No blind followers!

Pentecost 22, Proper 25B
Mark 10:46-52

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Whenever I hear the story of “Blind Bartimaeus” my mind always drifts back to Mrs. Reisinger.

When I was in the first and second grades, my family and I lived in Mansfield, Louisiana - a small town of only about 5,000 people just south of Shreveport, Louisiana.  Though we were only there for two years, we made many memories and built many relationships that persist even these nearly-30 years later.

Mrs. Reisinger was our next-door neighbor.  She was 98 years old and lived alone in her magnificent old Southern mansion on the main street of town.  I was always the kind of child who related easily with people of different generations, and Mrs. Reisinger and I became quick friends.

Very often, in the afternoons after school, I would walk next-door to Mrs. Reisinger’s house for a visit.  She would offer me fresh baked teacakes that she always seemed to have just made, served warm with cold lemonade.  We would spend hours talking about nothing in particular.  Knowing me, I’m sure I provided her with whatever updates and insights my 7-year-old mind had come up with.  But the highlights of our visits for me were always her stories.  In her almost a century of life, she had seen more than my young mind could imagine.

And though she was blind by the time I knew her, she had an ability to help me to see what she could only see in her mind’s eye.

My relationship with Mrs. Reisinger taught me many things.  She awakened in me a curiosity for history – and particularly the real stories and feelings of the people who lived that history – a curiosity that still continues to shape who I am and how I see the world.  She was a vigilant participant in the “village” that it took to raise this child – teaching me manners and courtesy through our interactions.  And as I look back on our somewhat unlikely relationship, I recognize that she helped to teach me that there was value in both eyesight and insight.  Though Mrs. Reisinger had lost one, the other remained as sharp as ever.

This is one of the lessons of the story of “Blind Bartimaeus”.

In the biblical world, it was common for people to see physical infirmity as a punishment for human sin.  Throughout the stories of the healing miracles of Jesus, we see again and again that Jesus didn’t see things that way.  One of my favorite gospel songs says it like this: “The justice of God saw what I had done, but Mercy saw me through the Son – not what I was, but what I could be, that’s how Jesus saw me.”

Bartimaeus may have been without eyesight, but he was not without insight.  He could see Christ in a way that others couldn’t and he had faith sufficient to want to follow him.  Jesus could see past Bartimaeus’ infirmity, and could see all that he did have to offer.

Jesus says, “Go.  Your faith has made you well.”  And Mark tells us that Bartimaeus immediately regained his sight and followed Jesus on his way.

Despite what you may hear from many Christian leaders and organizations today, it’s pretty clear that Jesus isn’t looking for “blind followers”.  He never lifted that up as an ideal.

Today, many of our brothers and sisters in Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches are marking “Reformation Sunday” - celebrating the significance of much of the church shifting it’s focus from unquestioningly following the often-questionable path of an elite magisterium, and beginning to give the people of the church the responsibility of and the opportunity to follow Christ for themselves.

Like Bartimaeus, those of us who are the spiritual inheritors of the Christian Reformation of 500 years ago follow Christ with our eyes wide open.  Jesus wasn’t one to hold secrets.  He wanted his followers to know full-well all that they had in store.  He wanted them to know what they were getting into and he wants us to follow with all of the gifts of insight and perception that God has given us.

Jesus is not looking for “blind followers” even if churches sometimes are.

This, which we see in the story of Bartimaeus, can be seen throughout the Gospels.  Jesus is clear with those whom he encounters just what they’re getting into when they choose to follow Jesus.  It’s clear to us just what we’re getting into when we choose to follow Christ.

We’ve seen it over and over again in the past few weeks:

Jesus’ command to the rich man who wants to enter the kingdom of heaven: sell everything you own, give the money to the poor, and follow me.  It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.  You’re going to have to radically shift the way you interact with the world in order to follow me.

When James and John were lobbying for prominence and greatness because of their association with Jesus, Jesus laid the cards on the table: can you drink from the cup from which I drink and be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?  It won’t be easy.  And even then you may not get what you desire.  But your desires are too small.

We also heard: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him.  And three days after being killed, he will rise again… Whoever wants to be first among you must be last of all and servant of all.”  The truest leaders are servants of “the least of these”.  The world is turned upside down again and again through the influence of Christ.

The work of following Christ is hard.  It may put you in harm’s way – as countless Christians martyrs can attest.  It may cost you earthly pleasures.

So don’t just follow blindly.  It’s much too important.

Following Christ is important.  So much so that it requires every drop of insight and faith that we can muster.  It requires disciplines of servanthood and leadership, because the lures of this life are great.

Mrs. Reisinger died a few years after we moved away from Mansfield.  Though most of the stories that she told me have faded with the passing years, the insight that she helped to pass on to me continues to live.

She was a living Bartimaeus: a Christian whose insight surpassed her eyesight.

And that’s what the call of Christ looks like in the story of Bartimaeus.  We are charged with seeing Christ not just with our human eyes, but also with and through the eyes of our soul.  We are called to see not just the one-time leader of a people and of a faith, but to seek out the truth that lies behind it all.  Our objective is not just to study the history of the Christian movement, but to immerse ourselves in the depths of the relationships that it once did and continues to inspire.  It’s not so much about honoring our past, as it is a sign of hope for the present.

All of this requires insight - seeing the way “Blind Bartimaeus” taught us.  Amen.

(reworked from an earlier version originally published in 2009 here)