When I was first ordained a priest, I used to take communion to Helen Hayes. Well, not THE Helen Hayes, the famed actress, but a delightful soul who lived humbly and by herself in Kankakee, Illinois. She too, had lost her sight over time. She lived by herself, and she got along on her own fairly well. She even did some cooking over a gas stove, which made me nervous, but it did not worry her in the slightest. I wonder if Bartimaeus got along like that too?
One of the things that I appreciated from Helen was that there is a difference between having sight and having vision. The ability to see is one thing that most of us take for granted. But, we can be so focused on the things that we see in the immediate surroundings that we forget that there is a difference between having sight and having vision. So, while the healing of Bartimaeus is all about his having his sight restored, for us the reminder is that Jesus restores both sight and vision. That is made more clear in the telling of this incident in the gospel of St. John, in which it is made clear that the blindness and restored of Bartimaeus is contrasted with the willful, continued blindness of the Pharisees. In that version, there is an ironic twist: Jesus on reflection about it seems to be that he can restore sight to some people, but he cannot do much for those who persist in enjoying a lack of vision.
Proverbs 29:18, not a reading for today, points out: without vision the people perish. Some translations have it: without prophetic vision, the people perish, the people run wild. Vision is that thing that offers us hope that there is a future, that there is hope for the future. Enemies of vision are self-pity and despair.
The sort of vision that Jesus restores is that ability to look beyond what is the obvious now, to see that kernel of a seed that is growing into the kingdom of God.
The sort of vision that Jesus restores is an ability to look in trusting expectation that God’s purpose is being worked out in human existence, that the reason for our being is not pointless.
The vision which Jesus restores is that there is more to life than eating, sleeping, reproducing and dying.
The vision which Jesus restores is that our moral choices matter, and that we can make a difference in the world starting with our lives, our neighborhoods and working out into the broader world.
Sadly, we live in a culture which has largely forgotten the importance of vision. In terms of the ethics of the kingdom. Instead of listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd, we keep looking for some new messiah, some new dream, some ideology that sounds good at first but which will ultimately will disappoint. So often it is that we respond to the one who leads from an ethic based on fear rather than the Holy One who leads from the ethic based on love.
I guess ultimately it boils down to each one of us asking a question: are we motivated by fear or love? Are we guided by the sight of the appearance of things or are we guided by a vision glorious? Do we notice the cesspool that are world is, or do we dare to see something noble: a vision based on hope rather than despair: are we motivated by fear or love?