring, if tomorrow will come at all.
“The dark places can appear slowly or suddenly, but either way they cover us in a fog of doubt, leaving us feeling alone. It is at this moment that faith becomes our compass, for it reminds us that darkness is only a detour, never a destination.
These small corners are not the true landscapes of our life. They cannot contain the power of love. We have only to listen to our heart. Then the Spirit calls for us until we find our way, out of the dead-end of worry, and back to the broad and bright streets of hope.”
If the eyes are the window to the soul, they are also our window to the world. How do we see what is going on around us these days? How vulnerable does it make us feel? Does anyone not want to cry out to Jesus like Bartimaeus and beg him to help us find our way out of the dead-end of worry and back to the broad and bright streets of hope? To sweep out the debris and drive back the shadows?
Perhaps the kind of sight most of us need to have restored is in our mind’s eye. Perhaps we need Jesus to help us understand that God is still in charge, that, in the end, God will prevail.
Michael Mayne, the former Dean of Westminster Abbey wrote in Sunrise of Wonder: “Part of being human is to experience moments of true perception about those things that touch you so intimately that suddenly you see. What you see (or read or hear) at such moments has a ring of truth about it, not just of a general kind but as something that takes on a dimension and depth for you so that it becomes your truth. It seems to be making a claim on you.
“Such moments don’t come often. Hold on to them. Cherish them until they become so much a part of you as to be second nature. For there is only one persistent demand made upon us by the Spirit. It is that we are receptive. That we keep our eyes open, our minds unclosed. It is, in short, that we retain all our lives our sense of wonder.”
The late Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Homes once said that “the mind and heart, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas and compassion, never return to their original state.”
What’s in our mind’s eye? I pray that God will open our eyes to see the world as God sees it and to have trust in God’s mercy and compassion that we might ponder this important question: What does God want to do for me? For you?