“Sometimes It Is In the Darkness That We Learn to See the Light”

October 24, 2022

Mark 10: 46–52

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So, throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. ***

After dark, there is a whole other world that comes to life. One many of us never see.

I live in the woods far away from city light pollution. This time of year, after sunset there is only blackness on the other side of the glass. Yet on a clear night, I can walk outside under a blanket of stars to clearly see the Little Dipper and Orion. Under that huge sky, I realize we need the darkness if we hope to see the light. Today’s reading about a blind man has me thinking of darkness and light.

“Learning to Walk in the Dark” is a book about darkness and light. In it teacher and priest Barbara Brown Taylor explores biblical views of darkness and how we might learn about the ways of God from the dark — in those times when we cannot see the way ahead, are lost, alone, frightened, not in control or when the world around us seems to have descended into darkness.

Taylor believes darkness gets a bad rap in our society. Think of the stories that begin, “It was a dark and stormy night…” We do not like darkness and the proof is in all the security lighting and motion sensitive lights that go off as soon as there is some movement we cannot see in the dark. When the power goes off at night, what is the first thing we want to do? We are not comfortable in the dark.

Darkness provided God the backdrop for the creation of light, Taylor writes. It was darkness which covered the face of the deep as God stepped up with the divine paintbrush to make the first stroke.

Today’s reading about a blind man named Bartimaeus comes right before Jesus enters Jerusalem where his life will end. At this point He and his disciples are in Jericho, about fifteen miles away. As they were leaving there is a crowd pressing in on Jesus.

Sitting on the side of the road near the city gate was a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, son of Timeaus. Beggars were common at the entrance to cities in those days. If you were begging for a living, the city gate was the best place to be. In those days there was no structured ways for society to care for those who could not work to make a living. Begging was the only way. Religious people, who were required to give alms to the poor (food and money), supported people like Bartimaeus.

As Jesus neared the gate, Bartimaeus knew someone of importance was coming. He clearly had heard of Jesus and what he was teaching. He knew Jesus worked miracles, so he called out. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!,” People tried to shush him but the blind beggar yelled even louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

You know the rest of the story. Jesus hears Bartimaeus and told those in the crowd to fetch him. Bartimaeus sprang up and stood before Jesus. Jesus asked him what he wanted and he replied, “Let me see again.” Jesus tells him to go on, his faith had made him well. Suddenly able to see again, Bartimaeus followed Jesus along the way. Notice anything odd here?

This is another amazing healing story. But read carefully, one should begin to wonder about its deeper meaning, because the writer Mark is not going to let us off with such an easy categorization.

The restoration of Bartimaeus’ sight is not the main point. His healing seems to be tacked on as an afterthought. It seems like a blind man regaining his sight would be worth more than one short sentence, doesn’t it? Unless. Unless the story is not really about one blind man gaining his sight.

Mark’s entire Gospel is one long story of Jesus and his ministry. We cannot read one passage from the Gospel apart from the others. So, let’s take a step back and recall that there was another blind person healed earlier in chapter 8 (v 22f). The events in between these two healings hold clues to understanding today’s passage.

In between both miracle healings of blind men are continual stories of misunderstanding, mostly by Jesus’ disciples. They try to grasp his teachings, but fail. Jesus tells them three times about his upcoming suffering, death and resurrection. Yet all the disciples can think about is building a monument in his honor. Jesus teaches about being salt and light in the world. Yet all the disciples can do is argue about which of them is the greatest. Jesus told rich people who came to follow him that they had to give up everything to follow. And they went away grieving because they had so many possessions.

In this section of Mark, between the healing of the two blind people, there is story after story of misunderstanding, of people who want to follow Jesus but for the life of them cannot see what he is talking about. You guessed it. It is like they are blind. Though their vision was fine and they could plainly see what Jesus was doing in the light of day, they live in a sort of darkness which does not permit them to fully understand what Jesus was trying to teach them.

And so, at the end of all this, Mark serves us up Bartimaeus, the blind beggar. And somehow, though he was blind, in the darkness of his predicament, he could see what everyone else could not. He called out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!,” and Mark wants us to know that this was profound. Bartimaeus called Jesus by a scared, holy name. “Son of David” meant Messiah. No one walking around in the light with Jesus had the courage or understanding to see what was right in from of them. Even the disciples could not see. But a blind beggar living in darkness, could see more clearly than any of the people who thought they knew Jesus.

Mark reminds us there are different kinds of blindness. We can see the light of day, but we spend a lot of time feeling around in the darkness to find the truth. Ironically, in our darkest moments, we can very often see the light. Jesus healed blind people who lacked sight, but the crowds of healthy people could not see Jesus to save their lives. Yet in his blindness darkened world, Bartimaeus could see the situation clear as day.

Tony Campolo had a stellar career as a teacher and preacher. He saw in the course of life many illustrative stories of awakening and he wrote beautifully about them.

On a trip to speak at a conference in Hawaii, Campolo was struggling to adjust his body clock and awakened at 3am. Unable to get back to sleep, he went looking for a place to get something to eat. In the darkness the streets were silent, but Tony’s brain was wide awake and his stomach was growling. Every eating establishment was closed except a grungy dive in an alleyway. In he went.

While sipping coffee and enjoying a donut, in walked a group of chatty prostitutes, done with their night’s work. Soon Tony found himself surrounded by this group when he heard one woman say to the other “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? You want me to get a cake, and sing happy birthday to you?”

The soon to be 39 year old replied, “Aw, come on, why do you have to be so mean? I’m just sayin’ it is my birthday tomorrow. I don’t want anything from you. I mean, why should I have a birthday party? I’ve never had one in my whole life.”

When Tony heard this, he had a thought. Waiting until the women left, he asked the guy at the counter, “Do they come in often?”

“Yeah, every night,” he answered.

“The one right next to me,” he asked, “she comes in every night?”

“Yeah,” he said, “that’s Agnes. She’s here every night. She’s been commin’ here for years. Why do you want to know?”

“Because she just said that tomorrow is her birthday. What do you say? Do you think we could 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.” So, they made their plans. Tony said he’d be back at 2:30 the next morning with decorations and the man, who name was Harry, said he would make a cake.

At 2:30 the next morning, Tony was back. He had crepe paper and other decorations and a sign made of big pieces of cardboard that said, “Happy birthday, Agnes!” The two men decorated the place from one end to the other. Harry had put word on the street about the party and by 3:15 it seemed that every prostitute in Honolulu was in the diner.

At 3:30 on the dot, the door swung open and in walked Agnes. Tony had everybody ready. They all shouted, “Happy birthday, Agnes!” Agnes was stunned, her mouth dropped open, her knees started to buckle, and she almost fell over.

And when the birthday cake with all the candles was carried out, she totally lost it. She sobbed. Harry, who was not used to seeing a prostitute cry, gruffly mumbled, “Blow out the candles, Agnes. Cut the cake.”

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 were in a hole-in-the-wall greasy spoon, half the prostitutes in Honolulu, at 3:30am, 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, 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 is in the darkness that we finally see the light.

Jesus walked all over Galilee trying to teach people a new way of living, a way that welcomed the outcast and included the marginalized, a way that gave new life to the hopeless and created a new order in which no one was left out. But no matter what he did, the people around him had a hard time seeing what it was that Jesus was bringing.

It seems, ironically, that it took a blind man, someone who could not see at all, to paint the picture loud and clear for everyone else to see, too.

What have you seen in your own times of darkness?

Barbara Brown Taylor writes “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.”

Life’s darkness provides a canvas for the incredible picture of hope and salvation that Jesus brought to this world. We need the darkness to see the light. And, if like Bartimaeus, we have the courage to believe, we may just find that we can see most clearly in the dark.

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Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.