Who among us can see the future? Who among us can perceive the truth of things rightly? If we could foresee the prices of the stock market, or predict what world events would take place, I suspect we’d have a lot more zeroes in the right places in our bank accounts. But who among any of humanity can do that? The best of mankind’s consultants and analysts are simply making guesses. The news anchors just want your attention, but they don’t know more than anyone else. We’re more or less blind to what the future holds.
There’s an interesting theme in the stories that make it to the classics section of the library. In the stories, it’s common that the blind or foolish see things better than the ones with sight, or the ones who seem foolish according to worldly standards perceive things more truly than the rest. In William Shakespeare’s King Lear, for example, the jester alone could perceive the mind of the king, and can speak the truth where others are blinded by their own ambition and greed. Or the Odyssey, the blind seer Tiresias is often the one to deliver needed truth to the hero. Famous poets like Homer or Milton were blind men, and yet their insights recorded may be of some use to us even today.
I doubt they meant it, but those who wrote about the blind seeing truly were on to something, their stories an echo of the history of what truly happened. The gospel reading for today records comes in two parts: the first part, where Jesus gives his disciples a promise about His death and resurrection, and second, the part where He heals a blind man. “31 And taking the twelve, [Jesus] said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.”
Why was so hard to understand? What didn’t they see about it? He’d predicted His death and resurrection before; the steps are terrible, but not complicated. God be praised, even a little child can tell us that Jesus suffered, died, and rose again. There are perhaps three reasons this saying might have been hard for them to grasp. First, the suddenness of it all may have been a sort of a shock for the disciples… people are often willfully blind to the possibility of sudden turns of circumstance. Jesus had great popularity with the people at the time – so perhaps the disciples trusted the inertia of social reputation, thinking it unlikely that He could be betrayed so quickly.
Second, the weakness of our human nature has this temptation to take too many cues from the crowds. There is that tendency to put too much stock in ‘what everyone else is doing,’ as if a popular vote determined right and wrong. None of us are immune to that temptation, certainly not in an age of fads and mass communication. So perhaps the disciples didn’t grasp Jesus’ saying because they were too tuned in to the spirit and the excitement of crowds around them, and thought that Jesus talking about the cross was weird. Who talks like that? Who repeatedly talks about the need for atonement, that sins must be forgiven by God alone?
Yet thirdly, perhaps it was difficult to comprehend how deeply necessary Jesus’ suffering and death is in order to save us poor miserable sinners. The cross tends to offend to our sensibilities… who considers their own moral failures as the kind deserving flogging, spitting, and mocking that was done to Jesus? It is temptingly easy to define how we’re doing in our spiritual walk by comparison to other human beings, or to make decisions on the basis of ‘what everyone else is doing,’ without even asking what written in holy scripture. Yet just as the prophets had foretold, Jesus sets forth in love, going to the cross to atone for our bloodguilt with nothing less than His own death and resurrection.
Whether the disciples saw it or not, Jesus heals a blind man in today’s gospel reading. We know from St. Mark’s account of it that his name was Bartimaeus (Mk 10:46). Being blind, he could not do the work a seeing man could, and was reduced to begging in order to keep himself fed. If you aren’t able to take care of yourself, you have to think of yourself as one who lives by the mercy of others. In that, Bartimaeus could see clearly. While we can get some measure of wealth or creature comforts, temporary material stuff don’t last forever, and can blind us to our overall spiritual condition: we are beggars all.
That can be difficult for those who are used to being so very very capable. Yet for Bartimaeus the blind, asking for mercy was not new. He listened first, then looked. Perhaps that’s one advantage he had. He also had heard that Jesus was passing by on the way to Jerusalem, and with Him the crowd of disciples and hearers who were amazed at all that He was doing and teaching. He hadn’t seen Jesus, but he takes the others at their word. As Jesus passes by, he cries out and asks for help: “38b “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”” and even when they rebuked him, he cried out all the more “39b ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’”
In this, the blind man saw clearly. He calls Jesus by a messianic title: “Son of David.” So doing, blind Bartimaeus confesses faith that Jesus is the promised savior, the One to sit on the throne of David, the savior that God promised from times of old. Jesus had not yet entered into Jerusalem riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey, where the crowds would shout and praise singing “Hosanna to the son of David!” and yet here this blind man saw it more clearly, the office and kingship of Jesus the Christ. The forgiveness of sins put on us on account of His death and resurrection. How did Bartimaeus know? He couldn’t judge by what his eyes saw, but he had heard the teaching and the miracles. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
So he cries out, clamoring for Jesus. Didn’t matter how weird the crowd thought he was. The light of the world was near. The blind man did not know how Jesus would show mercy, just that He would.. Bartimaeus couldn’t see the future, yet he trusted that somehow Jesus could help. He could have been thinking of that passage from Isaiah 35 where it was foretold that the Messiah would open the eyes of the blind (Is 35:5, 42:7), and so he was bold to ask. He cries out in the same prayer we sing at the start of the service, asking that the Lord’s Christ have mercy on us. Whatever it was, he trusted Jesus to work it out in the end. That trust, that faith in God’s gracious mercy, is greater foresight into the future than what our eyes see before us.
That’s a useful example of faith for us, when we can’t see what the future holds. We know that there is plenty of suffering and sorrow in the world today, and we groan under the weight of it all. Yet we also know by faith that God will raise us up on the last day, that He will preserve His people. The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church built on Christ our rock and redeemer. Sure, in our blindness it’s hard to see how He will work things out before the Last Day, but that’s is exactly where the faith of the blind man is instructive for us. Bartimaeus does three things: He cries out for mercy, talks forthrightly, and then leaves the when and how up to the Jesus. And Jesus commends his faith. We can pray verses like from the introit this morning: “1 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be | put to shame; * in your righteousness de- | liver me!”” (Ps 31)
Perhaps that is why we close our eyes when we pray. To blind ourselves to everything but the Lord’s Word. To repent of our sins and plead His forgiveness and let His Word guide our ways. 2nd Corinthians [5:7] says “7 … we walk by faith, not by sight,” We can pray that way because we know how His-story ends. You do know a bit of the future. Jesus will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. Those who are united to Him in repentant faith will be raised to the blessed life eternal. Therein we have courage to clamor for Jesus, and joy even to join the train of those following behind Him, rejoicing and giving praise to God. As we look forward to the age to come, we remember faithfully the grace promised us through His Word: that the self-giving love of God in Christ Jesus abides forever, even He who loves you to the end. In the name of + Jesus. Amen.