Seeing only what we want to see

Pentecost 22

Mark 10:46-52

Marian Free

In the name of God who opens the eyes of those who are willing to see. Amen.

It is true that many of us, indeed from time to time – all of us – see only what we want to see. This is true in relation to so many things – individual and corporate. Parents sometimes are unable to see their children’s shortcomings. Spouses are often able to turn a blind eye to their partners’ misdemeanors – adultery, corruption, and even criminal behaviour. Whole populations want to believe that their governments will not mislead them and will do what it best for the nation as a whole – even in the face of information to the contrary. The gullible and not so gullible find themselves wanting to own products that advertisers tell them are absolutely essential to our well-being or our life-style – this despite the fact we know full well that we are being manipulated.

Sometimes this sort of blindness is so firmly entrenched that nothing short of a major catastrophe can shake us into opening our eyes to reality. Conversely, sometimes reality is so disturbing and hurtful, that blindness – however unreal – is preferable to seeing and accepting the truth.

In fact, on occasions the truth makes us so uncomfortable that we seek to silence or even to destroy those who expose it. John the Baptist lost his head because he dared to name Herod’s adultery for what it was. Those who saw through Hitler were sent to death camps. Nelson Mandela and others who identified the evils apartheid were jailed for decades. Journalist Steve Biko was tortured and killed by a government that needed to silence opposition.

The truth can be dangerous. It can be so disturbing and confronting that many prefer to ignore it finding it simpler remain in ignorance. There are many who would rather not acknowledge that governments can and do act immorally and dishonestly. They close their eyes to the truth and dismiss the critics by labeling them troublemakers or dissidents.

By and large we prefer the status quo. We don’t like our comfortable lives or strongly held ideals challenged or confronted. It is easier not to rock the boat, sometimes in the face of very strong evidence that the boat is corrupt or dangerously compromised.

One of the themes running through Mark’s gospel is that of a refusal or a failure to see. Members of the religious establishment suffer from a form of blindness that leads them to dismiss this unknown, uncomfortable person from Galilee. They do not like this man who challenges what they do and what they represent. It is impossible for them to conceive that such an unlikely person might be the one promised by God and because they do not understand him, they try to silence Jesus by plotting to kill him. Even the disciples are blinded to the reality of who and what Jesus is. They simply cannot accept that Jesus will be rejected, will suffer and will die. They can only envisage a future in which Jesus will triumph. When Jesus predicts his suffering and humiliation, his disciples retreat to what they think they know. They try to silence Jesus by rebuking him or by changing the subject to something that makes them feel more comfortable.

Neither group is able to see beyond their expectations or prejudices. Neither the disciples nor the authorities can accept the apparent contradiction – either that the Christ should suffer, or that such an ordinary person could be the one sent by God.

There are however, some who are able to recognise Jesus for who he is – the demons and those who are on the outside. The demons are able to identify Jesus because he challenges their authority. He presents a threat. Jesus is able to reduce their power to nothing which enables them to discern that he is a representative of good and therefore of God. On the other hand those who are on the outside of Jewish society have no preconceptions that might blind them to Jesus’ true nature. Such people have no idea how a Christ or Son of God should behave or should present himself. This allows them to see Jesus for who he is and not for who they think he should be. So it is that at the moment of Jesus’ death, when it appears that he has utterly failed, when all his followers have deserted him, when he has been publicly humiliated and shamed, it the centurion – a Roman, a gentile, an outsider who declares: “Truly this man was God’s Son” (15:39).

Bartimaeus is another outsider who, despite his blindness, instinctively knows who Jesus is. Sitting by the road he calls out not once, but twice: “Son of David, have mercy!” The crowds react by trying to silence him. What he is saying is reckless and dangerous – to identify Jesus as the Son of David is to invite trouble, to threaten tenuous peace that exists between the Hebrews and the Romans. At the same time it is disturbing that someone such as Bartimaeus identifies Jesus as the Son of David, despite the fact that Jesus bears no resemblance to a King like David.

Bartimaeus is undeterred. He speaks what he knows and is rewarded by Jesus’ response. Even though he is blind, his openness and clear-sightedness enables him to see what others cannot see.

It is easy to make the mistake of believing that we see clearly, that we know all there is to know about God. We can convince ourselves that what we have learnt in the past is sufficient for the present and for the future and we can allow our faith to be reduced to well-worn formulas, easily remembered doctrines and simple to follow rules. We can find it tempting to silence or ignore the voices that challenge our world-view or suggest that we may be wrong.

If Jesus showed us anything, it was this – that faith can and will take us out of our comfort zone, and in directions that we cannot imagine. Jesus’ own experience show us that he journey of faith can be perilous and dangerous, it can expose us to ridicule and misunderstanding and it can force us to see the world around us in new and different ways. Jesus didn’t promise us that following him would be easy, instead he told us that it would lead to the cross.

If we silence the voices that disturb or challenge us, we risk the spiritual blindness that led Jesus’ contemporaries to misunderstand, to reject and destroy him and we lose the opportunity to grow and develop and to come to a fuller understanding of ourselves, of others and ultimately of God.

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