Sermon preached by Rev’d Dr Emma Pennington at All Saints’ Cuddesdon on Sunday 28th October.
Readings: Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10: 46-52.
“My teacher, let me see again,” such is the plaintive cry which comes from the lips of blind Bartimaeus in our gospel reading this morning. His words give the impression that this is a man who was not born blind but has become blind and perhaps, as a consequence, his life has been reduced to one of begging. He knew how important what many of us simply take for granted was, the gift of sight and he will not be silenced until he has been brought to Jesus.
Strangely enough my heart really goes out to Bartimaeus at this moment in time. As a number of you have noticed I have recently been trying to come to terms with something I have long taken simply for granted, perfect vision. Following an obligatory trip to Specsavers I was given my new glasses and expected to wear them all the time. It will take a little time getting used to them, I was told, but after a lot of swearing, awful headaches and stumbling over things I began to realise that perhaps something was not quite right. It came to a head when we decided to go out for the day in the Cotswolds. As usual everyone bundled into the car, including the dog and settled behind screens and cross words I was left to drive. Nothing unusual about this except that as we drove along I became more and more grumpy until I crossly pointed out that, “By the way, just to let you all know, I can’t see a thing not even the road.” (I won’t say what I really said). As you can imagine we changed drivers pretty quickly. I took the glasses back only to find that no wonder I couldn’t see anything, one of the lenses had been marked as a +50 instead of a -50. So here you see me today, three weeks later, trying to get used to another pair of glasses and still struggling simply to see.
“My teacher, let me see again.” Now of course my rather trivial and pathetic attempt to come to terms with something which is just part of naturally ageing is incomparable to the experience of Bartimaeus. And yet his story has something to say to all of us this morning. It’s often only when something is taken away or lost or diminished that we really begin to appreciate what so often we take for granted. Be it sight, good health, hearing and that is just to do with our physical bodies. The same is the case on many other levels when we lose a loved one or move homes or life simply changes. This can cause us great distress and sadness as well as simply being annoyed or cross at our own limitations.
Desperately, in this abject position of nothingness he calls out to Jesus, over and over again. To the disciples he is making a spectacle of himself and becoming a nuisance but Bartimaeus simply does not care. He sees with a clarity that we cannot always grasp, that all his reliance rests on Jesus. No one else can help him, he is utterly dependant on Jesus and he knows that only he can give him healing and sight.
For me, Bartimaeus is a parable, an icon of someone who truly knows the depths of their need of God. His plaintive cry humbles me as someone who goes about my daily business so often self-reliant and independent. And yet he reminds me that for all my illusion of self-reliance, I and all of us are entirely dependent on God’s goodness, love and forgiveness. His saving grace brings joy out of sadness, healing from hurt, life from death. We cannot even stand before the throne of grace if it were not for our high priest Jesus and yet so often I can just take my easy, close relationship with God for granted, as I did my perfect vision.
But Bartimaeus’ small begging bowl also reminds me that on another level we are all interconnected and are dependent on each other. We need each other, we need to hear difficult voices to discern truth, we need to help others at times but also to receive help from others ourselves, for only when we recognise our inter-reliance can everyone grow and flourish as God intended. I’m sure you know the parable of the blind men and the elephant. It tells of a group of blind men who heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to town but none of them were aware of its shape and form. Out of curiosity they said, “We must inspect and know it by touch, of which we are capable.” So, they sought it out and when they found it they groped about it. In the case of the first person, whose hand landed on the trunk, said “This being is like a thick snake.” For another one whose hand reached its ear, it seemed like a kind of fan. As for another person, whose hand was upon its leg said, the elephant is a pillar like a tree trunk. The bind man who placed his hand upon its side said, “Elephant is a wall.” Another who felt its tail described it as a rope. The last felt its tusk, stating the elephant is that which is hard, smooth and like a spear. Each of them was right in a way, in a rather limited, subjective way. Only by adding their self-reliant, individual perspective to the wisdom of the collective whole does the truth of an elephant come into being.
Blind Bartimaeus reminds us that at some level we are all blind, and need the wisdom of each other and the spiritual sight of Jesus to see the depth of our interconnectedness and the grace which God shows upon us daily. Then we will be able to see with new eyes, eyes of gratitude, kindness and wonder. Amen.