Given what we are told are the deep divisions that seem to exist between those with whom we live each day, highlighted by the continued discussions of this past week in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman verdict and other headlines in the news, in the Bible we find this incredible statement by the Apostle Paul to the Christian community in Galatia:
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is no longer Jew nor Greek. There is no longer slave nor free. There is no longer male nor female. For all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
And, here we are, nearly 2000 years later, left to decide whether or not this statement is true or could be true or should be true. And, if it is or could be or should be, what might it mean for us today.
And so, with the witness and words of the Apostle Paul still hanging in the air, this 2000 year old about Jesus which stands face to face with the headlines in the news.
There he was.
Blending into the background.
They wanted it that way.
They didn’t know his name.
They did their best to make it so they did not have to see him.
They did their best to pretend and to live like he was not there.
But he was there.
But, nearly invisible.
Not because he wanted to be, but because they wanted him to be.
Invisible that is until he broke the unwritten, but carefully prescribed rules and stood up and made a scene. The author of Mark’s Gospel tells the story this way.
As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd 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!” [Because he was to be seen, but not heard, and barely even seen] many ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Jesus, 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 us. He is calling for 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, “Your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Here is what I know and then what I notice and, finally, what I found myself thinking about this week in relation to this story.
First, what I know…what scholarship tells us is at play here that we might miss because of time and distance and cultural differences.
Those who blind were to be avoided.
Either because they were thought to be bad or contagious or both.
When you encountered someone who was blind you crossed the street or turned away or locked the doors. You just knew that was how you were supposed to act. What you were supposed to do.
You did not want to get too close.
And, here is what I notice.
The blind man in the story was, for all purposes, nameless.
Even though he probably had lived in the neighborhood all of his life.
Remember how the story begins, but just in case you don’t, here it is again:
As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar…
Did you hear the redundancy? Bartimaeus and son of Timaeus.
Bartimaeus is not a name.
It simply means son of Timaeus.
All of you know enough Hebrew to understand.
Bar in Hebrew simply means son of.
The blind man in this story, even though he had lived in Jericho all his life, was not only not seen, no one knew his name.
And, here is what this story pushes me to think about.
Who is this narrative really about, I wonder?
A blind man without a name.
Or, a miracle performed by a miracle worker named of Jesus?
Or about someone other than the blind man making a scene who is blind and who needs to see? And, if it is about the later, then who is it who was blind and needs open their eyes in order to see? Which brings me to today and to you and me as we think about who we are and who we are called to be and what it means to follow Jesus.
Here is the comment from the news this past week which reminded me of this story and prompted my reflection for this morning. As I have followed the news this past week, like many of you I have listened to the discussion this week in the aftermath of the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. One commentator, reflecting on what happened, said:
“All [George Zimmerman] saw was a nameless, faceless hoodie.”
Not a person.
Not a student.
Not a son.
Not a fellow human being.
Not someone with a name.
Not someone with a home.
Not someone with a Mom and Dad.
Not someone hopes and dreams and struggles and sorrows.
But only a nameless, faceless hoodie.
Not all that different from the nameless, faceless blind man Mark’s Gospel describes.
And here is where the Gospel meets real life.
It seems to me that as long as we allow the other, whoever the other is – black, immigrant, gay, poor, person of the other political party… As long as we allow them to be nameless and faceless we are going to fall far short of Jesus did and what God intends. It is only when we find the resolve to stand face to face with them and to push back the hood or the hoodie and to learn their name and to look the them in the eye and to ask, “What do you want me to do for you?” will we have a chance of learning to see or of our sight being restored and then being able to follow Jesus on the way.
And, as I listen to the conversations around me this week…
I think, we have much to learn.