They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “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 10:46-52
The story of Blind Bartimeus comes at the end of a pretty busy chapter in Mark’s gospel. You think your calendar is full; just listen to the itinerary of Jesus and his disciples. They start off traveling the 85 miles from Capernaum to Judea, stopping long enough for Jesus to teach about divorce and welcome the children who come to him. But they are soon on the road again, when they run into the rich young ruler, and Jesus tells them how difficult it will be for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven.
As if that weren’t upsetting enough to his disciples, Jesus goes on to explain how he will be arrested, beaten, and killed, once they get to Jerusalem. But on toward Jerusalem they go, and along the way, James and John ask a special favor of Jesus – which doesn’t make them very popular with the other disciples – and Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them how those who would be great must become servants of all. In the span of forty-five verses, we’ve travelled from Capernaum to Jericho, just 15 miles from Jerusalem, where we finally meet the blind son of Timeus, begging beside the road.
Blind Bartimeus wasn’t born blind, like the man you may have heard about in last Sunday’s gospel reading. There is no controversy over who is responsible for the sin that caused Bartimeus’ blindness. There is no argument among the religious rulers about Jesus performing miracles on the Sabbath. The only thing that stands between Bartimeus and the healing power of Jesus is – the disciples.
Think about that for a moment. It’s the people crowding around Jesus as he leaves Jericho who discourage Bartimeus from calling out to be healed. It’s the closest followers of Jesus who tell Bartimeus to be quiet, to leave the Master alone. These good church people – folks like us – are just trying to keep the riffraff out. These good church people – folks just like us – only want the best for Jesus. They don’t want him to be pestered by a noisy, bothersome blind man who is creating a traffic jam there in the road. Can you think of anyone at your church who matches that description?
But notice what Jesus does? He stands still. He stops in mid-parade and says, “Call him over here.” And when Bartimeus learns that Jesus is calling for him, he throws off his cloak and hurries toward Jesus. Then Jesus asks him a simple, but remarkable question:
“What do you want me to do for you?”
What makes it remarkable is the fact that, only a few verses before, Jesus asked this same question of James and John, when they approached him to ask if they could sit at his right and left in the kingdom. Jesus uses the same question to respond to two very different situations. In one case, his own followers pull Jesus aside so others can’t hear, as they jockey for position, asking for a personal favor. In the other, an outcast blind beggar hollers out loud for mercy, and he doesn’t care who hears his cry.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks.
Jesus often used blindness or darkness as a metaphor for a lack of understanding about the Kingdom of God. The irony here is that the blind man sees what the disciples don’t see. The disciples are looking for power and glory. Bartimeus just wants to see again. The disciples still think that Jesus is going to overthrow Rome in some political coup. Bartimeus recognizes that Jesus is, in fact, Messiah, the Son of David.
In what ways are we “blind” to God’s Kingdom? How do our ideas of “who belongs in church” prevent us from seeing the Blind Bartimeuses around us, the people on the margins who just want to be healed by God’s mercy? And what can we do to improve our vision, to begin to see as Jesus sees?
During this season of Lent, we have been asking you to consider how each human sense connects to a spiritual discipline. Through the disciplines of fasting, silence, and service, we have explored the senses of taste, hearing, and touch. Next week, we will take a look at prayer as it relates to the sense of smell. But to improve our spiritual vision, we need to engage in the study of God’s Word, the Bible. I’m not just talking about daily Bible reading, as important as that is to our spiritual development. But deep, prayerful study of God’s Word is one of the tools God uses to transform us, to change us into children of the Kingdom. One method that many have found useful over the centuries is a practice called Lectio Divina, or “divine reading.”
According to the Order of the Carmelites, “Lectio Divina,” describes “a way of reading the Scriptures in which we gradually let go of our own agenda and open ourselves to what God wants to say to us.” Any scripture passage can be used for this way of prayerful study, but the passage should not be too long. The practice of Lectio Divina includes four steps.
Stage One: Lectio (reading) We read the Word of God, slowly and reflectively so that it sinks into us.
Stage Two: Meditatio (reflection) We think about the text we have chosen and ruminate upon it so that we take from it what God wants to give us.
Stage Three: Oratio (response) We leave our thinking aside and simply let our hearts speak to God. This response is inspired by our reflection on the Word of God.
Stage Four: Contemplatio (rest) We let go of all words and thoughts. We simply rest in the Word of God. We listen at the deepest level of our being to God, who speaks within us with a still small voice. As we listen, we are gradually transformed from within. This transformation will have a profound effect on the way we actually live, and the way we live is the test of the authenticity of our prayer.
The practice of Lectio Divina as a way of praying the Scriptures has been a fruitful source of growing in relationship with Christ for many centuries and in our own day is being rediscovered by many individuals and groups. The Word of God is alive and active and will transform each of us if we open ourselves to receive what God wants to give us.
A moment ago, we recited part of Psalm 119. It’s the longest psalm in the Bible, and nearly every verse refers in some way to God’s Word. Let’s use it for a moment, to practice a little Lectio Divina, engaging scripture in a way that might open our eyes to the truth God wants us to know. Take your bulletin again, and look at the top of the second page, where the Leader says, “I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways.” Let’s use just that verse. I will walk you through the steps. Let’s begin with a prayer.
O Lord, open our eyes to your Word, and let it sink deep into us, changing us into people who are more and more like you.
Now read the sentence silently, and prayerfully, reflecting on its meaning to you… “I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways.”
Think about the verse. What is God bringing to your attention? Read it again.
Having read and reflected on this verse, you may now respond to it. Set your own thinking aside, as your heart prays back to God in answer to his Word.
Rest in the word. Let it sink deep into your very core. Allow it to work in you.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. Consider what this means to you.
What is God bringing to your attention in this question?
Pray back to God your heart’s reflection on this question from Jesus.
Rest in the Word. Allow God to work in you.
O Lord, we often do not know how to hear your voice, and we sometimes do not recognize your touch or taste. Help us to see as you see. Guide us in your truth through the study of your holy Word. Change us into people who are more and more like you. We want to see, Lord. Open our eyes to your love for us, and to the need for your love in the world around us. Amen.