Seeing in the Dark
When I was younger, I paid my way through college working as a merchant marine. During the summer months I would go to the Port of Baltimore hiring hall and wait to sign on to an ocean-going merchant ship. As my experience was limited, I typically worked the most menial jobs, but the money was very good and there was nowhere for me to spend my money or get into trouble. So, I saved a lot.
Now when I said menial, I meant menial. During the day I would work on the outside of the ship chipping off the old paint and put on the new paint. From one end to the other and back again. We were told that if it didn’t move we were to chip and paint it. At night it wasn’t much better. Because of the darkness we couldn’t chip and paint, so we stood and watched. I’m not kidding, for two hours at a time we would go to the bow and watch. For what you might ask, other ships of course. You see, the unaided human eye can see for 12 miles in one direction. That is a total range of sight of 24 miles. This distance has more to do with the curvature of the earth than one’s proficiency of sight.
So, we would stand there, rolling and rocking with the sea and looking out into the darkness. Blind to everything except for the occasional spot of light. Once we spotted something we would call the bridge on the phone that was provided for us there on the bow, and say something like, “lights spotted, two points off the port bow”. They would acknowledge the sighting, hang up, and go to the radar consol. Since that was set at a 20-mile diameter it would take a few minutes for them to see the other ship. When they did, they would call back and say something like, “vessel confirmed, two points off the port bow”.
They didn’t really need to call me back. At this point I would have been watching the lights for a full 5 minutes. What else was there for me to watch? Part of me was convinced that they called back so that we didn’t think that we were going crazy. Sort of, “yes, that is a ship. You are not seeing things. And by the way, don’t fall asleep.”
In today’s gospel there is an interesting story about seeing. Mark tells us of a blind man that was sitting on the side of the road from Jericho as Jesus, his disciples and a sizable crowd walked by. This is the only time that we hear of Bartimaeus. We really know nothing about him other than the name of his father and that he was begging as they came by.
Somehow, he hears that it was Jesus that was at the center of the crowd, so he begins to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me”. We know the rest of the story, but for a moment let’s pretend that we don’t. What I mean is, what if Bartimaeus is not physically blind. What if the story is about a spiritual blindness? After all, Jesus was all the buzz. He had been in Jericho for a day or two and a large crowd was following him, talking about him, amazed by him. They were on their way to Jerusalem, so this was at the end of his ministry it was unlikely that Bartimaeus had not hear of Jesus. So as Jesus walks by he calls out, “Jesus, son of David, have pity on me”.
Interesting that he uses his “human” title. Not teacher, not rabbi, not messiah but son of David. When Jesus calls him over, he asks “what do you want me to do for you?” Now it gets interesting, if Jesus were just the Son of David, then Bartimaeus should have asked for something from a man. He could have asked for a new cloak, after all he had just thrown his off as he came up to Jesus. But he asks for something that only the Son of God can give, “The blind man replied to him, Master, I want to see.”
How many times in the bible do people ask Jesus to help them see? Matthew 25:44 “master when did we see you hungry … when did we see you a stranger … when did we see you sick?
What I find the most interesting here is what Jesus said to him in response. He does not say, “now you can see” he says “your faith has saved you”. Was Bartimaeus asking for salvation?
It reminded me of when the bridge called me back and said that the light that I had seen 12 miles away was a ship.
It was funny, when I would call the bridge, I would report the location of a light and they would confirm the location of a ship, which was a whole lot better than confirming a flying saucer or island. Bartimaeus had asked for the ability to see and Jesus confirmed his salvation, which might have been what he was looking for all along.
It is said that God answers every single one of our prayers. And He does so in one of three ways. He either says “Yes” as we always prefer, or He says, “not yes” as we come to expect or he says, as he did with Bartimaeus, “I have a better idea”.
Jesus told him, “Go on your way; your faith has saved you.” That sounds to me like a better idea, because immediately he received his sight, he turned around and followed Jesus on the way.
My prayer for us, this week, is to “take courage; get up. Jesus is calling you.”
As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
“Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.”
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more,
“Son of David, have pity on me.”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
“Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.”
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?”
The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”
Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.”
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.
October 24, 2021