Scripture: Mark 10:46-52
The fad has long since faded away, but do you remember “magic eye” pictures? These were a product of the 1990s which had some sort of brightly colored, bizarre patterned picture. Allegedly if you stared at it then you could see the hidden image underneath. I have to say allegedly because I absolutely to this day cannot see those things. Back in the day it was a frustrating experience when it seemed everyone but me could see the hidden horse or dinosaur. People would often offer up a bunch of tips like “just cross your eyes” or “stare at one point” or “stare at nothing in particular”. They would say it like this was the most obvious and easiest thing in the world, but no matter how hard I tried to follow their less than helpful advice I could not see the darn things.
Magic Eyes were only around for a minute. In 1994 they were all the rage, but in a couple of years pop-culture had largely moved on. I know that I was not sad to see them go, because it honestly annoys that I cannot see them. It truly does frustrate me when I see one of those images to know there is a picture in front me yet wholly invisible to me. You can tell me exactly what I am looking for, give me all of the instructions on how to see it, I can stare at it until sunset. There is no way I am ever seeing that hidden image. For whatever reason my brain cannot parse out the visual cues it is seeing and put it all together to reveal the hidden image. When it comes to making sense of Magic eyes they are an absolute blind spot for me.
As annoying as not being able to see the Magic eye images are to me, it does reveal a deeper truth. Sometimes we cannot literally see things that are right in front us. In this morning’s scripture Jesus heals a blind man, but the truth we have to wrestle with is that all of us are blind in some way. We might have our physical sight, but there are areas that our mind, heart, or soul are completely blind to. As we identify those blind spots, the good news today, is that Jesus can help us see as well.
There are elements of this story worth considering because they can have a profound impact on our faith. In this story Bartimaeus asks Jesus for something that no one else can give him. We have to realize that Bartimaeus did not have an easy life, especially if he was born blind. If he was born blind he would have been considered a mark of shame to his parents. The prevailing believe of the time was children were afflicted with birth defects because of the sin of their parents. We know this from an account of another blind man being healed in John chapter 9. Bartimaeus would have grown up being treated like the literal embodiment of sin. Not only that, but he also had zero job prospects, in the first century there was very little work that a blind man would be allowed to do. This mean that he was likely resigned to a solitary life of begging. He had to scrap by on the begrudging kindness of strangers. Every day he had to hope he would get enough money so that he could go to sleep at the end of the day not feeling hungry. If he could only see, then he could live a very different life. He would not be cut of and alone, he would be able to work and support himself, he would be able to be a blessing to himself and others. Of course, he wanted to see, so when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle worker, was passing by he knew this was his chance. We get a clue though, that Bartimaeus had more than just a passing familiarity with Jesus. He knew that Jesus was more than just another holy man, more than just another traveling miracle worker. Bartimaeus addresses him as “son of David.” There is no mistaking that this is a messianic title, by using this title Bartimaeus declared that he believed Jesus to be the Messiah. What we can really learn from this story, is what Bartimaeus asks Jesus to do.
Even though Bartimaeus probably wanted to see more than anything, even though sight would have vastly improved his life, and fulfilled many of his wishes, Bartimaeus does not shout out “Son of David, heal me!” He says “Son of David, Have mercy on me!” The concept of praying for mercy is not something we hear a lot about today, but perhaps we should. One of the oldest Christian prayers, dating back to the very beginning, is Kyrie Elision: “Lord, have mercy.” To ask for mercy is an acknowledgement that we have nothing to give. Asking for mercy is asking for special privilege from a position of weakness. To ask for mercy is a confession that we are not truly deserving, but we still greatly desire or need a special kindness given upon us. To ask for mercy, is the somewhat audacious request to ask for a gift; specifically a gift that is given without strings attached and with the acknowledgement that it cannot be paid back. When we ask God for mercy we do so from a point of humbleness and reverence, as we acknowledge that God is the only one capable of granting that which we ask.
We often simplify the act of prayer down to “We can ask God for what we need and because God loves us he will give it to us.” There is a downside to simplifying prayer too much because when this is all prayer we turn God into some sort Cosmic Santa Claus, or worse a divine vending machine that we can always go to when we want to be happy. It is true that God loves us a great deal, and that God answers prayers, but when we take “Lord have mercy on me a sinner” out of our prayer life something great is lost. If mercy is humbly asking for a great gift we have no chance of achieving on our own, then the opposite of mercy is entitlement. Entitlement is when we believe we deserve something just because of who we are. If seeking mercy is based in humility than entitlement is based in pride. Bartimaeus could have easily felt that he was entitled to being healed. He could have been bitter about living a lifetime with a disability he did not want, he could have demanded that he has paid his dues and it was his turn for something to go right. It would not be a stretch for him to believe he deserved to be healed after all that he had gone through. Yet, that is not what he does.
His request is not one based in entitlement it is based in hope and faith. Bartimaeus approaches the messiah by saying “Lord have mercy on me.” Jesus, overflowing with grace and mercy, calls him over and asks how exactly he can do that. When we pray, what is the attitude you approach God with? Do you approach the throne saying “Lord have mercy on me” or do you approach God expecting him to give you what you feel entitled to? Now clearly, none of us are going to God in prayer and verbally say, give me what I am entitled to, but this is not about the words we use, it is about the attitudes of our hearts. It is a question that we have to answer for ourselves. In our relationship with God do we see ourselves as seeking mercy or demanding entitlements?
The starting point for Bartimaeus was mercy. When our starting point is “Lord, have mercy on me” then we become keenly aware of the areas in our lives where we need mercy. For Bartimaeus he needed healing of physical blindness, but perhaps what we need the most is a healing of a blindness in our hearts. Perhaps just like those stubborn Magic Eye pictures we cannot see what God has put right in front of us.
There are many ways, we can be spiritually blind. One such way is in how we treat and regard other people. Even people who demonstrate righteousness and desire to follow God can have these sort of blind spots. A good example of this is Martin Luther, the famous reformer and founder of the Lutheran Church. Many consider him a righteous man, and the writings of Martin Luther were instrumental in John Wesley’s conversion. Yet, Martin Luther was still imperfect. Because he wrote several books on the subject, it is well documented that Luther was a very strong anti-Semite, and he advocated for the burning down of synagogues, expulsion, and even violence against Jews. Even someone like Martin Luther was spiritually blind in some areas. Lord have mercy.
It just is not Martin Luther, many people have a spiritual blindness towards certain people. I have spent years working with teenagers in some capacity, and I have met my fair share of good Christian people with a spiritual blindness to young people. It has hurt my heart to hear people I respect complain about “kids today.” They are quick to dismiss young people as spending too much time on phones, not enough time outside, and being too entitled. It bothers me deeply when I hear people who confess to follow Jesus belittle an entire generation of people younger than them as whiny snowflakes. This is an ugly blind spot. When they see young people, they seem blind to the fact that God loves these children just as they are. They are blind to the fact that God can and will use them to make disciples and transform the world if given the opportunity. In too many churches instead of working to include people of all ages in age appropriate ways in the work of God’s kingdoms, teenagers are either shoved out or hidden in the church basement. Lord have mercy
We can have a spiritual blindness in regards to suffering and great need in the world today. We are quick to get upset when the price of gas jumps up by 30 cents a gallon, but there is very little outrage over the fact that 273 million people do not have access to safe drinking water in the world or the fact that every minute of every day around the world 21 children under the age of five die from easily preventable causes. Why, church, does our heart not break over this? Imagine if all churches, collectively were as passionate about ending world hunger, as NFL fans were passionate about their favorite teams. We would be able to end world hunger before the Colts make it back to the playoffs! Lord have mercy
The final and perhaps most important element we can get out of this morning’s scripture is the last sentence: “Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” Bartimaeus had his greatest wish granted, he could now see. Everything he could never do was now a possibility for him, and so what does he decided to do? He follows Jesus. The spiritual blindness in our lives, more often than not keep us from following Jesus as closely as we want to. They are blind spots that keep us from more fully connecting with our Lord and Savior. The joyful news is that the Jesus came to proclaim sight for the blind. The Lord WILL have mercy on us, and can heal us of our Spiritual blindness.
May the prayer of our hearts be “Lord have mercy.” May we seek the Lord’s mercy with an attitude of humbleness not entitlement. May we genuinely pray that Jesus will heal us of our spiritual blindness. May we have eyes to see, hearts to love, and hands to make a difference. May we be a people who can testify to the almighty power, grace, and mercy of God by proclaiming “I once was blind, but now I see. The Lord had mercy on me.”