I don’t know how many Bible stories you’ve heard, but do you think you could name someone in the Bible who had great faith, abundant courage, and truly followed God? Perhaps you’d think of Abraham, Moses, or David. Maybe the Apostles, Mary, or Jesus himself? All of these would be true, but I like the obscure stories and characters, since I’m an obscure person from an obscure corner of the world too.
Did you know there’s a Bart in the Bible? His story is briefly told in Mark 10:46-52. Of course the most famous Bart these days is probably the Springfield kid with oddly yellow skin, spiked hair, and a donut-loving dad. The Bart from the Bible is really named is Bartimaeus, but that’s awfully hard to spell and write, so I hope he doesn’t mind I’m going with Bart.
Bart was a blind beggar. He was literally sidelined and marginalized, begging by the side of the road in a time and place that had little or no help for those on hard times. But the funny thing about Blind Bart is that he could see better than most, because he had spiritual sight when almost everyone around him was spiritually blind. He was truly the blind leading the blind.
One day Jesus was coming through Bart’s town, and it was a big ruckus. I don’t know if the visually impaired in ancient times hung out together, but Bart must have heard about Jesus somehow. After all, Jesus had a habit of healing blind folks. It is clear that when Bart found out who Jesus was and what he could do, he believed. When he figured out Jesus was coming by, he didn’t hesitate, throwing decorum to the wind, screaming at the top of his lungs: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Imagine the scene if your favorite politician was solemnly parading through Bennington with a great crowd, and as they approached the Four Corners, a panhandler started screaming at the top of his lungs: “Have mercy on me!” If you were in the crowd, you’d probably do what they did to this crazy blind guy–you’d probably tell him to shut up. Repeatedly. Someone might even rough him up a bit, or call the police over. We simply don’t have time for obnoxious low-lifes.
But Jesus stopped in his tracks: he has all the time in the world for so-called low-lifes. When everyone around Bart was shouting him down, getting in his way instead of helping him out, his courageous and persistent faith in Jesus prevailed. Of course the crowd flips quicker than you can say “spiritually blind,” suddenly encouraging Bart: “Take heart. Get up. He’s calling you.”
When they come face-to-face, Jesus asks Bart a profound yet simple question: “What do you want me to do for you?” It may seem painfully obvious what Bart wants, but Jesus asks anyway, showing him the respect perhaps no one else has. Besides, Jesus just recently asked this exact same question to James and John, two of his closest followers, and they botched it, requesting power and control for themselves, like the spiritually blind men they were (at the time). Instead of asking for his own glory, Bart simply asks for his sight back. He just wants to be who God made him to be. And of course Jesus does what God does: he gives sight to the blind. This man now has 20/20 vision both spiritually and physically: he can see Jesus with both the eyes of his heart and his body.
Jesus sends him on his way, but Bart has one more thing to show us about faith: he chooses to follow Jesus, all the way to the cross. Not only does he see Jesus for who he truly is (now both spiritually and physically), and not only does he have great faith in Jesus, but he does what we are all called to do: he follows Jesus. I can’t say for sure, but I’m fairly confident Bart literally followed Jesus all the way up to Jerusalem, and with his new eyes truly saw the depth and breadth of God’s love. He must have seen Jesus die on the cross, and even better, he must have seen Jesus resurrected in glory and power.
You and I can’t see Jesus right now because we are blinded by our own spiritual darkness. But Jesus is willing and able to open our spiritual eyes. That’s why he has come to town. All we have to do is follow Bart’s lead and cry out: “Jesus, have mercy on me!” Jesus always responds to our cries, stops in his tracks, calls us by name, and asks: “What do you want me to do for you?” Again, let’s follow Bart’s lead, and tell Jesus: “I just want to see you.”
Bob Wiegers is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Bennington, where you are welcome to come sing with us: “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”