Scripture for the week: Job 42:1-6, 10-17 (the conclusion of Job’s story); Psalm 34:1-8; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52 (the healing of Bartimaeus, a blind beggar)
Perhaps it might seem important only to biblical “anoraks,” or pedants, but the healing of blind Bartimaeus is in the wrong place in the gospel of Mark – who otherwise has healing stories carefully organised together. So what does it mean – why is that important?
Mark makes a point by placing the incident after the astonishment of disciples when Jesus told them about the difficulty of the rich entering the kingdom of God; the disciples then failed to listen to his teaching about his impending fate, and instead entered a big argument about who sits where in the kingdom.
Along came Bartimaeus, who was blind, yet who saw through his blindness to perceive the nature of Jesus, and cried out for healing. The disciples tried to silence him, but Jesus healed the blind beggar, who got up and followed.
The point in the stark contrast is that Bartimaeus saw what the disciples could not; he was healed, or “saved” in a way that would only come to the disciples after they had passed through crucifixion and rebirth, removing the scales from their eyes. True healing can only come when we are ready for it.
The story of Job makes this point in a different, and painfully poignant way. After all that Job endured, innocently, he found that what God said to him out of a whirlwind left him feeling in need of repentance, as if he had been liberated from a form of blindness.
To view the role of religion and faith as a means of avoiding difficulty, pain, suffering, or loss, is short-sighted; these things happen to all. We have to turn ourselves over to God and give back some of the love that we have received; this is what will – in God’s good time – make all well – but will not avoid the challenges.
The story of Malala Yousafzai is an example of turning oppression and suffering towards good. So is the life of Kirsty Howard (the little girl who at the age of 7 launched the Commonwealth Games with David Beckham), who died yesterday at the age of twenty, after turning a peculiar defect – a heart the wrong way round – into a lifetime dedicated to raising funds to help countless terminally ill children.
God will use suffering to bring healing, failure to show grace, darkness to shine light into life, blindness to give fresh vision and death to bring resurrection, an opportunity for new life. In their own ways, both Job and Bartimaeus did what the disciples were not ready to do: to know that they were blind, to seek and accept new vision, and then to see and follow.
Where is our vision limited? Or do we believe that we are a generation without any blindness such as that which afflicted the disciples? Through whose eyes might we be offered a new way of seeing? What is it that we need to see – and then follow?