Regaining Our Sight
Based on Job 42, Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52
Anne Sullivan came to Tuscumbia, Alabama, in March 1887 to be the teacher of a young girl named Helen Keller. In later life, Helen would remember Sullivan’s arrival as her “soul’s birthday.” Luckily, Ms. Sullivan was an able and strong willed teacher, for few young women would have persevered through the challenging first weeks of the relationship. Keller hit, pinched and kicked her teacher and knocked out one of her teeth. Sullivan finally gained control by moving with the girl into a small cottage on the Kellers’ property. Through patience and firm consistency, she finally won the child’s heart and trust, a necessary step before Helen’s education could begin.
Sullivan’s teaching technique was to finger-spell the names of familiar objects into Helen’s hand. She also incorporated Keller’s favorite activities and her love of the natural world into the lessons. Helen enjoyed this “finger play,” but she didn’t fully grasp the relationship between the fingers and the world beyond her until the famous moment when Sullivan spelled “w-a-t-e-r” while pumping water over her hand. Helen would later write: “Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten—a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life.”
Our scriptures today offer us the same kind of awakening moments – moments of regained sight, or perhaps insight is a better term. Before we focus on our spiritual vision, let us go to God in prayer asking for what we would like God to do for us…
The writer of Hebrews is making a point about the priestly qualities of Jesus – how he is similar to the ancient priest Melchizedek, yet different because he was resurrected. Because He was sinless, He had no need to offer sacrifices other than the ultimate sacrifice through the Cross for our sins. Jesus is High Priest forever and thus can always intercede on our behalf – and all things are possible through Him. When we come to see this role that Jesus fulfills, which is more complete than any earthly clergy, we regain our vision of the road to salvation.
We’ve come to the end of the Book of Job and left much of it untouched – I’m sorry to say. Job and God have been in dialogue for the last four chapters, with God doing most of the talking from a whirlwind. Job, sufficiently chastened by the questions God has posed to him, repents of his characterizations of God. Job states, “…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;…” Job has regained his perspective on who God is and who Job is not. A powerful vision correction indeed!
Jesus has just had to speak once again to the Disciples about having hearts, minds and eyes to see their calling from the point-of-view of servanthood. James and John are looking to usurp all the other Disciples and become Jesus’ right and left hand men. The other Disciples are rightfully tweaked by this, and so Jesus instills another dose of humility. To make the point even sharper, He is passing through Jericho and performs a miracle on a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. Though Bartimaeus was physically blind, he had the insight to perceive the divinity of Jesus. He knew in his heart that if he just caught Jesus’ attention through the large and boisterous crowd that all would be well. His spiritual eyesight was 20-20 and he called out, in a loud voice, for Jesus to show him mercy. When asked what he needed Jesus to do for him, he answered, “…let me see again”. The faith of Bartimaeus in Jesus’ ability to heal him, made him whole. Once he had his sight back, he immediately followed Jesus “on the way”.
In the Gospel according to Luke, the fourth chapter, Jesus quotes scripture from the scroll of Isaiah revealing to all that He came to “…bring good news to the poor…release to the captives…recovery of sight to the blind…let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor….” In Mark’s Gospel, the healing of Bartimaeus is the second story of restoration of sight. Giving sight to the blind by Jesus is similar to the story of Job where we read about the restoration of the spiritual vision of our title character. Job had been a good guy, righteous and upright, but he only knew what he had heard, he didn’t have first-hand knowledge of God until the Voice came from the whirlwind. Interestingly, once their spiritual or physical vision were regained, both Bartimaeus and Job followed after God.
What about us? How is your spiritual vision, aka your faith? Is it fairly acute, perhaps in need of a new prescription (or a visit to a specialist), or are you spiritually blind? The last one is really difficult to diagnose for ourselves, because, similar to Job, we don’t see what we don’t see. To put it another way, a story is told about the agnostic Thomas Huxley, who was once lovingly confronted by a very sincere Christian. This believer stressed to Huxley that he was not in any way impugning Huxley’s sincerity in his agnosticism. Nevertheless, might it not be possible that spiritually the great scientist was blind? That is, some people cannot see things where other people cannot help but see them. Could it be that this was Huxley’s problem – that he was simply blind to truth that was quite evident to others? Huxley, being a man of integrity, admitted that this was possible, and added that if it were, he himself, of course, could not know or recognize it.
Bartimaeus recognized the divinity of Jesus and the healing that was within his reach. Job, through his interaction with God, regained his spiritual eyesight. Though in one way or another both had been blind – the interaction with God restored them to wholeness. The epiphany of how the letters w-a-t-e-r were linked to an actual, physical entity opened Helen Keller’s mental and spiritual “eyes”. I remind you of her words from my opening, “…That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!…” Did you catch the important part of that phrase…”living word”? All of our subjects today have had an encounter with The Living Word – either God or Jesus. Because of that, nothing was the same for Job, Bartimaeus, Helen Keller – and for believers like you and me. Once we come to the realization that the words on the pages of the Bible are not just one-dimensional and flat – telling stories of a long-lost time, but actual living words that hold out the hope of blessing and salvation today – then we will respond like Bartimaeus and “immediately” follow on The Way.
Once we regain our spiritual vision, we long for the next encounter with the living word. Let’s hear again from Helen Keller: “[In the following days] I did nothing but explore with my hands and learn the name of every object that I touched; and the more I handled things and learned their names and uses, the more joyous and confident grew my sense of kinship with the rest of the world.” Helen Keller went on to become a published author, speaker and advocate for the blind and differently abled. Her discovery of living words forever changed her view of the world around her. Thanks to Anne Sullivan who helped unlock the gifts that God had given to Helen – so that she could live fully into her God image!
It is the same with us. We all need to have that same vision correction through God’s Living Word. To come to know that God is everything and we are constantly in need of God’s grace and forgiveness – of God’s mercy. When we approach God and each other with an attitude of servanthood – with hearts that are open and loving to all, then we find that we can truly see ourselves and our neighbors. All of us need help to bring the words of salvation to life – to help us see in a new way. We can all be this kind of friend and mentor – in fact it is what we are called to do in our service to each other. But first we need to ask to regain our spiritual sight through the mercy of God, and then commit to following Jesus along “The Way”. Amen and amen!