“Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him!” or, from The Message [Eugene Peterson], “Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see-how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him.”
So Bartimaeus ran to Jesus and he was blessed and, after his sight was restored, he followed Jesus wherever he went. Many of Jesus’ followers had returned to their former lives from before they met Jesus. The number of his followers was greatly reduced and he was now turning his face toward Jerusalem. Bartimaeus had only heard of Jesus now he had seen Jesus, been healed by him, and he chose to follow him no matter where he might lead.
Blindness is something today’s readings are addressing: the blindness of those who followed Jesus, those who chose to turn back, and the physical blindness of Bartimaeus. A blind man calls out to be noticed by Jesus and those around him shush him so he increases his volume. Jesus stops dead in his tracks. Had Jesus not noticed him until that moment? I wonder, how often do we not notice those who are disabled? How often do we silence the voice of those who are reduced to begging for what they need?
When Paula and I were in Tangiers we visited the Casbah. It is loaded with folks living, worshipping, washing clothes, selling and buying wares, preparing and eating food--every day stuff. You can get everything you need in the Casbah and you know everyone who lives there and everyone who used to live there. As Paula and I were herded--literally herded through narrow walkways and streets, we came to an opening--a courtyard. And there was a man, obviously blind, begging. In the Muslim culture it is a blessing to give to a beggar. The man said nothing but held out his hand for coins. I wish I had known we would come upon him so quickly so I could have been prepared, but we were rushed along.
Rick Steves was correct about these tours to Tangiers. We saw some things and had some things explained to us but there was much lacking. So, I imagine Bartimaeus standing in such a spot with his hand out for coins and the inhabitants of Jericho might be blessed for seeing him and giving him what he needed to survive.
And I believe we are willing to help those who are disabled in our own culture but I also think we expect them to act a certain way. We think they should feel grateful for what they receive and they shouldn’t expect to have too much. Do they really need a reliable vehicle? If they receive disability income, they shouldn’t ask us for anything else--even if it is difficult to have adequate food on the table, decent housing, to keep up a needed vehicle. And if not a vehicle, the difficulty of matching appointments with bus service and dial-a-ride programs. And, all the paperwork to keep all these services in place can be daunting.
Also, if you are developmentally disabled, why would you expect to have a romantic relationship? How can you care for children if you are disabled--should you be allowed to keep them?
I’m not saying we think the disabled shouldn’t be housed and fed and have clothes and transportation. I’m saying we expect them to be grateful for what they receive and not ask for too much. No cell phones, no children, and no relationships. And, we certainly don’t want to see them out begging for money. Because we assume they can’t do anything of benefit for society, we discount them.
There was a blind man who worked at Physio Control when I worked there. He had a workbench near a door to a grassy area where he could walk his guide dog. I have no idea what his pay was, nor do I remember what he did at that workbench. Not many people talked to him--I know I didn’t. I assume he was glad to have work. I wish I had asked him about his life. Many people walked past him at that bench every day. I ’m sure some must have stopped to talk or sat with him at lunchtime but I don’t remember anyone doing that. There was also a group of employees with Down’s Syndrome and I did talk to them sometimes. They mainly talked to one another and their supervisor. I have wondered if they were paid less than everyone else because they were “disabled”. I wonder if some of the employees would have preferred they stayed at home and collected disability instead of going out like everyone else to work.
And, this asks a question--if someone is “dis”-abled; why do we consider them to be “dis”-functional and unable to contribute? Why do we give them work and allow companies to pay them less--like Goodwill does? Why is their work “dis”-valued?
We see more disabled people out in the world today than we used to when I was a kid. I guess it makes it harder to ignore the Bartimaeus’ of the world. It is harder to shush their voices. But do we need to heal them for them to have full and rewarding lives? Deaf people fight against a cure for deafness because the signing culture is a culture unto itself. A person can have a full life even though he or she is deaf. Even though he or she is blind. Even though she has a debilitating disorder or illness. Does it mean we shouldn’t look for cures? No. But I think we should allow people to decide for themselves how far they want to go to be cured. I think people should be allowed to decide for themselves what makes them whole.
Bartimaeus wanted to see again, which meant he had been able to see before. He had been blinded and he wanted his sight returned. I understand that--losing one’s sight is one of the most frightening of senses to lose, I think. It is harder to adapt to loss of one of the senses than it is to adapt when sight or hearing is never experienced. Loss of voice is probably the worst thing to lose--the loss of communication. The inability to get others to listen, to hear would be the worst. And, the Bartimaeus’ in our world don’t often increase the volume of their voices when we shush them. When we tell them what they get should be enough. When we walk past and pretend they aren’t there--or even worse, don’t see them at all!
It is not always easy to recognize who is disabled and that is probably a good thing. Sometimes the disabled just want to get on with their lives and NOT stand out! They don’t want your looks of pity. They don’t want your stares while you try to figure out what is “wrong” with them. They just want to be treated like everyone else. They want to live in the world on their own terms. They want to contribute what they can to help others.
Bartimaeus wanted to be healed. He wanted to SEE Jesus. He wanted to know Jesus and he increased his volume until Jesus stopped dead in his tracks. “Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see-how good God is..."