No person of compassion could believe that God would harm those whose only “sin” is a weak or wavering faith. Yet who would doubt that our loving God would bless and heal and show mercy to those in need?
as interpreted by Deborah
Jesus and his disciples spent some time in Jericho. As they were leaving the town, a blind beggar, Bartimaeus, was sitting by the side of the road.
When he heard that Jesus was passing by, he started shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
People all around tried to shush him, but he yelled all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and listened. “Call him here,” he told the disciples.
So they called to the fellow, “Cheer up! He is calling you.” Throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus leaped to his feet and came over to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
The blind man replied, “My teacher, let me see again.”
Jesus said, “Go; your faith has made you well.”
Immediately he regained his sight and followed the Lord on the Way.
Well, there it is again. Another one of those troublesome miracle stories about Jesus. I call them “troublesome” because they make many of us modern Christians uncomfortable. We tend, quite frankly, not to believe them; we treat them like fairy tales that delight children and dazzle the credulous, but ... well, really! Curing lepers? Restoring reason to the mad? Healing ailing children long-distance? And now giving sight to the blind ...
Maybe if it was hysterical blindness — something we can explain away rationally — then we’d find it easier to accept. But to cure a real illness: a critical injury, a congenital disorder, an irreversible disease — things like that just don’t happen. Blind people do not regain their sight simply by having someone tell them, “your faith is enough.”
If faith were enough to bring healing, surely the hospitals would be empty, the psychiatric clinics deserted, and nursing homes obsolete. But that’s not how it works. No matter how much we pray, hope, and believe, the blind remain unable to see, the deaf still need hearing aids, and — as for the story of Lazarus? Let’s not even go there.
If faith is enough, then those who do not recover are “guilty” of lacking in belief, or of failing to pray adequately. If their health does not improve, if they do not recover, or their illness worsens, then the fault is theirs. That would seem the logical extension of a belief in “faith healing,” and so we, with the best of intentions, discount the whole business.
No person of compassion would believe that our loving God would harm those whose only “sin” is a weak or wavering faith. Yet what person of compassion would doubt that our loving God would bless and heal and show mercy to those in need?
Disgusted by the glitzy “commercial Christians” who sell healing miracles on television, and uncomfortable with the implications of unsuccessful prayers for healing, we avoid reading the stories of Jesus’ miracles literally. Instead we frame them as strictly metaphorical. In the case of today’s scripture we interpret it as a description of the curing of spiritual blindness.
The restoration of sight is a powerful, evocative depiction of what the Gospel can do. When we come to know Jesus as the Christ we are given insight into God’s love for us; the life and teachings of the Lord’s help us to envision the building of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth; Jesus is the Light that shines hope and courage into hearts that have been darkened by despair.
Banishing spiritual blindness is far more important than the “simple” curing of literal, physical blindness. That is easy for us to see — unless we are the blind man in question or members of his family.
When we or those we love are ill, injured, or suffering, “mere” physical healing isn’t so incidental any more. Suddenly the practical, here-and-now aspects of Jesus’ healing power really matters — and we often find ourselves at a loss to know what to say, what to hope for, and what to believe.
It is easy to stay within the safe, theoretical interpretations of Jesus’ message. But we are foolish — and negligent in our walk of faith — if we do not understand healing as a genuine, literal, physical aspect of the Good News the Lord revealed and the Way he calls us to follow.
Jesus wasn’t “all talk and no action.” He could — and did — heal people of chronic, “incurable” diseases and illnesses borne from birth: madmen and lepers, the blind, the lame, the deaf. He healed a woman with internal hemorrhaging, a little girl who was dying, a centurion’s companion, Peter’s mother in law ... not even raising the dead was beyond His power. And Jesus said to his disciples:
"You will do all that I have done — and more" (John 14:12).
Too often our prayers are rather timid, anemic things, lacking courage and specificity: we pray for those who govern, for peace on earth, we pray for general blessings for those we care about. That’s not how it is in the gospels; when people ask things of the Lord, they are very specific about what they need. Is their faith commended because they dared to ask for exactly what they wanted?
Miracles do occur: miracles of restored health, hope, strength, peace, courage, and the power to endure. Do we dare to pray for them? And if not, why not? Why not pray that the coming storm be turned away from inhabited areas? Why not pray for a cure for heart disease or AIDS or childhood-onset diabetes? Or all three? Why not pray for your coworker to recover fully from cancer? Why not pray for the drug-addicted young man across the street? Why not pray with ridiculous optimism and courage — for precisely what is needed?
Perhaps our first and most earnest prayers should be for ourselves. Perhaps we should pray that our own blindness be overcome: and we may come to see the true grace and limitless power of faithful prayer.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Pray with “ridiculous optimism,” courage, and persistence.
Jesus said, “Have faith in God. I’m telling you, if you tell this mountain, ‘Get up and throw yourself into the sea,’ and if you sincerely believe in what you ask for, it will happen. That’s why I say that whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
~ Mark 11:22-24