Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
We learn to look..
From a very young age we learn to see through the eyes of others. We learn to desire what we see. We desire what other people desire.
We learn to look from our parents, friends and culture. Through our parents we learn shame and approval, what is dirty or clean, what is beautiful, and what is ugly. We see the objects they identify; we laugh when they laugh. We respond to their attention.
If you're worried about what your kids are watching, first take the step of watching their shows. They will learn to see how you see things, simply because you are there. That was my tactic: watch The Simpsons with my children. Simply sharing the act of watching is a powerful way to influence and be influenced. My children quickly developed critical sense of irony..
It is a deep part of our nature to be tribal about how we look, but this has been challenged as communication has quickened. More people are speaking, are listening, and speaking quickly. I don't think, however, we're listening any faster.
The consequence of the world getting smaller is the
recognition that people might see the same object, photograph or event, but
respond differently. A photo of a soldier in
Managing the waters of communication is the work, for example, of both diplomats and comedians. Diplomats try to soften the challenges of different world-views through hospitality; comedians heighten the differences to get a laugh. But both are required to translate the world we see, to make it manageable and comprehensible.
We don't control our responses to images very easily, we are not disinterested observers. After I do a wedding, I sometimes get photos of myself sent to me by the bride and groom. But I often feel uncomfortable about certain photographs. I find myself getting critical of the way I look, of the truth the photograph conveys. Where do we get our critical, or encouraging, voices?
Most people think that the way they see the world is the way the world is. Such a view may be generally right. If the relationship between my life and the way I saw my life was too unrelated, I don't think I would be very sane. On the other hand, I've met people whose self-understanding was completely different than the reality of their life, but these people are mentally ill.
The danger is thinking that our way of seeing the world is the only way the world works.
In today's gospel we have blind Bartimaeus, who cannot see. At least, he doesn't see the same way the crowd does.
Bartimaeus is one person among many. The many see Bartimaeus as bearing the punishment for someone's sin. Their God is not particularly merciful. They probably do quite well within that system of thinking: the parents do something wrong, or someone does something wrong, and God punishes them. That's how the many see things. It might be just in the abstract, but cruel in the particular event of the blind man's life.
The blind man is different. He cannot see what they see. They witness to a punishing God of power and glory and grandeur - they expect a tyrant, although perhaps a sympathetic and just one. But instead, the blind man announces Jesus, his person, his actions, as "mercy."
Jesus then says, "your faith" has made you well. Not the blind man's brother Joe’s faith. Not the faith of the many; not even Jesus' faith. Not the faith once delivered. Not the government's faith. Bartimaeus’ faith.
His faith allowed him to see something that the many could not see: that the Lord is a lord of mercy.
Sometimes I wonder if he, in fact, could always see -- but he just didn't know how. The many knew how to look in their own way. Surrounded by violence and oppression, they would think that God was the sort that administered punishment through violence the way tyrants do.
Yet there is plenty in Hebrew scripture that alludes to a merciful God. The "blind" man knew it, but the crowd just didn't see it. So he takes his risk, and cries "mercy."
The healing was the common language that both the blind man and the many understood. Healing, however, was not the crucial point. As the passage in Job reveals, God's creative power is acknowledged; death and poverty are challenged by creation and transformed into abundance. Job's mistake was to lay the brokenness of his world at God's feet. Once Job recognizes that God is a God of creation, Job's perspective is altered, and he too "sees" God anew. The blind man also sees God anew because Jesus heard the blind man's voice.
Crowds, the many, our friends, and peers, have an immense power over how we see. Our role is to discover ways that build peace than disguise violence, calling out the truth instead of blindly accepting conventional wisdom. We do this by seeking to understand the truth; remembering and reminding others how we mirror each other's desires, and that we need to see others and live with them in peace, truth and honesty. And we need to learn to hear the single voice, the one that claims mercy, that is easily silenced in the noise of the shouting crowd.
The blind man's faith is grounded in God's peace. The many can encourage violence against the innocent. The blind man, whether innocent or guilty, merely knew that God is a God of mercy. The blind man announced a truth.
The hardest challenge for us is to learn to look differently and to listen to the unheard voices around us, to see the world as God does: with empathy and mercy for his creation. This is a risk -- it seems entirely possible that the blind man could have been shouted down by the mob were it not for Jesus' willingness to listen.
In his blindness, his social location, he could still call, "Lord, have mercy." He may not have known all the facts about his condition; he may not have held all the correct and conventional opinions; and he may have truly deserved to be blind. But in recognizing the true nature of God, in calling out and being heard, perhaps he discovered he had always been able to see.