I have had three conversations in the past week where people said, “I’m struggling in my faith.” For each of them, the nature of the confusion or struggle was different. In the end, though, it was simple: they looked up to God, and they just felt like they couldn’t see him.
It’s not an unusual thing. We want to see God, or at least feel his presence, especially at difficult times or turning points in our lives. It would be ever so much better if we just felt that God, like a comforting parent, would be prodding us in the right direction, or saying “You’re fine – keep going.” But sometimes it seems he is nowhere to be found.
Over the past few weeks we have been hearing of the story of Job, the man who was tested in extraordinarily difficult ways. He lost his children, his wealth, and his health. His friends tried to help but really only made matters worse. He stayed faithful to God, but as more and more bad things happened to him, he asked God, “Why aren’t you helping me out here? I’m feeling pretty alone right now.” God, being an Old Testament kind of God, finally got a little annoyed with Job and said, “Kiddo, I’ve been with you from the start and I’ve been with you all along. Don’t question me.” And Job sat back and said, “I guess I was wrong to ask you questions. You were there all along, although I was so wrapped up in my own problems that I couldn’t see you. I heard, but I didn’t understand. I didn’t see. Now I do.”
Seeing God. It’s what we seek, isn’t it?
In our Gospel today, Bartimaeus is a blind beggar who calls out to Jesus and says, “Hey there, Jesus, help me out here!” I suspect Bartimaeus was like one of those folks who beg on the street corner. We see them every day as we drive to work, and they’re a little annoying with their cardboard signs and sad faces. Begging is their profession, something that some of us would say that they choose to do for a whole host of reasons. But unlike the folks on the street corner, Bartimaeus had no other option. There was no work for a blind man. It may have been that he was turned out by his family. But I suspect that he was at that same spot every day except the Sabbath, calling out and asking for money from passersby. He may have gotten pretty good at recognizing particular people by the sounds they made: old Joshua had a bad limp, and always walked with his little dog, so the sound of their steps was a step-drag-patter-patter along the hard sand of the road. When Bartimaeus heard that step-drag-patter-patter, he called out “Joshua, old friend! Can you spare a few coins for a blind man?” Miriam had eight children, and he could hear them talking and fussing at each other from a quarter-mile away. As they approached, Bartimaeus would call out “Miriam, good mother! Can you give a coin or two to me in thanksgiving for your wonderful healthy children, who all have the sight that I lack?” When he heard the rolling of wooden wheels and the clop of hooves, he knew the Roman centurion was going past, and he didn’t call out – he simply hid himself, because sometimes the soldiers would beat beggars who asked for alms at the roadside.
But one day, Bartimaeus sensed something different, a different energy around him. He heard people walking on the road, a good crowd of them by the sound of it, people whose steps he didn’t recognize, voices he hadn’t heard before. Yes, there were some of his neighbors in the crowd, but there were newcomers as well. And as they approached, the words left Bartimaeus’ mouth before he even thought of them: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
He wondered if he was possessed by a demon, that he should say such words. He didn’t know this Jesus. He had never met him before. He had learned in the temple that a Son of David would come and be the anointed one, the Messiah, but he had no way of knowing that this man, this stranger, was it. And yet, he knew, and he spoke. He could see behind his blind eyes who this man was.
The religious leaders, those Pharisees and priests, they seemed not to understand who Jesus was.
They could not see. But Bartimaeus understood and cried out. Even in his blindness, he could see who Jesus was.
Some people near the annoying beggar told him to be quiet, but he cried out again, “Have mercy on me!” And Jesus heard his cry. He stopped stockstill in the middle of the road and said, “Bring him over here.” So the crowd, including those people who had just said “be quiet,” guided him over to Jesus, this man whom Bartimaeus had never before met. And Jesus said “What do you want?” And the blind beggar said, “I want to see.” And Jesus looked at him. Jesus knew that this man who was blind saw him, really saw him, in a way that the religious leaders did not. Jesus healed his eyes, praising his faith, but Jesus knew that his sight was already healed by that faith. Jesus simply repaired the mechanics.
That is the thing about sight. What do you see? When you meet a neighbor, do you see a middle-aged person with a slight limp and graying hair, or do you see the joy in his face that he’s gotten a new job, or the loneliness after the death of a beloved one? When you come to church, even a church like this, to worship God, do you see the cross and the chalice and the cup or do you see the ineffable love and strength of the God who made us? What do you see?
Oftentimes, as Job discovered, it is hard to see God. We have to work to sense him among us, alongside us, within us.
But the gift of Christ in our lives is that we have been given someone who was human like us, someone who talked as we talk, who walked and got tired and enjoyed a good meal. When we see Jesus, though, we don’t only get a picture of a human being. We get a window into what God looks like. We can see God, through Jesus Christ. We are not alone. He is like us, and understands us better than anyone can. He is with us, and feels our joys and our pain better than anyone can. He is in us, and sees the world in which we live with clarity, and sometimes with sadness.
Job had it right. We may have some sense of our Divine Creator – Job talked about hearing God – but it takes a special patience and a special faith to actually see God. And this place helps us see God, doesn’t it? Look up at the blaze of colors in the trees. Look at the water running in the spring. Smell the crisp damp air and see the reds, oranges, and greens of newly harvested apples and pumpkins. God is here for us to see, and for us to seek, if we trust our faith and our senses.