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Saturday, 31 May 2014

Spiritual Blindness

A farmer purchases an old, run-down, abandoned farm with plans to turn it into a thriving enterprise. The fields are grown over with weeds, the farmhouse is falling apart, and the fences are collapsing all around. During his first day of work, the town preacher stops by to bless the man's work, saying, "May you and God work together to make this the farm of your dreams!" A few months later, the preacher stops by again to call on the farmer. Lo and behold, it's like a completely different place -- the farm house is completely rebuilt and in excellent condition, there are plenty of cattle and other livestock happily munching on feed in well-fenced pens, and the fields are filled with crops planted in neat rows. "Amazing!" the preacher says. "Look what God and you have accomplished together!" "Yes, Reverend," says the farmer, "but remember what the farm was like when God was working it alone!"

The story of Bartimaeus is a story about the power of human faith and positive thinking. Faith shapes how we interact with one another and the world at large. Several attempts have been made throughout history to narrowly define who belongs in God's Kingdom. These attempts were also used to keep social outcasts and the powerless in line. For example, many times when African-American slaves came to Christ they had to declare that their decision had nothing to do with the desire to be free from slavery. God places a very high value on the marginalized people of the world. In the Book of Jeremiah, He promised to gather them up -and that promise was fulfilled by giving sight to Bartimaeus. We are called to get to know people and what they REALY want and need so we can help them solve their underlying problems. We need new eyes to see the invisible ones as God sees them. Even in physical blindness, Bartimaeus was able to see what is often not seen by other eyes that function quite normally. Bartimaeus had listened to the testimony of the sacred Scriptures and to what they had to say about Jesus and what He would do at Jerusalem to gain forgiveness and entry into Paradise for all sin-tainted human beings.

The story is also an explanation of how an interruption conveys a promise, a risk and hope for the future. Bartimaeus' life was interrupted when his sight was restored. He went from being a beggar to answering the call to be one of the "people of the way". We also meet Christ when we tell the Gospel story in which Jesus teaches, preaches and calls people to discipleship (like Bartimaeus was called when he was healed). This is a story of seeing with the eyes of faith-dimly at first and needing correction, but focused on the source of light and life. Bartimaeus, like other people who sought healing from Jesus, saw himself in humility as utterly dependent on God, the only hope. Bartimaeus is an example of the faith that comes from hearing the word of God. Jesus' simple words, "Your faith has made you well" were simple in nature, but powerful enough to transform someone who is broken into someone who can do much for Christ and others.

In coming to Christ for healing, we should look to Him as the promised Messiah. He encourages our hope that if we come to Him, He will grant our requests. In coming to Him, we must cast off the garment of self-sufficiency to free ourselves from every weight and sin. When He grants our requests, we must continue to follow Him, to honour Him and receive instructions from Him.

There are three types of blindness:

1. Physical

2. Spiritual blindness (OR the blindness of disciples)

3. Blindness of our generation to the needs of the world.

Gaining one's sight seeing again is the way of Jesus. It involves journeying with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, the place of death and resurrection, of endings and beginnings. To see that is to have one's eyes opened. We begin our journey of faith by coming humbly to Christ and admitting our sinful lives. By doing so, we are admitting that we are poor in spirit. We want Christ to open our eyes to him like he opened Bartimaeus' eyes. We need to recharge ourselves with Christ's light and share that light with others.

Can we se ourselves in Bartimaeus? Or do we think we are better that he was? We are all beggars-blind to Christ, economically-challenged, powerless, silenced by our fears, short on inheritance by our unclean spirit and eventually quieted by death. Jesus, Son of David, takes care of the silencing powers that deprive us of our status before God. Placing our faith in Jesus brings both wholeness and light. It gives us freedom to spring up, follow Christ on the way, and to share His presence and peace with others. Mark 10 is all about what it means to be in God's Kingdom. What does it look and feel like to have God's rule in your interior life, so that your outside actions have roots that can support them?

Our lives can look clean and neat on the outside, but be a mess on the inside. God wants to clean us so that our internal lives can be the good soil that allows the outside to flourish. Some people don't pray because they are afraid God will change their lives. We go to church because we want God to change our lives. The courage we have comes from God.

There is an interesting contrast here between Bartimaeus and the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-31. The rich young ruler did not want to give up what he had in order to gain eternal life. Bartimaeus was willing and eager to shed everything to become spiritually sighted. The rich young ruler, like many people today, was spiritually blind and stayed that way. Bartimaeus was both physically and spiritually blind, but he was healed. Jesus' miracles are seen more about growing in faith than with curing spiritual blindness. He picks us up from where we have fallen and redirects us along the way. This process can be described in many ways. We are always moving from spiritual darkness to spiritual light, from darkness of faith to faithfulness. Arrogance is the root of our spiritual blindness. We need to cast off the cloak of arrogance and put on the cloak of humility and faith.

The question "What do you want" is God's way of asking us if we really want to see who we are. Will we want Him more than comfort, avoidance of pain, or the pretence of control? If not, we will remain spiritually blind and begging from what will never satisfy us. Mercy= undeserved pardon, replacement of judgment with grace and acceptance. In Biblical terminology, clothes represented casting off the old so you can get ready for the new. Seeing leads to the responsibility to repent, to forgive, to follow Jesus, to suffer in new ways, to have a soft heart, to trust as a child, to clear any priorities other than God (something the rich young ruler refused to do), and to demonstrate God's commitment unto death. We are all in some type of need. There are ways and times for all of us in which we are blind. We have all cried out for help and mercy in some way.

Bartimaeus is also an example of the power of prayer. Prayer means coming before God with empty hands and opening ourselves to His merciful presence and to what He wants to give us-namely, His mercy. Jesus wants to answer our prayers because He wants to answer them. In turn, we must let Him look at us and let ourselves be prayed for by Him. Jesus could not perform miracles unless the people who received the miracles had faith. Faith means awareness of God and a relationship with God. We need to be like Bartimaeus. We need to become blind so that we can see ourselves and those around us as well.

Everyone has a blind spot; namely, our area of awareness and areas where growth can still take place. Bartimaeus is an example of how we can get help with our own blind spots by doing these three things:

1. Listening

2. Taking initiative

3. Being softer

Bartimaeus also serves as an example of those who have shut the eyes of their minds to Christ's calls for repentance.

To move from suffering to faith, we MUST capitalize on the opportunities God gives us. These opportunities only become opportunities when we embrace them as opportunities. Bartimaeus embraced the opportunity to be cured from both physical blindness and spiritual blindness-the rich young ruler did not. We must also minimize the negative voices that clatter around us. We must not judge people by what we see on the outside. We must also exercise the faith that is available to us. If you ask Jesus for something, you must be prepared to follow Him. The blessings of the Kingdom are for those who, in faith, persistent faith, cry out to God in mercy. How many people in the history of the church have so wittingly thrown off the cloak of their past life to put on the new cloak before they knew what faith could do for them? Jesus' restoring of Bartimaeus' sight reaffirmed the salvation implied by the faith which prompted Bartimaeus' request.

Those who have authority are those whom people have learned to respect and honour because they have been served by them, in one way or another. This is where authority lies within the church. Of course Jesus himself is our great example, especially when he said, "For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many ". (Mark 10:45)

The process of becoming a disciple involves three steps:

1. Admitting that we don't know the answer to the most profound issues of life, and we must ask for help.

2. Taking heat

3. Following Jesus

The healing of Bartimaeus was used as a miracle to help the disciples understand their own blindness and feed the flame of their faith. This mirrors both faith that breaks through blindness and God's mercy. God places mirrors in our lives so that we can see ourselves, fan our faith, and share in the fellowship of Christ's sufferings.

Faith is a matter of a relationship with God in Christ, so that through faith a believer is related to the source of life, to the author of life who can restore wholeness to broken lives and fulfill our hopes of eternal life. This allows us to begin a life with Him forever, beginning now in the faith relationship. The story of Bartimaeus is a living memory of an event that deeply impressed the people who witnessed the miracle. To be on the way with Jesus leads followers into a deeper understanding of the Way of God. To come to know God is to "see" things one never "saw" before. Bartimaeus gained physical sight and spiritual sight.

Where and how is there blindness in us? What hood do we wear that hides our faces from each other and from those whom God names as our neighbours? What cloak do we wear that covers up our own humanity and keeps us from hearing what God desires for all of us? For us it is not about poverty, race, discrimination, oppression, starvation or illness of some sort. Instead it might be our addiction to busyness that blinds us to opportunities to care. It might be the subtle arrogance that we pull over our heads that leaves little room for new learning or understanding or seeing life and world from a large perspective. It might be the affluence that we wrap around our lives that has a tendency to stifle both genuine gratitude and compassion. We need to ask ourselves these questions:

1. When and how are we blind like Bartimaeus?

2. What hood do we need to push back from our face in order to see?

3. What cloak do we need to unwrap from around our lives?

4. How might we need to stumble towards God?

In the end, this story tells us that we are not human until we are human together, and that blindness is not just about our eyes, but also about our hearts and minds.



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