The Right Rev. Eugene T. Sutton
I have a confession to make. Sometimes I give in to the temptation to turn on the television set in the basement in our house to watch…wrestling. I don’t know exactly what causes me to do this, but it may have something to do with my lifelong desire to be viewed as a real tough man.
I see myself as The Rock, battling Triple H or “Y2J Chris Jericho” or “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to keep my belt as the WWF heavyweight champion. But none of those guys could tie the shoes of the wrestling warriors of a generation ago, men such as: Big Boss Man, Hulk Hogan, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, or that deadly duo, “The Powers of Pain.”
Ah, to be tough. Physically tough, I suppose, is beyond my reach, although I can look into the mirror to see rippling muscles, a massive build, and a fearsome facial disposition that would walk boldly down any dark alley with confidence. But sooner or later the guy in front of me must leave, so then I’m left to look at my skinny legs, these bony arms, and this boyish face that couldn’t even scare the neighborhood kids at Halloween.
I really want to be tough. If not physically, then mentally or spiritually–I’d settle for that. For the times, I’m told, call for tough people. Our young people know this; if they knew you would listen and not condemn their generation, they would be happy to tell you how tough it is to be a whole teenager in today’s consumerist culture. There are constant pressures to use or abuse various people, substances or relationships, and it takes a tough person to stand up for himself or herself and withstand those pressures. It’s as if many of our young people were just like Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel lesson, a blind beggar sitting by the roadside and crying out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me. I’m in a tough situation.”
But it’s true for all of us, too, isn’t it? I hear one man saying, “I go to work every day, but the firm is doing things I don’t like. I disagree with the ‘dog-eat-dog’ attitude and the ruthless methods but I feel stuck, powerless to do anything about it. My opinions don’t seem to count around this shop. I’m too old to start over again–I have to protect my pension and my family’s security. So I take my paycheck and I go sit by the side of the road. I’m a blind beggar, too. Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.”
“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me…I get the kids up in the morning, feed them breakfast, and get them ready for daycare–then rush to get myself ready so I’m not late for work again. The house is a mess, but Dave doesn’t lift a finger to help out. I’m tired of arguing about it. In fact, I am tired of it al–tired of not spending more time with my children; Dave and I are too tired for each other in the evening; and I’m sick and tired to juggling two full-time jobs, one at the office, the other at home. I’m tired of playing super-mom. I want to do it all, Jesus, but I end up doing nothing well. In fact, I feel like a failure; I need help, Lord. I’m a blind beggar, too; have mercy on me.”
“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me. I spend most of my time alone in this senior citizens building. The children don’t call very often. They hardly visit at all. Most of my friends are dying off. I’m no longer able to work, no longer able to contribute. I feel useless, Lord. I’m a blind beggar, too; have mercy on me.”
Yes, life can get pretty tough. It calls for tough people, people like Bartimaeus. I want to introduce you to him. Come with me over to his to home–a ramshackle to “lean to”–as he is getting up this particular morning. Let’s hear what he’s saying to himself:
“Oh, another day. Guess I should get ready to go sit by that roadside. Why do I do it? What’s the point? Nothing’s going to change for me. Everyday it’s the same thing: I sit, I shout and I get a few coins, just enough to live another day. It’s not worth it, you know; maybe I should just give up, end it all…
“Then again, maybe not. Who knows, maybe today, it will turn around for me. Maybe today…I will actually meet someone who can get me out of this mess, or at least make it more bearable. It could happen, right? I think so…in fact, I know so! This is my day; I’m going by the roadside!”
It takes a tough person to get up everyday.
While he is sitting at his usual spot, he begins to hear a sound in the distance. It’s the noise of a crowd, and it’s getting louder. “What’s going on?” Bartimaeus asks a passerby. “It’s Jesus, the new teacher and miracle worker, coming this way with a crowd following him,” came the reply. Bartimaeus stands up immediately. “This is it!” he thinks, the moment he’s been waiting for all his life. When the roar of the crowd is at its loudest, he shouts at the top of his lungs, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped. Many of his disciples ordered the blind man to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”
Have you ever been so low, so needy, so utterly dependent on the mercy of God that you just didn’t care who knew about it? The disciples didn’t want to hear about Bartimaeus’s problems; they tried to silence him, shunting him off to the side so as not to disturb them, much like many of us today who refuse to listen to the cries of the poor, the lame, the hungry and the outcast. “Shhh!” is so often our response to the Bartimaeuses of the world. “You’re disturbing our worship and devotion. Can’t you leave us alone in peace to be with Jesus?”
But Bartimaeus refused to be silenced. Nothing–and no one–would stop him from meeting the one person whom he knew could make the difference in his life. Realizing that certain chances only happen once in life, he had the toughness to seize the moment. Somewhere Bartimaeus had learned what all tough people come to know, that if you “try” and add “umpf!” you get “triumph!”
“Call him here,” Jesus demanded of his disciples, refusing to move until he came face to face with this remarkable man. Bartimaeus sprang up and ran to Jesus. Where did he get the strength? “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. Bartimaeus replied, “Master, let me see again.” Jesus said, “Go! Your faith has made you well.” Immediately, Bartimaeus regained his sight and thus took on a whole new vocation–following Jesus wherever he went.
Isn’t that what all of us want, to be able to “see,” to regain our vision? To trade in whatever blindness we have, so that we can see ourselves, our world and our God? I hope you can see by now that the healing of Bartimaeus–like all the stories of the blind receiving their sight in the New Testament–is not only about the physical miracle itself but the spiritual quality as well of being able to “see” reality in a new way and of living in the light of that vision.
To desire that kind of vision takes courage, for it can be a painful experience for many of us. Several years ago The Killing Fields won the Academy Award for best picture. The film told the horrific story of the brutality and massive bloodshed experienced by the people of Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime. When he had been defeated, many doctors from around the world came to Cambodia to try to heal the wounds of the conflict. They discovered a number of blind women. Yet, when they examined these women, it was clear that their retinas were fine, their optic nerves were healthy. What finally dawned on these doctors was that these women had simply chosen not to see anymore. They had already seen too much–their husbands and children slaughtered, their villages burned, their whole lives raped and gutted and destroyed. For these survivors, blindness had become a spiritual condition instead of a physical condition. In order to cope, they literally shut out the ugliness of the world around them, and the key to their healing was the healing of their soul-sickness.
For Bartimaeus, then, to ask Jesus to let him see again was for him an act of bravery and, ultimately, of faith. What would he see? How would he cope? What changes would he have to undergo in his life to move from being a victim to becoming a victor, from merely existing as “Blind Bartimaeus” to living as a disciple of Christ? To gain one’s sight means that one is prepared to accept the responsibilities that come with seeing.
Will Campbell, a white Baptist preacher who grew up in the segregated South, tells a story about his own experience of being blinded by racial hatred. When he was a teenager in rural Mississippi, he witnessed a brutal lynching. A black man was caught stealing something at the mayor’s house. The white citizens in the community reacted with gleeful rage. They tied the man to the back of a car and dragged his body along the gravel road through the center of town, shouting hate-filled insults and throwing rocks at the despised thief. Finally they dumped his body by the white cemetery, leaving his exposed flesh to fester in the blistering sum. Campbell remembers going with the other teenagers in town to gaze at the broken body, and they too spit racial epithets at the victim. It was only years later, when the veil of racism had lifted from his eyes, when he had “regained his sight” and caught a vision of the kingdom of God, that Campbell could see the evil that he had participated in, along with his community. Christ healed him of his blindness, enabling him to see that justice, compassion and dignity is what God intends for all people. His healing changed his life, and he dedicated the rest of his life to following Jesus–just like Bartimaeus.
Do you want to see again? Are you sure? To ask that of God takes courage and toughness. I commend to you this morning the examples of Bartimaeus, the women of Cambodia and an earthy but gutsy country preacher named Will Campbell. These are the real tough people. And long after Hulk Hogan, Macho Man, The Rock and Triple H fade from the public’s fleeting fascination, the toughness of today’s unsung heroes will always remain. To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.</P