a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “The Good Life: Money, Power, Health?”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
October 28, 2018
46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.
47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.
51Then 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.”
52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
What would you say if you called out to Jesus right now and he asked you the same question he asked bar Timaeus? Jesus asked him simply, “What do you want me to do for you?” What would you say you want Jesus to do for you right now? World peace? Healing of all illnesses and poverty? A Jaguars victory? (Now there is a recurring theme in these sermons over the past few weeks. Perhaps more of us need to pray for this…. Anyone got an update on the score and what quarter it is in now? Let’s pause for this update from the true National Religion of America as the Jaguars of the National Football League are playing right now, over in jolly old England.) Ah, ok. Now let’s move on to our own health now that we have ascertained the health of our city’s NFL franchise.
We live in an age where health and health care seem to be a national concern. There are those who absolutely demand that the nation ought to provide universal healthcare for all and those who see such demands as socialism and economically disastrous. I don’t hear many speaking to whether God would call this a universal human right or many speaking to whether profiting off of people’s illnesses and imprisoning people for actions they have taken due to mental illness are sinful in God’s eyes. I think it is pretty clear where I stand on these issues but you are free to believe as you choose. I just challenge you to ask is that because of politics or because you believe that God believes more in profit and in social Darwinism than in the ultimate value of every human life regardless of their capacity to pay for the health care they need to live a good life?
Would anyone say that good health is NOT important to living a good life? Almost anyone would – although I have known and heard of a number of very courageous people living with chronic or even fatal physical illnesses who have very clearly lived and enjoyed good lives. But to me that says that health is more than a physical factor. It is wholistic: physical, mental, and spiritual. And many who don’t have all three still seem to live quite good lives both by their own proclamation and by any fair outside observation.
This morning we read a story of a man who is blind, who is not happy with his life. He wants to be healed of his blindness. By the way the man’s proper name was “bar-Timeaus,” which in Hebrew means “son of Timaeaus.” Hebrew used “bar” to denote a son of the family name and “bat” to indicate a daughter. So his first name really wasn’t Bart, like Bart Starr. We don’t really know his first name. He was just “son of Timaeus,” “bar-Timaeus.” Notice that this story comes right after the story we read last week, where James and John want Jesus to promise to do whatever they ask also. He asks them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” When this blind man, bar Timaeus, calls out to Jesus repeatedly Jesus asks him the same question: “What do you want me to do for you?” He says, “My teacher, let me see again.” Sure, bar Timaeus had the faith to keep asking, to keep begging, but he knew how to beg. He was a beggar because he had to be one as a blind man. So crowds of naysayers didn’t deter him. He was used to that. Finally he got to ask Jesus: “my teacher let me see again.”
The health-care system of 1st Century Palestine was very different from ours today. There were no MDs, or clinics, or pharmacies. In most villages there might be a kind of local shaman – something we might once have referred to as a “witch doctor” who was believed to be able to interpret your problem and define it. In many cases it might be seen as a spirit that had taken over your body or soul. In many cases this would be considered something that made you “unclean,” – sort of an early version of what we call “contagious.” You might be ostracized for a time. In other places, usually larger cities where there were those who could afford it, itinerant “healers” would come through and maybe stay a while to treat those who could afford to pay him, kind of like the boutique physicians that come to you today. In any case this man who was blind was probably not blind by some permanent physical condition.
Edward Markquart, [“Blind Bart,” sermonsfromseattle.com, 2006], points out that “In Biblical times, blindness was primarily caused by a tear duct, located beneath the eyelids, drying up. The tear duct under the eyelids became dry and the eyelids became puffy and swollen, as did the eyeballs themselves. This kind of blindness was spread by flies and was aggravated by the hot desert sun and desert sands. It was a highly contagious disease and the only way to contain it was to quarantine the people who had this dreaded blindness. [Today doctors call this] ‘Ophthalmic conjunctivitis.’ We find this kind of blindness nowadays in Third World countries, where there are swollen red eyelids and swollen eyeballs. The point is: blindness was very common in Biblical times.
The Jewish people of that era believed that when the Messiah came, the Messiah would heal blindness. The prophet Isaiah said that the Messiah would heal many diseases e.g. the deaf would hear, the lame would walk, the lepers would be cleansed, and the blind would see again. We recall Matthew 11:5 and Luke 7:22, when John the Baptist was trying to discover if Jesus was really the promised Messiah or not. Jesus replied to the questions from John the Baptist. ‘Go and tell John (the Baptist) what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.’ Yes, Jesus said that he was the promised Messiah, who was also known as the Son of David,” which is exactly what bar Timaeus called Jesus.
Markquart points out that, “There are three situations in the gospels where Jesus healed blindness. First, early in his ministry, Jesus healed two blind people and these were signs that the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament had come true. Then, later in the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus healed the man born blind and taught that he (Jesus) was the light of the world. Then, just before Passion Week, Jesus healed bar Timaeus in Jericho and that story symbolized how Jesus healed both physical and spiritual blindness. Jesus healed these people of their blindness and these healings were signs that the Messiah and Messianic age had finally arrived. The healing of bar Timaeus symbolizes God’s intention for the Messianic age,” what I have been calling “the reign of God,” what Jesus called, “the Kingdom of God.”
Edward Markquart says, “Jesus has come to heal my blindness. The son of Timaeus was physically blind. I don’t have a problem with physical blindness. I have a significant problem with spiritual blindness. This is not only true of me but the world around me. It is true for you as well.” I would add, I am pretty blind physically, without my contacts in. I am both near-sighted and far-sighted. That’s my physical blindness. My spiritual blindness is probably far worse.
I would echo what Ed Markquart says, “Spiritual blindness is a much more common and devastating illness today than physical blindness. Myself, and so many others, including you, are blind in two ways, one, to the power and goodness of God all around us in every moment of every day, and two, myself, and so many others, including you, are blind to the immense human misery that is a significant part of most people who live on this planet Earth.
“Do you recall the words of the folk song, ‘How many times must a man turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see, the answer my friend is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.’ How many times do we simply turn our heads away from the pain of the human race, from the immense misery that is part of our world? How many times do we simply turn our heads away from the pain of this planet Earth, with its receding glaciers and gaping holes in the ozone layers above each polar cap, pretending we just don’t see that people everywhere and that the Planet Earth itself is in enormous trouble?”
“All I know is that this gospel text is about blindness, that Jesus came to heal the blind, blind disciples, blind Pharisees, blind religious leaders, blind everyone, the blind me, the blind you.” Then Rev. Markquart asks a powerful question of you and of me, “If Jesus were to touch your eyes, what kind of blindness would Jesus heal in your life? Bar Timaeus had faith in Jesus – that he could and would heal him, to make him well. What part of your life does Jesus need to heal in order for you to become well? THAT is a big question, an important question. For you. For me.
But here’s the thing – am I willing to do what bar Timaeus did? Am I willing to ask for that healing, in spite of all the voices that say hush, voices inside of me and outside of my that say that I don’t deserve it or don’t have the faith to receive it? And even more importantly, am I willing to do what bar Timaeus did once he received his sight? Are you willing to ask? Are willing to do what bar Timaeus did? He immediately regained his sight AND he followed Jesus. Are you willing to follow Jesus? Not just believe in him? Am I? Are you and I willing to go with him, not just nod and say we have faith?
I believe that the good life does require money. It does require power, at least the power to do what is right and good. And I believe it requires health – and of all the qualities to health, physical, spiritual, mental or however we might define it, I believe spiritual health is key to the rest of it. And as someone who believes the story of Jesus Christ is true I know that the key to spiritual health is to see as clearly as Jesus Christ sees – to see both the goodness of God and the suffering of others and to be ready to follow Jesus with my spiritual eyes clearly focused on both the goodness of God and the suffering of others. I can’t see through walls like Superman and I can’t see people’s hearts like Jesus can but if I can see both God’s goodness and people’s suffering I believe I will know what it means to live a good life. That requires believing in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ enough to call out to him.
What I see in this passage in spite of my blindness is the faithfulness of Jesus. Bar Timaeus was willing to trust the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Are you? Am I? How I need to hear those words… “Rise. Get up. Jesus is calling you.” AMEN.