As you know, Terri and I have been taking Spanish classes six hours a week each. We're not in a classroom, but instead each of us has a assigned teacher for one on one instruction. It's a great method. For the first three months my teacher was "Pattie." Pattie wasn't getting enough hours of work so she had to go to work elsewhere. Pattie and I had a good rapport so it was hard to see her go. This week I received a new teacher "Matilda." She and I hit it off just fine. Her "especialidad" is writing backwards or upside down as she teaches, so what she is explaining appears perfect to the student. It was very helpful to me- I liked it.
An insight for me after this class was this: Jesus writes backwards/upside down for us so we can get the meaning of his example and teaching and put it into practice in our lives. He puts it there in black and white for us to see- with no craning of necks!
We don't probably think so, but we are more fortunate than the disciples who went around with Jesus in the flesh. They had a hard time seeing what Jesus was really about, what he was trying to accomplish. We have plenty of time for reflection on the story and time to act if we see and then choose to follow.
The story of the healing of the blind man Bartimaeus comes near the end of a section of Mark's Gospel: chapters 8-10. This section begins and ends with the healing of blind men. So what we have today is more than a miraculous physical healing, but is part of Jesus' attempt to help, over time, his disciples to see the meaning of coming death and Resurrection. But unfortunately, they remain "blind" to its significance.
Perhaps the key to today's passage is found in the prophecy of Isaiah in chapter 6: The people having eyes do not see and having ears to not hear.
The physical healing of blindness in the story points to a much more important goal of Jesus: that people really see why they are in this world, see how they should live together, and see where this world is headed: God's kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.
All the stories of healing blindness are related. The greatest of these is in John chapter 9: the story of the man blind from birth. The question asked Jesus by the disciples was: Who sinned, this man, or his parents? With this question Jesus redefines what "sin" really is. For centuries before and during Jesus' ministry, believing people thought any physical defect, especially blindness, was a moral defect. This made the person with the defect unpure and an automatic outsider from family or the community. (I think strides have been made in this way of thinking in our day, but when I pass crippled folks on the street and see how everyone passes by them without a thought, I wonder.)
Getting back to Jesus' redefining of sin. (We're talking real serious sin
here, real "mortal" sin, sin unto death! Not the eating meat on Friday variety.) In the dialogue that ensues with the Pharisees concerning sin, Jesus says clearly that neither this man, nor his parents, sinned, one or the other, as everyone thought. Instead, the sin lies elsewhere. Where? For Jesus, in the very expulsion and exclusion of these so-called defective ones from the community. The sin lies not with the blind man at all, but with the ones who righteously excluded the blind man, and others like him, from society.
Jesus has no problem at all with moral defect or failure. Jesus forgives such cases easily- he is very comfortable with sinners and has table fellowship with them. Whether it be the woman caught in adultery or today's blind man there is no problem: he can free them to new life readily and they respond, like the last line of today's Gospel: Immediately he regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way.
So if the greatest sins aren't what people think they are: like adultery, stealing, coveting, or physcial malodies (various diseases, like cancer or AIDs), what is the great sin, unto death, etc.? For Jesus, the greatest sins in the world have to do with the expulsion and exclusion brought about by judgments made by those who claim to see, but in truth are blind themselves. This is the real Sin of the world. Sin which leads to more and more death in this world because of persistent blindness, fear, and greed.
What Jesus knew and we are learning (hopefully), is that the whole world has been blind from its birth (clay/mud from spittle used to heal in one of the stories connects with creation) until the coming of Jesus and his death and Resurrection. Jesus, the Light of the world brings the possibility of sight to the world, but is rejected by those who claim to see, but are really blind.
Even with Jesus' redefinition of sin, we remain sinners. We believe in the forgiveness of our sins as we pray in the Creeds. We admit our blindness regularly in the Confession and receive absolution to start fresh again. All human beings, including us, are blind, but real culpability happens when we take part in wrong judgments and participate in the exclusionary mechanisms of our world.
We gather at the altar today asking to be healed of our blindness, receiving new glasses (or corrective lenses) and Jesus will forgive us and feed us with his Body and Blood in Thanksgiving to his Father and Our Father.