The Twenty Second Sunday After PentecostThe Rev. Austin K. Rios St. Paul’s Within the Walls October 25, 2015
I have mentioned before to this congregation that the 1970 Arthur Penn movie, Little Big Man is one of my favorites.
The film is superficially about the life story of Jack Crabb (played by Dustin Hoffman), a white adoptee of the Cheyenne Indians, and Jack’s adventures as he moves back and forth between native and white settler society.
But on a much deeper level, the film is about seeing and being seen… about the way Jack “is seen” and morphs into new character realities based on his appearance and tribal affiliation, and on a larger level, the way that the Cheyenne and other indigenous bands of the American West were so easily overlooked, cast out, and “not seen” by the US Army as it pushed for territorial expansion.
One of the most interesting characters in the film, Jack’s adopted grandfather, Chief Lodgeskins, is the lens through which this “seeing and being seen” motif reaches the viewer.
Lodgeskins sustains a grave injury in a battle with General Custer’s army and finds himself without eyesight.
Upon returning home and hearing the news, Jack stares incredulously at his adopted grandfather as he explains to him that the injury “cut the cord through which light travels to the heart.”
Jack sputters in response, “Grandfather… you mean… you mean you’re blind?”
The chief responds, “Oh no, my eyes still see… but my heart no longer receives it.”
It is not the only time that the chief references the difference between what the physical eyes see and what true vision is.
Oddly enough, once his natural sight has faded, the chief’s inner vision begins to grow.
He has powerful dreams that come true in the future, and he sees the larger connections that bind the native and the settler together despite their divisions.
And as the chief ascends the tallest mountain in expectation of dying peacefully upon it, he does a final war dance and shouts out a litany of thanksgivings to the Great Spirit.
“Thank you for my vision,” he says, “And the blindness in which I saw further.”
That line has resonated with me over the years, and surfaces each time I read about Jesus healing a blind person.
Today we have the story of Bartimaeus, who, on the surface, is a blind man crying out for Jesus on the outskirts of Jericho.
You may remember that Jesus has previously healed another blind man in the gospel of Mark, combining his own spit and dirt to make mud and applying it to the man’s eyes.
The story of Bartimaeus has as much to do with the restoration of the vision of the eyes as it does the deeper awakening of insight.
Much like the chief in Little Big Man, Bartimaeus seems to have known, once upon a time, what it is like to see with physical eyes.
His petition to Jesus is “Let me see again,” which makes me think that his eyes have indeed gazed upon both the splendors of creation and the horrors of what humans can do to one another.
Who knows how he lost his eyesight?
Regardless of how, as a blind beggar, he is now an outcast, and I imagine that his insistence at calling out for Jesus while other respectable types wish he would be quiet, has a note of the desperation of years behind it.
It is clear from the passage that his zeal arises from the fact that he “sees” things about Jesus that others do not.
He is the first to call him “Son of David” which reveals the royal lineage behind the wandering Jewish miracle worker.
And he also “sees” that once Jesus calls him, he no longer need do anything but respond completely and wholeheartedly.
He throws off his cloak, maybe his only possession, and goes to Jesus, and asks to see again.
Jesus then restores his sight, saying that his “faith has made him well,” and most interestingly, Bartimaeus immediately begins following Jesus on the way.
That way leads to the cross, a dark, dark place, but the blind man whose insight and faith led to a restoration of his eyesight, follows anyway.
Perhaps Bartimaeus’ was a blindness in which he saw further like the chief in Little Big Man.
Maybe Bartimaeus’ saw how cruel and shallow his Jericho neighbors were to one they considered broken and unclean, and could readily see the contrast when the Son of David came to town.
Maybe it was the eye of faith, unclouded by superficialities and appearances, which revealed to him that this Jesus was the realest thing around, and that he wouldn’t let it pass him by.
What are we to gain from such a story?
First of all, we people of faith are always seeking greater understanding, greater insight into the nature, purpose and will of the God we follow in Jesus Christ.
At times faith can feel like an exercise in negotiating with blindness.
Perhaps at one time in our lives we have been able to “see” and have imagined the possibilities of what a life of faith might be.
But so often the realities of life can blind us to the larger realms of God’s kingdom, and we can find ourselves as strangers in a strange land… outcasts who are marginalized and unable to live the fullness of the life we have once glimpsed.
And yet, deep inside, each of us has a longing for something greater, and when we feel it… when we “see it” in a way that is beyond the vision of our eyes, then we are faced with a choice.
Either stay silent and remain in our state of disconnection, or scream like crazy and go after the real thing with abandon, undeterred by the naysayers and those who want to hold us back for appearances’ sake.
Bartimaeus saw Jesus walking by Jericho, and even though his eyes were dimmed, the vision of his heart was true, and he let nothing get in the way of the healing he saw in the Son of David, and the new life that he would have as a result.
What will you choose to do if you find yourself faced with such a choice?
This past weekend the vestry and I met together to explore how we at St. Paul’s can choose to see God’s mission more fully, and we discussed ways to receive and experience the healing of Jesus Christ that inspires us to more fully follow God as a church.
Over the next months we will be asking you to make a choice to participate in this body more fully, and I hope you will do so wholly and completely, like Bartimaeus did when he caught that glimpse of Jesus in Jericho.
I hope you will gain insight into why following Jesus and doing so as part of this community of St. Paul’s Within the Walls is a choice that you need to make.
For Bartimaeus, the choice he made to speak up changed his life forever, and I believe that Jesus is just as available to us in our time, provided we have the vision and insight to follow him in faith.
Mark has spent the whole gospel trying to convince us that following Jesus on the way is what each of us are called to, no matter what limits we may think we have that might keep us from doing so.
Can you see a way to follow Christ more fully this week?
If so, will you choose to pursue it with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might?