In 2011, a national news report detailed the story of an adult man who received his sight back through the wonders of North American medicine. An interviewer asked the man, “What’s life like now? Tell us what does it mean to after all these years suddenly be able to see?” And the man initially said what you would expect—things like colors are amazing and it’s a wonderful gift to be able to see the faces of those that he loved. But the interviewer expected him to say those things. He wanted the man to say something extraordinary, something totally unexpected about how his life had changed since getting his sight back. So he asked him, “What’s the most unexpected thing?” The formerly blind man said that the most incredible thing was watching the leaves falling every autumn. He said, “I know that leaves fall. I know that people rake them and put them in piles and burn them. But I’d always imagined that the leaves would come down all at once, like a blanket. I didn’t know that when leaves fall that they float and glide and turn in the wind as they come down to the ground. It’s beautiful.”
In other words, the greatest beauty he saw was in dying things. The leaves are dying and that’s why they fall to the ground. And that’s what is happening in this account about Bartimaeus. People are seeing Jesus and they are expecting something from him, something extraordinary. They are expecting him to make their lives easier. Bartimaeus is here to remind us that Jesus makes ordinary life end. There’s an end of self, an end of what you were before. As a result, everything that was attached to you, including your limitations, are coming to their end as well. So that in the extraordinary life that Jesus is granting us, limitations are no longer liabilities. They actually become the means by which God is going to demonstrate God’s power and love.
If we want to think about the life that Jesus brings us, we just need to find our way through this account of Bartimaeus and see what’s changing. The lifeless ordinary for Bartimaeus begins with seeing more than others: they see a healer, he sees the Messiah and fulfillment of ancient promises. But it’s more than that. Somehow Bartimaeus says Jesus is not just the fulfillment of promise; Jesus also brings the mercy of God, so he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He’s destitute and desperate. He knows he can’t help himself, but at the same time he senses that his limitations are going to become part of Jesus’ ministry.
It turns out our expectations can delude us. When I was first accepted into the diaconal program through the Eparchy of Chicago, I thought to myself, “Well, finally I will become spiritual and all that holiness in the seminary program and just being on seminary grounds will be a holy experience—so it will surely rub off on me!” What I really found was something quite different. I discovered that my limitations, my lack of holiness, my lack of ability in certain areas were suddenly all the more obvious. Instead of having those limitations disappear, they became all the more obvious to me. It turned out I was not the best in every subject and by the same token, the atmosphere was often anything but holy. That’s because others’ limitations were also made manifest. Without faith in Jesus, every one of us might have despaired and abandoned our vocations.
But the realization that Our God, through Jesus, fulfills every promise and gives every mercy we need starts to perolate into our consciousness. And we realize that it’s precisely the limitations that God wants most of all to do something amazing through us. In other words, we come to a place where we not only see more than others, we come to find the courage to risk more than others. Risking is also part of this life Jesus offers us.
It means something for blind Bartimaeus the beggar to call to Jesus as the Son of David. He keeps saying it and the crowd keeps saying, “Shut up! Remember who you are, blindman! You depend on our charity and assitance, you need our approval. So just shut up!” So he is literally risking life and livelihood and any future in this village in order to proclaim that this is the Promised One. Just like every one of us has taken some level of risk for the sake of the Gospel.
We’ve taken some big steps by choosing to be part of this congregation/to be a foundational member of this parish. We want to share the love and mercy of God with others, but can we keep doing it even if God expands our view of reality? What if God calls us to reach out to people who will never have money or influence or power? (HR: Would we actually start a church in a place where people need us more than we need them?) Would we believe so much in a God of promise and mercy that we would risk it all for the sake of that call? And what if we realized that all things we don’t like about ourselves, all the things we see as limitations are not, in fact, limitations at all? What if our vision were opened to the reality that our limitations might be just the things God is looking for so we can be sent by God to fulfill a deeper calling to impact the world—far beyond what we once thought?
Sometimes the greatest comfort comes from paying closer attention to the Scriptures. At the end of verse 49 when Jesus stops after hearing Bartimaeus crying out, he say’s “Call him.” And the crowd says to the blind man, “Take heart. He’s calling you.” And for all of us, who from time to time are very aware of our limitations, maybe we need to remember that limitations are not liabilities when it comes to building the Reign of God. When we see our limitations most clearly, they hold the potential for us to magnify the greatness of the promises and the mercy of God. So this passage says to each one of us today, “Get up. He’s calling you. Your limitations are not liabilities; they are doors into the victory of Our God if we are still willing to follow.