I’d like to invite you this morning to put yourself in Bartimaeus’ shoes. Not in the sense that you try to imagine what it’s like to be a blind beggar. I suspect that would be too far from any of our experience. But just try to imagine for a moment what it would be like to stand face-to-face with the Savior of the world and have him say to you: “What do you want me to do for you?” What would you say?
“What do you want me to do for you?” How would you answer?
Bartimaeus appears not to hesitate at all: “Let me see again.”
I suppose his response isn’t really a surprise. Blindness probably defined everything about his life. Why did he need to beg? Because he was blind – couldn’t support himself, probably didn’t have a family. Why was he shushed when he called out for Jesus’ attention? Because he was blind, and in the ancient world, a physical disability like blindness would have been blamed on something sinful in his life or his parents’ lives before him. They shushed him because they didn’t believe he was worthy of Jesus’ attention. It’s no wonder Bartimaeus knew exactly what he wanted Jesus to do for him. Taking away his blindness was the one thing which would have made the biggest difference in his quality of life.
Perhaps you have one big thing that you would like the Lord to take away. Maybe it’s an illness. Maybe it’s the illness of a loved one. Maybe you’d like to forgive someone who has hurt you so badly that you are trapped in a cycle of hurt and anger. Maybe you’d like to forgive yourself for something in your past or some character flaw that keeps you from living fully and freely. If you, like Bartimaeus know exactly how you would answer Jesus if he asked you what he could do for you, then ask him. Martin Luther writes, in the Small Catechism, that when we pray, Our Father in heaven, “God wants to attract us, so that we come to believe he is truly our Father and we are truly his children, in order that we may ask him boldly and with complete confidence, just as loving children ask their loving father.” Think about your own children. If your children needed something, wouldn’t you want them to come to you? So our heavenly father wants us to come to him through his son. So Jesus wants us to ask for what we truly need. I have been surprised, in talking to people over the years, how many people have trouble praying for themselves. People whom I have known to be faithful pray-ers for friends and family members and members of the church community and people all over the world have admitted to me that they almost never pray for themselves. Somewhere, somehow, they got the impression that it is selfish to pray for oneself. That always makes me feel really guilty because I feel like I’m always praying for myself. But none of us should ever feel guilty about praying for ourselves because it’s exactly what Jesus wants us to do – to ask for what we need: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Maybe unlike Bartimaeus, however, you don’t have one big, obvious thing that you would ask of Jesus if he were standing in front of you. Well, here’s a little epiphany I had this week, thanks in part to my fellow students of the Bible with whom I met on Tuesday morning for Brown Bag & Bible. (And let me pause here to remind you that you are all welcome to our weekly Bible Study from 11:30 – 12:30 on Tuesdays, either in person or on Zoom from your home or your desk or wherever you happen to be at 11:30 on a Tuesday morning. We are studying the Old Testament and Gospel lessons for the upcoming Sunday, and we’d love to have you join us. And remember – it’s called Brown Bag & Bible because I’m encouraging participants to multitask by eating lunch while reading. End of commercial!) But as I was saying, during Brown Bag & Bible this week, I had an epiphany of sorts about this story, and it was this: no matter whether there is one big thing that we need or whether we have so many needs that we don’t know where to begin or whether our life is pretty good right now and we don’t feel like we really need anything . . . no matter what our circumstances, Bartimaeus’ prayer is a good prayer for us. Because what he asks is “Let me see again.” Let me see. Isn’t that what we need most of all? Let me see how I’m going to get through this challenge. Let me see the path forward. Let me see where my strength will come from. Let me see your gracious purpose in my life. Let me see your love and mercy leading me, guiding me, supporting me. Let me see the future you have planned for me. Let me see. And once our eyes of faith are opened, then we, like Bartimaeus, will be able to follow Jesus on the way. For notice: Bartimaeus, upon receiving his sight, doesn’t go back home to rejoin his community as a fully functioning and integrated member of society. Though with his vision restored he undoubtedly could imagine a much more “normal” future, instead he chose the even more promising path: he followed Jesus.
Friends, I’ve encouraged you to imagine Jesus standing before you today, asking you what you want him to do for you. But really, it’s not an act of imagination. It’s an act of faith. Because once our eyes are opened, we see that Jesus is standing before us, in the healing mercy of his body and blood. He is listening to our prayers and giving us what we truly need. And he is inviting us to follow him on the way, in lives of love and service. Lord, let us see.