10/28/12 – SPIRITUAL BLINDNESS by Lynn Naeckel +

PROPER 25, B

Mark 10:46-52

This story of healing blind Bartimaeus just outside Jericho marks the end of Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem. The very next thing in Mark’s Gospel is the Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem.

Last week I mentioned that this healing story and one back in Chapter 8 act as brackets around the three times Jesus tries to tell the disciples what he will face in Jerusalem. In the first story, which does not come up in the lectionary, Jesus also heals a blind man, but there are a number of differences from the Bartimaeus story.

One, the man has no name and he is brought to Jesus by others, whereas Bartimeaus cries out to Jesus on his own, even when the crowd tries to silence him. Two, Jesus uses spit and his hands to accomplish the first healing whereas to heal Bartimaeus he only says that he is healed. Three, in the first story, the healing only works partially to begin with; Jesus has to work on the man twice before he can see clearly. And fourth, Jesus sends the first man home, whereas Bartimaeus immediately follows Jesus.

I think that the bracketing of these stories in which Jesus heals physical blindness act as a commentary on the blindness of the disciples that is not a physical blindness, but rather a spiritual blindness. This is emphasized by Bartimeaus calling Jesus, “Son of David,” clearly a Messianic name.

What do I mean by spiritual blindness? Well, it’s opposite is spiritual sight or insight, a kind of wisdom or understanding that does not rely entirely on our five senses. Why is this sort of understanding so difficult for the disciples and for us?

1. We have a fixed and likely flawed map in our minds of what the world is like. This is sometimes called one’s worldview. It seems to be far easier to force the data we collect to match our own worldview than it is to revise the map when the data doesn’t match.

For instance, for the disciples, what is hard to comprehend is that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to his death. That doesn’t fit their expectation of a Messiah. They see his death as a defeat rather than the ultimate in servanthood.

For us, the difficulty is encountering miracles like healing. If some wanderer were to show up in I Falls healing people I suspect our first reaction would be to assume the person is a charlatan, a fake. When I first encountered this kind of healing, one that I was sure was authentic, I had to revise my worldview – no matter how difficult that was.

2. We are children of the Enlightenment and live rooted in a materialist culture. The enlightenment began the Age of Science, in which the scientific theory took hold. This says that to prove anything you have to have experiments that are repeatable and that always turn out the same. This requires data from the five senses only. As a result, other ways of knowing things were cast out – dreams, intuition, meditation, etc. are all deemed highly unscientific.

The resulting culture, one which we are still pretty much imbedded in, does not value any way of knowing beyond the scientific. This is what is meant by a materialist culture. It’s not about our buying habits but rather about what we accept as true. To quote Morton Kelsey, an Episcopal theologian who taught at Notre Dame, “We in the West live in an age which has doubts about people’s ability to reach out of the physical and material world and touch anything at all.”

So while the disciples accepted the miracles of Jesus without question, we would do just the opposite. While they cannot accept his coming death, we can, because we know that it has already happened in the material world.

3. One of the other causes of spiritual blindness is that we have learned to compartmentalize, maybe also a result of the Enlightenment. By compartmentalizing I mean this. We go to church on Sunday to practice our religion and learn about the Bible, but that’s Religion. It has nothing to do with what happens on Monday through Saturday. That’s business, or life, or living in the real world.

That’s what’s going on when people say that politics and religion have nothing to do with each other, in spite of the fact that almost all of Jesus’s teaching and actions had direct political meaning and implications. My brother became a Roman Catholic in his mid twenties and has gone to church every Sunday of his life since and he’s now 79. He sees nothing wrong with the hate talk of people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. That’s compartmentalizing. How can you follow Jesus and think its OK to encourage people to hate one another?

4. The last and maybe greatest reason for spiritual blindness is just not paying attention. I think all of us have problems with this at least part of the time. We get so busy, so worried, so distracted, so caught up in our duties and occupations that we don’t have time to even think about what we’re doing, much less pay attention to our spiritual well-being. I’ve talked about cultivating mindfulness before, and it may be the most important thing we can do to strengthen our spiritual insight.

When we’re not paying attention, there is never any need to think about things, no need to revise our opinions, no need to revise out world view or even our own behavior. We just keep on keeping on. It may be a cop out or it may just be habit, but it’s hard to change once we get caught up in it.

The only antidotes I know to spiritual blindness, whether due to our worldview or due to compartmentalization, or due to mindlessness, are the well known spiritual practices of prayer, meditation, daily reading, reflection, and taking the time to pay attention to what’s going on around us. We must find a way to shut off all the noise of daily living and find a way to live into silence.

It is only in having spiritual experiences, ones we recognize as such, that we can begin to expand our material worldview to include a spiritual reality. And sometimes we have to just live in hope that insight will come, even if it’s not right away.

From what we read in Acts, the disciples improved over time. We can too, even though we each seem to have our own timetable. There’s no point in whining because I wish I’d been as far along the way as Sam is, when I was her age. Better to accept that I’m a late bloomer and get on with learning whatever I can while I can.

No matter where we are in our journey of faith, God loves us and encourages us to grow so that our lives here and now may reflect God’s Kingdom. AMEN

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