And Jesus said to him, Go your way; your faith has made you well. And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.
There is a biography in print of a notorious crime figure who had been kidnapped and hidden from his family for months. After notifying his son of the time and place of his impending release, his captors released him into a grocery store. The father, a man who had always prided himself in his appearance, was still a fugitive from the law, so he was disguised -- as a street person. His hair was long, his face was unshaven, and he wore disheveled old clothing. His son was busily looking through the store, walking up and down the aisles. Although he did not see his father anywhere, he found himself being repeatedly jostled by what appeared to be an old derelict, and he kept moving the man out of his way. Finally, the father stood himself in a narrow aisle through which his husky son could not pass. He looked intently into his son's face and said, quietly, "Your eyes are open, my son, but you do not see."
Our readings for today speak of many ways of the human capacity to move through life with eyes wide open-yet unseeing. In one of our eucharistic prayers, we pray to the Lord, "Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us." We make this petition because sometimes we are simply blind to the God who seeks us out. Sometimes we cannot recognize God at work, because we are too distracted by work of our own-or by our families, wealth, organizational life, social connections, financial status, or other distractions of our own making. We also live in a global society with myriad problems that overwhelm us. Sometimes we cannot see how we possibly could help-and besides, we say, "Doesn't the Bible teach that charity begins at home?"
But even more, many of us lead overstressed, overbooked lives. We need Palm Pilots and calendar books just to manage our daily family obligations. Far too often, the important things that occupy us from day to day become obstacles to our vision; they blind us to what really matters in life. Caught up in endless schedules of meetings, jobs, ballgames, swim and track meets, volunteer work, social activities, and organizational life, we easily forget that we live in God's world. It's a world that is full of sin and sorrow and grace and goodness. But most of all, it is a world that God cared about enough to come to earth and die for, so that we might learn more fully how to live.
Yet, the witness of Old Testament scripture is just as true today as when it was written: God's people do not see God's wisdom, and we often make ungodly choices in our use of God's gifts. We tie up precious time and energy in activity that saps the strength and weakens the spirit. At school, at work, in our families, even in our churches -- we seem to be unable to resist the pull toward the "lowest common denominator" as we relate to one another. We argue and criticize, insult and misrepresent. We insult and exclude and take advantage. We stir up controversies and spread gossip and undermine other people's honest efforts. Just like the Chosen People of Isaiah's time, we turn away from what is righteous in preference for what is pleasing. We "go with the flow," seeking the easy path and avoiding people who remind us of the harsher realities of human life. Justified by our concerns for our own maintenance, we avert our gaze from poor, sick, suffering, or elderly people. We resent their existence because we see them as a "drain on our hard-earned resources." Most sadly of all, we close our hearts to their pain and to the ill treatment that they often receive in their most vulnerable moments.
Since we have legitimate survival concerns of our own, we see ourselves as having "good reasons" for not alleviating the pain of nameless, faceless people whom we do not know. "God helps those who help themselves," we say. But the Scriptures remind us this morning that God is grieved by their pain, as it is written: "The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm brought him victory, and his righteousness upheld him." The Bible witness is that throughout time, God has given the People of God everything they have and also has intervened repeatedly and consistently on behalf of the vulnerable and weak.
Today, that same God requires of us that we give as freely as we have received, to the service of the least among us and for the spread of God's Realm on earth. The greatest among us are not the ones who have the most, Our Lord Jesus teaches. Rather, the greatest among us are those whose eyes are open to human suffering, those who are able to recognize in suffering humanity not a cause for embarrassment but an opportunity to witness to the healing and life-giving power of God. This is the Good News of the Gospel message for today.
Like Bartimaeus, we can recognize -- even in our blindest and most broken moments -- the presence of God in Jesus Christ. We can trust in the power of Jesus to give us new visions and strengthen our weak knees as we get up from our fallen places to continue our journey on the Way. No failure is so great that the Great Sacrifice cannot cover it. There is no stain that the Precious Blood of Jesus cannot wash away. So we never need to run from suffering, whether our own or anyone else's.
The gift of Christian faith is the sure knowledge, as it is written, that "suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character builds hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." The pain from which we run fastest can be the greatest vehicle for our health and strength, if only we will place our trust in the Spirit of God to lead us to where God most needs us.
Today, the Gospel reminds us that once healed of his blindness, Bartimaeus leapt from his place among the beggars at the gate, left his suffering behind, and followed Jesus on the Way. The Letter to the Hebrews teaches us that the assurance of God's grace and pardon empowers us, too, to turn from what is past and reach out to spread Christ's message beyond our boundaries of comfort. We hear the challenge of the Gospel in the call to follow Jesus into ministries of compassion, consolation, and care for one another, so that everyone can experience the joy of growth and maturity in faith. As we continue to seek the Lord's face, we can see it more clearly and share more fully in his saving, redeeming work, as the world witnesses the strength that only the love of God can give us.
So let us come to the Table of Grace with eyes open to behold the glory of God. Let us come with hands open to receive the gifts that God longs for us to share. Let us come with hearts open to the sustaining and transforming Love of Christ, in ourselves and in all those whom we meet.
And let all the People of God in this place say, AMEN.