OT: Job 42.1-6
NT: Mark 10.46-52
I once read the story of a girl born blind whose sight was restored when she was a teenager. After her surgery, she kept her eyes closed for two weeks because it was too much to bare so quickly. When she eventually opened her eyes, all she could say, repeatedly, was, “O God, how beautiful!”
That’s the thing about light. When you’re used to the darkness, light hurts your eyes. And when you’re used to the light, darkness can be bewildering, even frightening. I’ve often heard people who have their sight say losing it would surely be the worst thing imaginable. For those who have sight, that may be true. But for those who don’t, much worse things are possible. It’s all a matter of perspective.
That brings us to blind Bartameus. Jesus once said those who have not seen but believed are blessed! I think he was talking about Bartimeus. In a day and time when there were no nursing homes, no social security, and no 501c3s, physically disabled people like Bartimeus had but one option. Sit at the city gates and beg for mercy. People often believed disease and disability was a curse from God for some sort of sinfulness, so they did not go out of their way to assist those they believed deserved their lot in life. (And lest we saddle up our high horse, let us remember we do the same with prisoners, prostitutes, and drug addicts today.)
Bartimeus hears that Jesus is near, and not only knows who Jesus is…he believes in him. How do we know this? Because he calls him Son of David, a royal title indicating that Jesus is the Messiah, the promised heir of David sent to save the people.
Throwing off his cloak and jumping to his feet, he runs toward Jesus! The people shush and push him backwards. Bartimeus is used to such treatment, so he pays it no attention, calling out this time louder to Jesus!
And the Son of David wants to see him. This blind beggar who has never met Jesus seems to understand him better than his own disciples. So Jesus asks him, just as he asked his disciples in last week’s story, “What do you want?” The disciples wanted glory; Bartimeus merely wants to see the Savior standing before him. So Jesus grants his request and tells Bartimeus to go. Instead, Bartimeus who is no longer blind sees exactly where he wants to go. Wherever Jesus does. So he follows him.
I’ve been stressing for weeks now that Mark’s stories aren’t always what they seem. They seem to be about wealth or divorce, but they’re about something much deeper. The same is true today. The story is seemingly is about Bartameus’ blindness. And it is, but it’s really about something more. Let me tell you a story.
The great preacher Tony Campolo likes to tell this story. You see, big-time preachers like him preach somewhere different each week, so they can tell the same story and even preach the same sermon over and over again…while some of us have to write a new sermon every week of every year! Forgive me, I digress. Here’s the story of Agnes the prostitute.
Tony Campolo flew to Hawaii to preach at a conference. It was late, so he checked into his room and tried to get some sleep. His body woke him at 3am, thinking it was much later. The night was dark, the streets were silent, the world was asleep, but Tony was wide awake and hungry.
He got up and went for a walk, looking for a place to get some breakfast. At 3am. Everything was closed except for an old dive in an alley.
It was 3:30am in Hawaii. There sits Campolo, eating a donut and sipping coffee, when in walked eight or nine loud prostitutes who just finished with their night’s work. They plopped down at the counter and Tony found himself surrounded by this group of smoking, swearing protitutes. Then the woman next to him said to her friend, “You know what? Tomorrow’s my birthday. I’m gonna be 39.” To which her friend nastily replied, “So what d’ya want from me? A birthday party? Huh? You want me to get a cake, and sing happy birthday to you?”
The first woman said, “Aw, come on, why do you have to be so mean? I’m just sayin’ it’s my birthday. I don’t want anything from you. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life.”
Well, when Tony Campolo heard that, he said he made a decision. He sat and waited until the women left, and then he asked the guy at the counter, “Do they come in here every night?”
“Yeah,” he said, “that’s Agnes. Yeah, she’s here every night. She’s been comin’ here for years. Why do you want to know?”
“Because she just said that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you think? Do you think we could maybe throw a little birthday party for her right here in the diner?”
A smile crept over the man’s face. “That’s great,” he says, “yeah, that’s great. I like it.”
At 2:30 the next morning, Tony came back. He had decorations and a sign made of big pieces of cardboard that said, “Happy Birthday, Agnes!” Harry had gotten the word out on the streets about the party and by 3:15 it seemed that every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place.
At 3:30 on the dot, the door swung open and in walked Agnes. They all shouted, “Happy Birthday, Agnes!” Agnes was stunned, her mouth fell open, her knees started to buckle, and she almost fell over.
And when the birthday cake with all the candles was carried out, that’s when she totally lost it. She sobbed and cried.
After Agnes blew out the candles and everybody sang, they looked to Tony for what was next. So Tony got up on a chair and said, “What do you say that we pray together?” And there they are in a hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon, half the prostitutes in Honolulu, at 3:30 a.m., darkness outside, listening to Tony Campolo as he prayed for Agnes on her birthday.
When he finished, Harry leaned over, and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said, “Hey, you never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to anyway?”
Tony answered, “I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”
Harry thought for a moment and said, “No you don’t. There ain’t no church like that. If there was, I’d join it. Yep, I’d join a church like that.”
Sometimes it’s in the darkness that we finally see the light. I invite you to see the darkness in your life not as something to fear, but something to embrace. Bartimeus’ blindness was a gate to a greater life, and yours can be too. We’re all blind to certain things and people, but that’s not a death sentence. It’s an opportunity to see the light.
You see, Bartimeus wasn’t the only blind man in today’s story. The disciples could see just fine, but they had no idea what was going on around them. They could see the light of day, like us, but they too spent a lot of time fumbling around in the dark to find truth. Perfectly healthy crowds followed Jesus for months but couldn’t see him clearly to save their lives. Only Bartimeus did. Sometimes it’s in the darkness we finally see the light.