“Open my eyes Lord. Help me to see your face. Open my eyes Lord. Help me to see.” (Open My Eyes, Jesse Manibusan)
There are several different kinds of blindness suggested by today’s readings.
There is the physical blindness of Bartimeus; there is the blindness of the disciples (and the religious leaders of Jesus’ time); and of course, there is our blindness. Throughout scripture, and certainly in a heightened way in the Gospels, physical blindness is used as a metaphor for blindness of the heart or of the mind or of the soul.
Bartimeus knows he is blind. He recognizes that there is much that he cannot experience and much that he suffers because of that blindness, and because he is aware of that lack, he is compelled to cry out, “I want to see!”
The blindness of the disciples and the religious leaders of the time is very different from that of Bartimeus because they do not realize that there is something missing from their sight. The Gospels in general, and Mark in particular is very clear to point out that the disciples don’t get Jesus. Even though they walk with him, have dinner with him, sleep out in the fields with him, and watch all that he does, they don’t understand who he really is. But they don’t realize that they are not seeing him truly. The author of Mark’s Gospel uses that literary device of the Marcan secret or the Messianic secret to suggest that they cannot understand who Jesus truly is without witnessing the suffering, death, and resurrection. But even that is not enough; they do not start to really see who Jesus is until they receive the Spirit on the first Pentecost.
Their blindness comes from the way they were brought up; their culture had conditioned them to expect a Messiah who would establish the kingdom of God by military or political force. The Messiah would be a great warrior who would defeat the Romans and kick them out. They couldn't even imagine a Messiah who came to serve and not to be serve. They were missing the larger context of who the Messiah was and what the kingdom of God was.
Stephen Covey, author of the widely acclaimed 7 Habits of Highly Effective People tells a story about himself that illustrates how lack on context can hide the truth from us. Stephen relates that he was on a subway in NYC on a Sunday morning. Contrasted to the rest of the week, a Sunday morning subway ride can be fairly calm and quiet. This particular car was only half full and most people were either dozing, or reading a book or the paper. At one stop, a man got on with two little children. The man slumped into a seat and the children proceeded to literally bounce off the walls of the car, running up and down the aisle, yelling, stepping on toes, banging into newspapers. People glared at the man who just sat there oblivious to the chaos the children were inflicting on the car. After a little while, a woman sitting near him tapped him on the knee and said, “Can’t you do something about those children?” Waking as if from a trance the man took in what was going on and called to the children to come to him. He looked around at the annoyed faces and stated, “We've just come from a hospital room where my wife, their mother, just died and I guess they are not sure how to process that. And I guess I am not sure either.” Now nothing changed in that instant as far as what Stephen and the other passengers could see, but Stephen relates that the change was palpable: from annoyance to compassion and sympathy. Stephen and the other passengers now saw the truth more clearly because they saw the bigger context.
I would suggest that for the most part, our blindness is much like that of the disciples. We don’t even know that there is more to truth than we see. We are not compelled to cry out, “ Son of David, have pity on us.” We don't even notice that there is something missing, and very often that something is a larger context. Would anyone be able to use God to justify violence if they clearly saw the larger context that God loves each of us, even those who are different, even those who are sinners? And lest we get too focused on the speck in our brothers' eyes, we Christians need to recognize the plank in our eyes of having been as guilty as any religion of using God to justify violence against others.
Would anyone be able to call themselves Christian and pollute the environment if they clearly saw the larger context that we humans have been given dominion over creation. That is not domination but stewardship and the responsibility for nurturing it.
And of course there is example after example of our blindness in faith, but one that has really struck me over the past few months as we have prepared for our Generations of Faith theme of Following Jesus, is the idea of our faith being a personal response to a personal call to discipleship. As I thought about it, it was not really a surprise because the very structure of how we were taught our faith suffered from that same blindness. We were not taught faith as a relationship but rather as if it were just a set of rules and beliefs that we had to adhere to. Catholics went to mass, obeyed the commandments, and said their prayers. There were few opportunities for dialog or questioning. And even fewer occasions for encountering Christ personally. And so we grew up either oblivious to any personal dimension or relationship in our faith, or we misunderstood the idea of a personal relationship with Christ to mean a private relationship. I would suggest that practically every aspect of our faith would change (for the better) if we opened our eyes to the reality that we are called by Christ, and our faith is a response to that call. We encounter Christ primarily in this community, not primarily in private sessions of prayer (of course private prayer is very important but not as the primary way we are called to discipleship). And at the same time we are called to be active members of this body of Christ who is encountered by others. If we could start to see that reality, to feel it rather than assent to its truth in our minds, how different would our celebration of eucharist be? How much more thankful would we be? How much more intently would we enter into communion with God and each other? How much more joyfully and purposefully would be sent forth to be the body of Christ this week?
Open my eyes Lord. Help me to see your face. Open my eyes Lord. Help me to see.