His is a world without color, without light – yet full: Full of tone and texture, full of tang and redolence, a world alive with a dancing mind – a world full of feeling. That is often more than enough. For many folks, having four senses rather than five is quite enough for a full and fulfilling life, even if, like Bartimaeus, they remember what it was like to be able to see. But for Bartimaeus, in the circumstances of his society, as with so many in this world, the moment he was struck blind he was also silenced … and more than silenced: he was made invisible, made strange. The moment his sight was taken from him, his society also took from him the possibility of being seen, of being heard, of being beheld as a human being, much less a child of the Holy One, our God. So, Bartimaeus has to scrap and beg for survival on the mean streets of the city of Jericho. (Mark 10:46-52)
When he is visible at all, it is as an object: a blind beggar An object of pity, or an object of revulsion, or an object of perverse fascination. And, cast off as such an object, made strange in the world with others, Bartimaeus is alone in his world, even as his world is full of tone and texture, full of tang and redolence, a world alive with a dancing mind: a world full of feeling.
And in that world alone, full of life and feeling, alone, made strange, Bartimaues yearns. He yearns for the Holy. He yearns for the Holy One, our God. He yearns for the Holy One Who formed him, the Holy One Who knows him, beholds him, the One in Whose mercy he is not alone but whole.
And then one day, in his yearning for the Holy One, there on the streets of Jericho alone in his world with his yearning, Bartimaeus hears a commotion, a crowd coming down the street. He feels a stirring deep with him. Holiness itself has come, drawing near to him. Like the sun dawning over the horizon, this someone is radiant with the color and light of the Holy One, a Holiness that sees and hears and knows and beholds the most sacred depths of each and every child of God.
Now, let’s leave Bartimaeus for a moment. I invite you to just think of all the ways that someone can be cast into such a position as this “blind beggar” on the mean streets of the city of Jericho. Just think for a moment, if you will, of all the ways that someone’s visibility and voice as a person can be struck away from them. What are the ways that society can render someone invisible, silenced, made to be alone, strange – an object, when noticed at all: And object of pity, or an object of revulsion, or an object of perverse fascination. What are the ways that society can cut someone off from being beheld or even just being believed, as a human being, much less a child of the Holy One, our God? What are all the reasons that someone can hear this all and say, “Me too?”
With this in mind, let’s go back to Bartimaeus… Bartimaeus was made to be strange in the world with others and alone in his world full of life and feeling. Yet he yearns to be beheld and known as beloved. So, when he becomes aware of the presence of Jesus drawing near, his yearning brims over. He calls out to Jesus. When the people crowding around Jesus hear the voice of Bartimaeus it just sounds to them like barking – it’s harsh, disgusting, obnoxious, offensive, disrespectful. The people shout at him to shut him up. But the one who had been silenced persists. He speaks all the more loudly and clearly. In the midst of the shouting and commotion of the crowd, scripture tells us that Jesus “stood still.” Jesus is still and he knows. Jesus hears the voice of the one who had been silenced. He hears the yearning in the voice, the yearning from the sacred depths of the soul. Jesus hears. Jesus sees. And Jesus calls back to Bartimaeus and invites him close.
Notice what happens next.
Jesus asks Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus doesn’t assume that he knows. He doesn’t assume he know what someone needs. He doesn’t condescend. He doesn’t pity. He doesn’t take himself to be the savior. He doesn’t take one look at this blind beggar and say, “Well, here’s another poor soul in need of my awesome healing powers.” No. Rather Jesus, as the one who is one with the Holy One, our God; Jesus, as the one who sees and hears and knows as the Holy One; Jesus upholds the dignity of the one he beholds. (Matthew 7:12; Sirach 31:15)
Jesus in his mercy invites those who have been silenced to speak for yourselves and to be heard for yourselves, to be beheld as yourselves, to be held, to be healed, to be restored, redeemed as human beings, as children of the Holy One, Beholding and beheld by the dawning power of Holiness itself, filling this world full of color and light, full of tone and texture, full tang and redolence, this world alive with dancing minds, a world full of feeling, together – no longer strange, but beloved, together.
Dear beloved of the Holy One, our God, it is to that God that I give thanks.
(Delivered October 14, 2018, at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)