October 25, 2015
Open My Eyes
Do you remember when we were children, there were so many things we wanted (toys, food, or to go somewhere fun for example)? Come to think of it, there are still so many things we want as adults too. For example, I want a big reading room full of book shelves, comfy chairs, and a tea table in the middle. There is greed in human nature that we constantly want things. A lot of people who identify themselves as Christians use their prayer time to constantly ask God for favours. One of the most serious problems of Christians today, if you ask me, is that we tend to think of God as Santa Clause or Genie in the bottle who grants our wishes. We tend to think that the biggest purpose of prayer is to ask God for secular blessings. Of course, I’m not saying it’s wrong to ask God for earthly blessings; if we want something, it’s totally okay to ask, although whether God will give it to us or not is a different matter. It’s okay to ask God for something we want, but the important question to consider is, “what” do we want and “why” do we want it.
In today’s gospel story, there is a blind beggar who wanted more than anything to be able to see. When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he started to desperately shout for his attention. Finally when he got his attention and was invited to come closer, he threw off his cloak, which was his only possession, and ran to Jesus. He was asked, “What do you want me to do for you” (this actually sounds like the Genie in the bottle, but oh well), and he said, “Let me see again”. To this, Jesus pronounces, “Go; your faith has made you well”. Tada!
There are a lot of stories of Jesus healing different illnesses and disabilities in the gospels; but this one is not an ordinary miracle healing story (I do realize that using the words “miracle” and “ordinary” together is an oxymoron, but let’s move on). Let’s take a look at where the author of Mark placed this story in chapter 10. From verse 17, there is the story of a rich young man who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life. Jesus invited him to sell all his possessions and follow him, but he couldn’t. From verse 35, James and John asked Jesus to let them sit one at his right hand and one at his left in his glory, to which Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to be first must be servant of all”. By placing Bartimaeus’ story after these two stories, Mark is emphasizing this poor and disabled man’s faith and ability to abandon everything to follow Jesus… because the rich man wasn’t able to give up on his possessions to follow Jesus when he was specifically invited to, while Bartimaeus gave up his only earthly possession and followed Jesus without being invited. Jesus didn’t need to say, “follow me”. This man proved to be better than the rich young man, and two of the top disciples (remember the message, “First will be last and last will be first”).
It matters “what” we want and “why” we want it. The wish of Bartimaeus is symbolic; his wish was to gain his sight, not the glory in the kingdom of God, not wealth, but to be able to see. The story of Bartimaeus gaining his eye sight teaches us about our spiritual sight. James and John were already the disciples of Jesus but they didn’t have the ability to “see” what was really important. They wanted glory and the reward for following Jesus but they weren’t ready to face the difficult part of being disciples. In the end they couldn’t handle the suffering and death (so they ran away when Jesus was arrested). All Bartemaeus wanted was to regain his sight. He abandoned everything he owned to follow Jesus; although “everything he owned” was only one cloak, it was his everything and the only means of income; this is what he spread on the ground to receive coins. Bartimaeus may have gained physical sight from Jesus, but he had already been a man of spiritual sight.
This is a story of discipleship really. It teaches us that following Jesus means following him to his cross and not only participating in his glory; it means having the spiritual sight to discern what is really important as a disciple. To be a disciple with a spiritual sight, we need to let God inside us to open our eyes, instead of us trying to reason and analyze God with our human limits. The story of Job we read today is Job’s moment of spiritual eye opening. In case you are not familiar with the Book of Job, Job was a righteous and rich man who gets everything taken away from him because Satan bets God that he only worships God because of all the material blessings he received. Throughout the book, Job who lost everything has conversations and debates about God with his friends who came to comfort him. In the end, God shows up and talks to Job directly, revealing his human limits. After meeting God face to face, Job’s spiritual eyes are opened and he confesses that he was just a puny little human who had the delusion of knowing God.
Today is the Reformation Sunday. I mentioned at the beginning Christians who use prayer as an excuse to ask God for favours; but also during the time of Reformation, the Christian Church was full of Christians who didn’t have the spiritual sight to seek Jesus; his way of the cross and humble service. In the year 1517 when an Augustinian monk Martin Luther objected to the Catholic practice of issuing indulgences and making money, Christian Church had long strayed away from the gospel of Jesus (they say, this “long” period goes back to the fall of the Roman Empire when the Church started adapting practices contrary to the teachings of Jesus). The people of the Reformation “protested” against the corruption of the Church, which resulted in the birth of the “Protestant” church (that’s us).
But unfortunately, long after the Reformation, we still need reformation. Just like Job who could only understand God in his human box, we need to know our limits and realize that the only way to understand God is to build a personal and intimate relationship with God. We cannot even begin to understand the majesty of God. All we can do is to empty ourselves and let God open our eyes. Just like James and John who were a part of Jesus’ most intimate circle but sought the wrong things, just because we call ourselves the followers of Jesus, that doesn’t mean we know what we are doing. Although he was physically blind and destitute, Bartimeaus surely knew what to ask for and how to be a disciple. Being a disciple involves participating in a life of humble service, being faithful even through persecutions, and following Jesus to his cross, and not only seeking glory. Jesus said, “Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me”. When our spiritual eyes are opened, we are able to know our priorities as disciples and to live as Jesus taught us.
What we need, God already knows it. What we want and desire, we can ask God. But if God asks us, “What do you want me to do for you”, what shall we ask for? Food, roof over our head, health, well-being of our loved ones; these are basic and necessary things to ask for. Besides these if we want something for ourselves, it is okay to ask. I want a big reading room full of books and comfy chairs, but as a disciple, I know that I can very well live without them. We need to ask ourselves, what shall we seek? I pray that we will be able to ask for a spiritual sight, and the courage to live by the gospel messages. I pray that we will gain spiritual sight and be able to ask for God’s kingdom and not for our personal pleasure or glory. As we remember our Christian forefathers and mothers who participated in the Reformation movement, let us pray for God to guide our hearts, thoughts, and desires, and make us disciples with a spiritual sight; because this Christian Church always needs reformation and transformation to resemble Jesus and do God’s work. Amen.
Rev. Sunny Kim