Then Jesus said to [Bartimaeus], “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.[Mark 10:51-52]
The Gospels are replete with stories of Jesus healing blind people. I have preached on several of these stories in my years in ministry, and never gave them much thought beyond the theological point I was trying to make.
But in the spring of 2017, I was in Washington, D.C. with a group of bishops, preparing to make visits to our legislators on Capitol Hill. Every so often, ELCA bishops travel to our nation’s capital to advocate for issues that matter to us, to our church, and to the people we serve.
I had recently returned from a trip to Guatemala and Mexico, where I was part of an international human rights commission looking into the root causes of migration by the people of Central America to the southern border of our country.
So I was invited to preach at our opening worship, and inspire my colleagues with a sermon that would encourage us during our time together and guide our conversations with the lawmakers. The Gospel reading was from John, the ninth chapter, the story of Jesus healing a man born blind. I titled my sermon, “Blind by Choice.”
What I failed to take into consideration was that one of my colleagues, Bishop Craig Satterlee, of the Northwest Lower Michigan Synod, is legally blind. Though I was fully aware of the fact, my sermon, in my estimation, showed a total lack of sensitivity to his feelings.
I profusely apologized to him afterwards, and he showed me the utmost grace. In spite of my ignorance, I am proud and humbled to say that Bishop Satterlee remains one of my closest friends in the Conference of Bishops.
Even in our noblest moments, we tend to ignore people like Bishop Satterlee. People who are differently abled; people, who, in our flawed human way of thinking, aren’t our equal and can’t do much for us.
They are easy to overlook, and at worst, they are often the victims of our ignorance and insensitivity. They are outcasts, forced by societal norms to live on the margins of society. We erect barriers and obstacles for those who are not like us.
Our gospel reading for this coming Sunday, October 24, centers on a man named Bartimaeus, a blind beggar in Jericho, who is ultimately healed by Jesus. He, too, was used to being overlooked. He was also used to people trying to silence him, as some sternly did when he shouted out to Jesus. However, Bartimaeus would not be silenced. As our story tells us, “He cried out even more loudly.” [v. 48]
Not much has changed in two-thousand years. It is nearly impossible to overcome commonly held views or opinions about the human condition – views that may be reinforced by deep-seated fears.
Unless we are blind ourselves, we will never understand this story from the perspective of a blind person. For that reason, I asked Bishop Satterlee permission to share a portion of his weekly message to the people of God in his synod. I would encourage you to take five minutes to watch the video, which you can see below.
I have never preached on this Gospel reading, and I’m not preaching anywhere this week. But if I were, here are three points I would make:
- Jesus grants sight to Bartimaeus, a favor freely given to one living on the fringe of society. We in the church are also called to be mediators of God’s grace and present an alternative vision to the world (pun intended). We are those through whom God shows care for the vulnerable of our society.
- We cannot turn a blind eye to the power of fear, nor the sin of prejudice in our world today. As we hear in Teresa of Ávila’s famous poem, ours are, “the eyes with which Christ looks compassion on this world.”
- Though often easier said than done, we are called to look with eyes of faith, to see beyond appearances, and grapple with the concerns that address the needs of the human heart. Especially during this current COVID-19 crisis, we need to demonstrate to the world that, despite the pandemic, the Lord is at work in our world today.
Nothing else will be acceptable for the life of God’s people.