Unseen Things


46 They 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.

Before I became a Presbyterian minister, I worked in advertising for many years.

At this time of year when the leaves turn shades of red and orange and swirl around my car as I’m driving around, I am reminded of one of my photographer friends named Mark and a photo shoot we went on about 20 years ago in late October for one of my bank clients in Lancaster.

We went to take photos of a Fall Foliage Parade in a little town called Ephrata. While Mark set up his camera along the parade route, the art director and I kept ourselves warm with Styrofoam cups of hot chocolate we purchased from the local Lions Club. It was a perfect fall day and the late afternoon sun peeked through the trees with leaves saturated with fall colors.

Soon we heard the boom-boom-boom of marching bands approaching and Mark got into position behind his camera to begin taking pictures. The first division of marching bands came and went. But Mark didn’t shoot. One. Single. Picture.

Mark mumbled to himself and adjusted the settings on his camera as a float came into view down the street. The creative director yelled, “Shoot, Mark! It’s perfect!” “No it’s not,” Mark grumbled. He picked up all his equipment and went to the other side of the street.

The art director and I watched helplessly as Mark set up the camera and proceeded to…you guessed it…

not shoot any pictures.

Eventually, Mark grabbed his camera and ran up the street. The creative director went off after him, and I stayed behind with the other equipment and a whole bunch of curious stares from the good people of Ephrata who were just trying to watch a parade.

The parade ended and Mark and the creative director came back looking glum. We packed up the gear and shuffled back to the car in silence.

As we drove home, Mark explained the light just wasn’t right.

It didn’t make sense to shoot a lot of film because all of the pictures were going to be terrible. He had taken a couple shots out of desperation, but they would be unusable.

It didn’t make any sense to me. It was a gorgeous, colorful, festive fall parade. How could the photos not be gorgeous, colorful and festive?

When we got the few photos Mark took, my heart sank. Mark was right. Totally right. The photos were all awful.

Although my eye wasn’t able to see it, the photos revealed what had happened.

By the time the parade began the sun had gone down just enough so that, on film, all the people in the parade looked like fuzzy shadows and those brilliant fall leaves turned to gray blobs.

Over the years that Mark and I worked together, I learned to trust his eye. And trained his eye saw things I could not see.

Photographers, designers, painters, sculptors and other visual artists are able to see stuff that most of us cannot see. Mark could look through the lens of a camera and envision exactly what would end up in the developing tray. Mark had the talent and training to see what my untrained eye could not see.

This theme of seeing yet not seeing the way Jesus sees runs like a ribbon through this section of the gospel of Mark, including the text this morning.

The travel narrative contained in chapters 8, 9 and 10 serves as a bridge between Jesus’ mission in Galilee and his arrival in Jerusalem for the final week of his earthly life.

In chapters 8, 9 and 10, Mark loads in healings and stories and teachings about discipleship. The gospel writer tells us what it means to have a relationship with Jesus through these stories.

What it means to follow Jesus, learn from Jesus and live like Jesus.

All along, Mark invites us, urges us, to try and see the world the way Jesus sees it.

In chapter 8, Jesus tells the disciples:

“the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the religious authorities, and be killed, and after 3 days rise again.”

Peter hears what Jesus says and what does he do? He gets angry and rebukes Jesus.  He says, no way, that’s not how this gonna go, Jesus.

And Jesus, says: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Peter cannot see the way Jesus sees.

Then, passing on through Galilee in Mark 9, Jesus tells the disciples again that the Son of Man will be betrayed, killed, and will rise from the dead.  “But,” Mark tells us, “the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying” and, in fact, were afraid to even ask him for clarity.

The disciples cannot see the way Jesus sees.

Yet again, as the disciples are going up with Jesus to Jerusalem, Jesus tries one last time to tell the disciples what is going to happen:

The Son of Man will be handed over.

He’ll be killed.

He’ll rise from the dead.

In response to Jesus’ words, — or maybe in an attempt to ignore Jesus’ words — James and John start fighting over who’s going to get the right and left hand seats when Jesus comes into his glory.  You can almost hear Jesus sigh in exasperation.

James and John still don’t see the way Jesus sees.

But who can blame the disciples? The things Jesus talks about aren’t easy.  Suffering?  Betrayal?  Death?

And more incredible, still…resurrection?

Some things are just too hard to grasp; some things are better left alone. Life is hard enough.

Sometimes seeing really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

I know people who refuse to watch the news or read a newspaper. Are you one of those people? It’s too depressing, right? Too much negativity. Too much bad news.

Every once in a while, someone will write a letter to the editor saying, “Why all this terrible news? Why don’t you write about all the good things that happen?” In fact, the Post-Gazette has a weekly column called “Random Acts of Kindness” in which people send in all sorts of feel-good stories about people returning lost wallets or helping little old ladies change a flat tire on a rainy highway.

We don’t like seeing the hard parts of life. Or the confusing parts of life!

That’s especially true in our life of faith.

It is so much easier to only focus on the positive, happy parts of being a Christian – God’s love, God’s desire for our well-being, the hope we find in God through Christ. We don’t come to church to hear things that will make us feel bad or uncertain. The world makes us feel bad and uncertain enough. We come to church to feel better. Secure in our faith.

But is a don’t-worry-be-happy faith a mature faith? Is that the kind of faith we’re seeking as disciples of Jesus?

Although the gospel is surely good news for us, is it the kind of good news that means it’s okay to shut down and tune out all that is broken and hard and confusing in this fallen world?

That’s what the disciples wanted to do. Shut down and not see the picture Jesus painted for them in his message of suffering, death and resurrection.

But these texts from Mark summon us to engage in the messy reality of our human life – even the hard things Jesus talks about – suffering, betrayal, death. Poverty, human trafficking, corporate corruption, climate change, hunger, domestic violence. The life of faith cannot be lived in a spotlessly clean box set apart from the world’s brokenness.

Author Nora Gallagher puts it this way, “I remember thinking as I worked in the soup kitchen that I didn’t want to know what I was learning. Because then my life couldn’t go on in the same way as it had before. Driving around in my nice red Volvo, thinking about what new linens to buy. What we learn we cannot unlearn. What we see, we cannot unsee.”[1]

Maybe the disciples knew deep down that if they really saw what Jesus was showing them, they wouldn’t be able to unsee it again.

Once the disciples could see what Jesus was saying about the Kingdom of God –

that the first would be last,

the greatest would be a servant,

that a little child would receive the kingdom

and a camel had a better chance at slipping through the gate than a rich man.

If the disciples could see the new reality represented by Jesus Christ, their lives would have to change.

Once the disciples engaged in this topsy turvy re-ordering of life that Jesus talks about, they couldn’t go back to the orderly existence they knew.

Maybe the disciples understood that seeing in the way that Jesus sees can be a dangerous thing. So dangerous, in fact, it might get you killed.

Consider this story about Kevin Carter, another photographer. In 1993, while covering the famine in the Sudan, Carter took a picture of a small girl who had collapsed while walking to a food station. Just a few feet behind the starving girl, a vulture stalked her. In May of 1994, Carter won a Pulitzer Prize for the photograph. Two months later, he committed suicide.1174202155_850215_0000000000_sumario_normal-1

A close friend of Carter’s said that after shooting the photo of the starving girl, Kevin sat under a tree and cried and chain-smoked and could not distance himself from the horror of what he saw. He could not unsee what he had seen. The image of the starving girl haunted him to his grave.[2]

Our text this morning shows us another way in which seeing the way Jesus sees demands us to look deeply and fully at life and the people around us.

In today’s text, it is a hard scene on that road with Jesus, and the disciples and the crowd around them as they are leaving Jericho. This is the last leg of their journey to Jerusalem. You can just imagine that the disciples are tired, dirty, hungry, maybe even discouraged by the way things have been going.

Then the yelling from the side of the road begins. And insistent, crazy kind of yelling.

The last thing the disciples want to do is slow down for Bartimaeus.

This blind beggar at the side of the road who is yelling like a crazy man.

Jerusalem is still 15 long miles away by foot.

And it’s not like it’s only Bartimaeus. There are beggars all along the road – if the disciples stop for every needy person, they’ll never get to Jerusalem in time for Passover.

Tick tock, tick tock. Let’s keep moving. Can’t somebody shut that guy up? If we’re lucky, maybe Jesus won’t hear him and we can keep moving.

But Bartamaeus just keeps hollering more. “Son of David!!!! Have mercy on me!!!”

And of course, Jesus hears him, even if the crowd is doing their best to keep Jesus from seeing him.

Jesus always hears the crazy people. And stops for them.

Jesus hears Bartamaeus’ screaming and the journey comes to a screeching halt. You can almost hear the disciples thinking to themselves, “Oh no. Not again.”

When Jesus asks Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” the beggar answers that he wants to see.

And that’s exactly the same question Jesus asked James and John earlier. “What do you want me to do for you?” And what do James and John say? They start talking about power and privilege. “Give us the good space next to you in heaven, Jesus.”

Bartemaeus’ answer is the answer of faith. “I want to see,” he says. “I want to see things the way they really are so that I can follow you, Jesus, wherever you lead me.”

Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”

What would you say if Jesus asked you that question?

“What do you want me to do for you?”

What it is that is really important in your life?

Seeing the world in the way Jesus sees it can be a dangerous thing.

Seeing like Jesus sees will lead us to feel uncomfortable with the way in which the world works most days.

Seeing like Jesus sees will lead us to question the status quo and notice the hard and hungry places in our communities.

Seeing like Jesus sees will stop us in our tracks when we hear voices crying for mercy instead of heading on our way down the road, in a hurry like always.

When we see like Jesus, we won’t be able to keep moving so quickly. We will be sidetracked on a regular basis by the least of these.

Seeing like Jesus sees means we will be bothered by those things we can’t unsee.

After his healing, Bartemaeus won’t be able to see anything without thinking about the one who gave him new eyes.

And that is good news for all of us who have been claimed, healed and loved into new life by Jesus.

As Jesus tries to show his disciples again and again, when you look at the world – even at its ugliest, hardest and most broken – when you see the way Jesus sees, you will also see hope and the possibility of new life.

Now you may have to look at the hard, ugly, broken things for a very long time before you see the hope. But if you look at brokenness through the loving eyes of Jesus, you will see resurrection and you will see life as God intended.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] The Sacred Meal, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 22.