Living A Second Time Around
October 26, 2003
Mark 10: 46 – 52
What if you could live your life over? What if you had a second chance to live life again? What would you change? What you keep the same? Or to put it terms of today’s gospel, what would you want to see differently?
The cry of Bartimaeus in today’s gospel is “Lord, I want to see.” If that cry were to become true for you, what would you want to see? Father William Bausch in a beautiful essay on the Bartimaeus story suggests that there are three things we would want to see differently: (1) relationships, (2) the overlooked and (3) the hints of God’s grace in our lives.
The first thing Fr. Bausch says we would want to see differently is what our heart has always told us is true: that relationships are the most important part of life. This would lead us to ask ourselves why we allowed the madness of individualism and consumerism to get ahead of our relationships? Why did we allow our careers and our schedules, our entertainment and our desire to accumulate things push the people in our lives to the side? When we look at our lives, all to often our most important relationships—the relationships between husband and wife, children and parents, and friends—are not as treasured as we know they should be. We don’t eat together, we don’t take time for the people we love. Yet, in our most sober moment we know that nothing is more important than our relationships. Then why don we see it?
In 1917 during the Russian Revolution, thousands of unsuspecting and bewildered subjects were randomly gathered together and executed with a bullet in the back of their heads. An eyewitness of those executions said that when it became clear to the victims that they were going to die, most of them made the same request. They wanted to say goodbye. And because no one else was available, many of them ended up saying goodbye and kissing their own executioners. Isn’t that a sad story? But does it not emphasize that in the end relationships are what count. When we face a bullet in the back of our head, what we want to do is remember and honor our connectedness to each other. If it so clear then, why is it not clearer now? Why don’t we see it? I would imagine that if we given a second time around, we would pray to see more clearly the primacy of relationships in our lives
The second thing that Fr. Bausch says we should ask to see is the overlooked. You know who the overlooked are: the poor, the needy, the troubled, the non-persons who suffer because they have value in the eyes of so few. The overlooked are the people who tried to love us and we did not love in return, the people who cried out to us and we did not hear, and every person we did not treat with the value that they deserved.
Those are the overlooked and we should remember to include ourselves in their number. Because everyone of us here has some part of our lives that we have overlooked. There is some flaw that we were not willing to face, some fear that we will not deal with. Not dealing with those parts of ourselves is disastrous. There are many twelve-step programs that are available in our society that help people recover from alcoholism, drugs, gambling, and sexual addition. Yet what all of those programs share in common is the first step. The first step is to recovery is to recognize that there is a problem. You cannot move towards health unless you admit that something is wrong. None of us can become the person that God wants us to be unless we are willing to admit that there are flaws and faults in our life that we have overlooked. Therefore, if we had a second time around, would we not pray to see the people we have overlooked and the flaws in our own life that we were unwilling to face?
The third and final thing we would be called to see is the presence of God in our lives, the hints of God’s presence that surround us. God is always present in our lives, living in every moment and every breath. The beauty of God pulses through our daily routine. Yet how infrequently do we see that presence and take comfort and strength from it. How much deeper, how much more rewarding our life would be if we could have increased sensitivity to the ways in which God is present in our lives. I would like to share with you the words of an anonymous author who shows this kind of sensitivity to the beauty of God in daily routine.
“I can say nothing of God except I saw the red flames of a cardinal against the snow this morning as I drank my coffee.
I can say nothing of God except the warm smell of potato soup and the sharp tang of cheddar cheese that shimmied up my nose when a friend of mine made lunch for me.
I can say nothing of God except this afternoon I washed my face in a cold stream and it left me feeling fresh and clean.
I can say nothing of God except that two nights ago a cricket sang a funny song in closet amid the socks and the silence.
I can say nothing of God except stones can speak and deer can fly in my dreams, that a child smiled at me today at the supermarket, that each blade of grass wears a locket with God’s face inside, that on every hair on my cat’s face is written ‘Alleluia.’
I can say nothing of God except that the texture of bread on my tongue and the sweet liquid acid of grape in my throat are a bittersweet memory of compassion and a taste of heaven.”
God is around us, at every moment. There are hints of God’s beauty in every circumstance. Would we not pray for greater sensitivity to those hints of grace if we could live our lives over?
The cry of Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel is, “Lord, I want to see”. It is the cry of every disciple, the cry of every person who wishes to be fully human. I would suggest to you that you make it your cry today in this Eucharist. I would ask that in your own voice you cry out that plea for sight. And if Christ were to ask you what do you want to see, answer: I want to see the primacy of relationships in my life. I want to see the people I overlooked and the flaws in my own life I cannot face. I want to see the hints of your presence in my daily routine. If you make that request, do not be surprised if Christ will hear you. Do not be surprised if Jesus grants your prayer. For that is the good news. The promise of the gospel is that the second time around can begin today.
Making the New Choice
October 28, 2012
Mark 10: 46-52
If we are going to be healthy and holy, we must be willing to grow. But growing is not easy. Growing involves change. We find ourselves with new experiences and in new circumstances. Even though many of those new opportunities may contain a real “good,” growing often also entails leaving other “goods” behind.
This truth is illustrated in today’s gospel, the story of Bartimaeus. When Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What is it that you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus answers, “Master, I want to see.” Now we imagine that the request by Bartimaeus was an easy request to make. After all, who does not want to see? But this story from the gospel cleverly suggests to us that Bartimaeus’ request was really much more complicated. The story tells us that Jesus met Bartimaeus as he was leaving Jericho. Now the thing you need to know about Jericho is that Jericho was the last stop on the road to Jerusalem. That meant that all the pilgrims that were going up to the temple for the great Jewish feasts had to pass through Jericho. The city itself was filled with commotion as pilgrims bought provisions and found lodging for the night. But every one of those pilgrims would in time have to leave the city and go through the single gate that opened on the road to Jerusalem. It is right there outside that gate, that Bartimaeus sat. From the perspective of begging, Bartimaeus held prime real estate! All the pilgrims going up to Jerusalem would have to walk past him as he cried out for alms. It would be a difficult for them to refuse this blind beggar and then in good conscience go up and worship God in the temple. So Bartimaeus had a successful business in a good location. He probably made a good deal of money for himself and for his family. In this operation, his blindness was a real advantage because it increased the sympathy of those who passed by and also increased his income.
If, however, Bartimaeus was suddenly able to see, he would have to find a new job. He might not be able to maintain his standard of living. So when he answers Jesus, “Master, I want to see,” he is taking a risk. He is aware he is about to leave the comfort and success of his former life and embrace the new possibilities that Jesus is offering him.
Now all of us have our own lives with our own blessings. Our lives might not be perfect, but they are ours. But at any time Christ can invite us to grow, to change. As attractive as that invitation might be, often we also have to leave some good things behind. This can happen in the normal course of life: we leave our home to go to college; we leave one job for a new one. But this invitation to grow can also happen when what is normal changes. When a member of our family undergoes divorce, all the relationships in our family structure need to be realigned. When an aging parent requires more of our time and presence, our schedule must change. When our health deteriorates, we can no longer do the things that we once took for granted. In each one of these situations, Christ can be asking us to grow. We must decide whether we are going to hold on to the “goods” that are no longer available to us or whether we can embrace the new “goods” that Christ is offering.
Bartimaeus chose the new thing. He understood that the security and success of his former life would no longer be his. He also realized that if he followed Christ he would be able to see the world in a way he never did before, with eyes that were healed of their blindness. Above all, Bartimaeus trusted the man who healed him. He believed that if Jesus was the one who was asking him to change, it would be for the good.
You and I need to share in that faith of Bartimaeus. When Christ invites us to grow, we need to trust him. When a change comes in our life which Christ asks us to accept, we need to believe that it will not destroy us but will open our eyes to a new way of living.
Ask First for Sight
October 28, 2018
To appreciate today’s gospel in which Jesus heals the beggar Bartimaeus, we should remember last week’s gospel in which Jesus has a conversation with the apostles James and John. In both gospels Jesus asks the exact same question, “What do you want me to do for you?”. But, the answers in the two gospels are very different. James and John ask that they sit at Jesus’ right and left when he comes into his glory. Bartimaeus says, “Master I want to see.” James and John ask for glory and power. Bartimaeus asks for sight and understanding. Jesus tells James and John that he cannot grant their request, but he immediately responds to Bartimaeus, and the beggar receives his sight.
When we place these two gospels side by side, they tell us that sight is more important than glory, that understanding is more to be desired than power. And, this is an important message because you and I, like James and John, are attracted to power. We seek the ability to make things happen, to get things done. We want the power to bring about that which is good. We look at our children and say, “I want to make sure that they grow into mature and successful adults.” We look at someone we care for who is struggling with addiction and say, “I want this addiction to end.” Today’s gospel tells us that before we ask Jesus for the power to do those things, we should first ask to see. We should see our children as the gifted and unique people that they are, because if we can love them as they are today, it is more likely that they will grow into the adults they need to be. We should see the person who is struggling with addiction as someone captive to fear and shame, because if we can recognize what enslaves a person and stand with them in their brokenness, it is more likely that they will be successful in recovery.
We look at the partisan divisions that mar our political scene, the way that personal attacks substitute for public discourse, and we want it to stop. We long for a country characterized by civility and honest debate. We look at the scandal in our church of sexual abuse, and we want it to go away. Today’s gospel tells us that before we ask for the power to do something, we should ask for the ability to see—to see the anger and prejudice that fuel the political divide, to see the weakness and sinfulness that allow sexual abuse to continue. It is only when we see and understand the brokenness of our political and church systems that we will be able to rebuild them.
We all want to have the power to do good things. That is why James and John asked for it. But Bartimaeus reminds us that first we should ask to see, because it is only when we see and understand the world as it really is, that we will be able to make the world what God wants it to be.