5 min. to read.
Today is the 4th day of Lent, and I’m continuing my series of Lenten reflections. I’m reading through pastor Brian Zahnd’s Lent devotional The Unvarnished Jesus. As a practice of my own, I’ll be posting daily (or near daily) short reflections on the scriptures chosen.
Jesus and his convoy travel through Jericho enroute to Jerusalem. In the crowd is a man born blind. When the man, Bartimaeus, hears that Jesus, the notorious healer from Galilee, is passing by he makes a scene. He cries out begging for healing. Some in the crowd thought this wasn’t fitting. Not a good representation of their town for the visiting hero. They tried shutting Bartimaeus up, but he cried out even louder. Jesus asked for him to be brought over. Standing in front of the blind man, Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus asked for his sight, and Jesus healed him, saying, “Go; your faith has made you well.”
This is most often a celebratory text. We note Jesus ability to heal. We compare Jesus’ compassion with the crowd’s desire to silence the loud beggar. We think about the joy Bartimaeus must have felt having his request answered. But this is Lent. Lent is a time of reflection, allowing us to let go of the distractions and attachments that impede our spiritual growth. What does this passage suggest we might let go of?
Two things occur to me. First, the crowd seems to have had an attachment to image. Jesus was a well-known, widely respected teacher and healer. Having such an influencer visit your town was a big deal. They seem to have wanted to give Jesus the best impression–and that didn’t include screaming beggars. It didn’t occur to them that perhaps this was an opportunity to liberate Bartimaeus from the burden of blindness. They didn’t run to tell him, “Hey, here’s a chance for healing!” They just wanted him to stop making a scene. Stop yelling. Stop drawing attention.
Perhaps the Lenten invitation of the text is to release our attachment to appearing as if everything is fine. Or maybe it is to release our attachment to control, wanting each situation handled properly, smoothly, without unsightly chaos. Or maybe the invitation is to release our attachment to seeing ourselves as the center of the story. I don’t know what the crowd was thinking about first, but their behavior shows that they weren’t thinking about how this opportunity might serve Bartimaeus. Somehow their experience of Jesus was more important than whatever might happen for the person in need.
The second angle I see is the example of Bartimaeus. He did something difficult. An opportunity arose for him to get what he needed, but he had to make a scene to get it. He had to push past the social pressure of those around him who wanted him to take up less space. He had to ignore the whispers of people looking down on him with pity disguised as compassion. He had to shout and interrupt the proceedings. I imagine that took enormous courage.
Perhaps the Lenten invitation of this text is to release our attachment to worrying about what others think of us. Bartimaeus was desperate for an encounter with Jesus. And it wasn’t even for the kind of spiritual reasons that we applaud! He wasn’t asking for spiritual maturity or salvation. He was asking to be healed for blindness. He had a profound need and was desperate for help. He was willing for others to look down on him if it could get him in front of Jesus.
In his devotional, Zahnd suggests that the heart of this story is about prayer and whether we believe prayer can actually make a difference. He suggests that the obstacle we’re being invited to step around is our own cynicism. Would we beg Jesus for help, if we didn’t believe Jesus could really do anything? We end up couching our prayers in terms so vague there’s no real way to know if they’ve been answered, or we slip into not praying at all.
I wonder if these are all somehow connected. Cynicism is often a self-protective posture we adopt because we don’t want to be taken advantage of. We don’t want to appear the stooge. After all, we can’t look stupid if we don’t put ourselves out there. The Jericho crowd didn’t want to look like rubes who didn’t know how to host an important visitor. Bartimaeus didn’t have the luxury of worrying about what others thought of him, or even contemplating the consequences of Jesus ignoring or refusing him.
Lent invites us to stop managing how others think of us. This way is life.