Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, told a story on himself. He was waiting for a taxi outside the railway station in Paris. When the taxi pulled up, he put his suitcase in it and then got in the car. As he was about to tell the taxi-driver where he wanted to go, the driver asked him: "Where can I take you, Mr. Doyle?”
Doyle was astounded. He asked the driver if he knew him by sight. The driver said: "No Sir, I have never seen you before." Doyle was puzzled and asked him how he knew he was Arthur Conan Doyle.
The driver replied: "This morning's paper had a story that you were on vacation in Marseilles. This is the taxi-stand where people who come to Marseilles always wait. Your skin color tells me you have been on vacation. The ink-spot on your right index finger suggests to me that you are a writer. Your clothing is very English, and not French. Adding up all those pieces of information, I deduce that you are Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”
Doyle exclaimed, "This is truly amazing. You are a real-life counter-part to my fictional creation, Sherlock Holmes.”
"There is one other thing," the driver said. "What is that?" Doyle asked. "Your name is on the front of your suitcase."
It wasn't the powers of deduction. It was the power of observation. That taxi driver's lenses were clean enough to observe what was going on around him.
Bartimeaus was waiting at the edge of town, maybe one of the least appreciated towns in the world, because it is believed to be one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, the one with the oldest know protective - and famous - wall in the world. As the last glacial period came to an end, hunters and gatherers would gather around a spring there, some 10,000 years ago. As the climate changed from drought and cold, the people transitioned into agriculture and to the tending of animals, which lead to a year-round habitation and permanent settlement around this spring.
As time went on, perhaps as a defense against flood-waters, a wall was built around this settlement that soon grew to 70 modest, circular buildings, roughly 16 feet in diameter, made of clay and straw bricks and mud mortar. What’s fascinating is that it likely took a hundred men right around a hundred days to construct a tower and this famous stone wall, that was 12 feet high and over five feet wide at its base. Before they knew it, the city grew to somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 inhabitants. No wonder singing and playing instruments around this city, bringing the walls down, was such a big deal!
Taking a gigantic leap forward, to 360 B.C., Plato writes a dialogue with the title Timaeus. Actually it’s not as much a dialogue - as we think of such things - as much as it is a long monologue that speculates on the nature of the physical world and human beings. In other words, it has to do with perceptions and observations. Bouncing forward another 350-400 years, back to Jesus’ day, we get back to Bartimeaus, which means “son of Timaeus.”
Adding a couple more items to this mix, before we get to the scripture passage, we should take a minute to think about fashion back in Jesus’ day, specifically that of men, although it was rather similar for both sexes. Most wore an inner garment, like a loose-fitting t-shirt, the earliest of which were sleeveless and came down to the knees. If one was particularly repentant or contrite, this inner garment might be made of burlap or camel hair, although they were usually made of linen, cotton or soft wool. A person wearing only an inner garment was considered naked.
Naturally, there were outer tunics, sometimes called mantles or robes. It was usually a square or oblong strip of cloth with a hole for the head, sometimes with sleeves and sometimes without. One did not go out in public without an outer garment. To keep all this fabric in place, some sort of belt was used. The expression, “to gird up the loins” meant to put on the belt, freeing the lower legs to move easily, signifying that a person was ready for service - like the phrase we use now - rolling up our sleeves.
Cloaks were usually worn over the inner and outer garments, not just for warmth, but they could serve as a blanket as well as a container for holding various items. Cloaks were personal items, and they had meaning, such as being laid down for an important person when they came into town, and if all you had was a cloak, it could have been a symbol for reverence - like a priest - or humiliation - like a poor person - or a divestment of power - as in someone with a handicap - back in those days. And ironically, a woman is healed when she touches the hem of Jesus’ cloak.
We live in such a different culture when it comes to the - other abled. The para-Olympics this year raised awareness and understanding of amazing athletes that most of us probably never gave much thought. There’s a video on YouTube about a young man named Zion Clark, who was born without legs due to a rare genetic disorder. He’s the fastest man on two hands, according to Guiness World Records, but his real deal is wrestling and working to be a multi-medal Olympian. Talk about an amazing personality!
But any kind of handicap in Jesus’ day automatically put you at the bottom rung of the social ladder. If you had more than one handicap, you were lower than low, thought to be overlooked by God, at the very least. Whether it was a handicap, illness or disease, because so little was known about them, people who suffered with those maladies were hardly even people.
One last little layer: in Jesus’ time, only the emperor was considered to be the recipient of the term “lord.” Some pieces of music use the phrase, “kyrie eleison,” which means “lord have mercy.” If that phrase gets any attention these days, it’s usually a reference to God. Back in Jesus’ day, “lord” did not mean God, but ruler. To give such a title to anyone not worthy of it was an act of betrayal and sedition. So with all of that cultural background, we get to this morning’s passage.
Mark 10:46-52 - Blind Bartimaeus Receives His Sight
46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Thank you, Naomi. Steven Molin, author of Sermons for Sundays after Pentecost, tells the story of when he and his wife were in Tanzania. Steven said for the first time in their lives, they felt like socio-economic minorities.
“At worship, we were the only white faces in a sea of black. In the market, we weren't merely the only Caucasians; we were among the few wearing shoes! Everywhere we went, we were the wealthy, healthy ones. When we were approached by a roving gang of small children rushing toward us in Mlafu, we assumed they would beg for money.
My wife clutched her purse, and I felt for my billfold. Here came the poorest of the poor! And when the children finally reached us, do you know what they asked for? They asked, "Will you take my picture? Will you take my picture?" And when we had snapped several photos of these beautiful children, they began to squeal with delight "Now let me see it! Let me see what you see!"
One of the fascinating points about this morning’s passage is the “sight” blind Bartimaeus had - before he was healed. Or maybe it was more his hearing, because on that day, it probably wasn’t the first time he heard about Jesus doing crazy, amazing things. As too often happens, people probably talked right over him, not even recognizing that he was a human being as much as he was a “situation.” Hearing that Jesus was near, it was as if Bartimaeus “saw” his opportunity, and took it.
And it wouldn’t look good on the disciples, letting Jesus see this guy. Irony or cynicism, the disciples turn from shunners to embracers in the snap of a finger, and how shallow our human nature can be sometimes.
William G. Carter, author of No Box Seats in the Kingdom, tells the story of a women who received eyes to see. With the help of Presbyterian mission money, she was able to establish a halfway house for recovering drug addict women. She schedules twelve-step groups, arranges for child care, and generally tries to get the women back on their feet. In a lot of ways, you would never expect her to be involved with such work. She is even-tempered, gentle, and articulate. But something happened a few years ago that caused her to see anew.
She was a graduate school student in Pittsburgh, looking for a part-time job. A newspaper listed an administrative position with a soup kitchen. That looked interesting, so she clipped it and prepared for the interview. On the day of her interview, she put on a dark blue business suit, put together a manila folder full of resumes and references, and clipped back her hair.
Arriving a few minutes before noon, she saw the sign: "East End Cooperative Ministry” and knocked on the door. Someone inside said, "It's unlocked." She went in, only to find a long line of people in front of her and disappointment washed over her. Then she realized it was lunch time; the people in the line weren't there for the same interview, they were waiting for soup.
She grew nervous as she looked at the people in line. Some of them, in turn, looked at her. She felt self-conscious about the way she was dressed. Apparently others began to sense her anxiety. A woman in a moth-eaten sweater smiled and tried to make conversation. "Is this your first time here?” "Yes, it is.” "Don't worry," said the lady in the sweater, "it gets easier."
"The scales fell from my eyes that day," reflected the young woman. "I went there looking for a job, and that woman thought I was there for soup. As far as she knew, the world had been as cruel to me as it was to her. But in the kindest way she could, she welcomed me as a fellow human being. She saw me as someone equally in need, which I was and still am. I didn't realize it at the time, but that was the day when God began to convert me." Looking around the halfway house, she smiled and said, "You see all of these wonderful things God is doing here? They began when God gave us eyes to see where Jesus was leading us.”
"What do you want?" asked Jesus. A church could ask for more prestige, a greater impact, and a sense of power. But for a church with the eyes of faith, the answer is clear: "to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly" ... all the way to the cross. So shall we pray.
Holy, Omniscient God, thank you for seeing so much farther than we are able, and for being able to communicate the sights to us. Help us to see further, in our personal lives, in our church family life, in the life of this state and country, world and universe. Forgive us when we turn our eyes away from the truths you have for us, and help us to see them for what they are - points of view that broaden our perspective. Give us the persistence of Bartimaeus to ask for you, for your healing and your life-giving direction. Help us to see as blind Bartimaeus, before and after his encounter with you. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.