Guest Outpost blog by Stephen McKinney-Whitaker
“Do you want to see?”
“No, not really.”
My dog had surgery to remove her eye. I didn’t want to see her face shaven, her eyelid stitched shut and swollen. I couldn’t bear to see my beloved dog in pain and disfigured. But she’s my responsibility. She’s my family. I love her. I didn’t want to see, but I had to look, and I had to welcome her home.
Bartimaeus is a man born blind who survives on people’s charity. He has never seen his friends, never seen the faces of those who mock him, never seen his house or a sunset. He has never seen his family.
Bart is sitting on the side of the road when he hears the sound of a hundred footsteps. He feels the earth vibrate. Soon, voices float on the wind to his ears and he hears the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Bart has heard stories about this man. Was Jesus one of these marchers?
Yes! One of them is Jesus. If only he can get his attention.
Bart starts making a big commotion on the side of the road shouting “Jesus, Son of David, Have mercy on me! Jesus son of David, have mercy on me!”
Bart hears the footsteps stop right in front of him. The whole multitude has stopped. Everything is quiet.
Then a voice breaks the silence, “Call him here.” The other beggars begin touching Bart on the shoulder.
“Jesus is calling for you, take courage, stand up, walk straight ahead.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks.
Bart has been asked that question a thousand times throughout his life. His answer had always been, “Could you spare a coin? Could you lead me to the well? Could you pass me the bread? Could you lead me home?”
But this could be different. This could be the last time he has to ask for coins or help, so Bart finds his voice and says, “Rabbi, I want to see!”
“Go your way; your faith has made you well,” says Jesus, and immediately Bart regains his sight and follows him.
The Gospel story ends there, but that’s not the end of Bart’s story, just the part we know. Do you think his life was suddenly great? He was a man born blind, never having seen before, and now suddenly he can see.
If you are suddenly able to see after being blind all your life, you’re brain does not know how to interpret the signals the eye is sending it. You know nothing of color, depth perception or movement. You become disoriented and nauseous. If that’s not enough, you will see weird and scary things you have no point of reference for.
You might think everything would soon start looking up for Bart, but now no one lifts a hand to help him. They assume, “Well he can see now, he ought to be able to do it himself.”
He needs money, but who’s going to give money to a perfectly healthy beggar? He can’t just sit on the side of the road and shout, “Alms for an ex-blindman! Alms for an ex-blindman!”
Before he was blind, he had sympathy; but now he’s expected to get a job. But what can he do? He’s had no training as a farmer or a carpenter or a fisherman. Suddenly he’s beginning to wonder if he should have asked for his sight, sight unseen.
Do we want to see? We’re spiritually blind, blind to the truth, blind to a lot of the corruption in the world: the pain, the hunger and the death. We may “know” about some of the atrocities happening around the world and in our own country, but we don’t really see. We don’t want to.
Sure we could ask to see, but then we would see what refugees really have suffered and are going through for a chance at life. Our brains would not be able to handle that information. We would become disoriented and nauseous. We would see things that scare us and break our hearts.
We would have to see the mothers weeping for their lost children. Who will console them?
We would see the scared children asking for their mommies and daddies, not understanding that they are gone forever.
We would see the elderly, struggling with every step physically and emotionally as they leave their entire lives behind them for an unknown and dangerous future in a world that doesn’t want them anymore.
We would see the boats overstuffed with refugees and watch as it capsizes in the storm. We would see the children struggle to stay afloat and then slowly sink beneath the waves. We would have to watch as their bodies washed ashore.
Our daily view would be of the desperate clawing at the fences countries have hurriedly erected to keep others out. We would have to watch as mothers and fathers beg the soldiers to at least take their children to safety. We would see them sprayed with water cannons and gassed with tear gas.
We can see all of this. It’s readily available and easily accessible. But do we want to see? I’m not sure we do.
It’s easier not to see, because then we can pretend it’s not so bad and not our responsibility. We can convince ourselves there isn’t even really a problem at all.
You know, it might be easier if we all just stayed blind and shut our eyes real tight… because then we could imagine the world as we want.
We could pretend children have enough food. We could imagine racism and bigotry are no longer issues. We could convince ourselves that refugees are dangerous and not really worth our help and that fear isn’t our prime motivator.
That would be nice, wouldn’t it? Maybe we should all just keep our eyes shut, stay blind and let the these problems, and these people, remain a sight unseen, a people unseen.
But one day we will meet a man on the road whose name is Jesus, and he is going to ask us, “What can I do for you?” And we’ll have a decision to make.
We can ask for almost anything: peace and security for ourselves, the president we want, even an end to conflict. We could ask for anything that would keep us from having to take any responsibility and, most of all, anything that would keep us from having to take up our cross and follow Jesus.
We could ask for those things, many people do. Or we could simply say, “Lord, I want to see.” Then we could not only be Christ’s hands and feet in the world, we could be his eyes. The question before you, and before me, today is, “Do we?”
“Do you want to see?”
“No, not really.”
But friends, my brothers and sisters and children are suffering and dying and desperate. It is hard to see them like that. I’d rather not see their wounds. But they are my responsibility. They are my family. I love them. I don’t want to see, but I have to look, and I have to welcome them home.
STEPHEN McKINNEY-WHITAKER is pastor and head of staff at United Presbyterian Church of Peoria, Illinois.
Click here to SEE Magnus Wennman’s photoessay “Where the children sleep.”