What Do You Want?
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What Do You Want?
By The Rev. Dr. Roy W. Howard
When I was a boy there was only one theater in town. On Saturday mornings my friends and I would ride our bicycles through the neighborhood over the Watson bayou bridge across town to the old Martin Theater. We’d arrive out of breath, just in time for the first matinee. The man behind the glass window took our fifty cents, and we would gladly leave the light of day to enter the dark theater. The thick velvet curtain parted and suddenly we were in the world of Godzilla, Cinderella, The Three Stooges and The Ten Commandments. We ate greasy popcorn and Milk Duds. The floor was coated with gooey things. For two hours it was another world. Then the lights went on and we made our way up the aisle to the sound of shoes sticking to the floor.
I don’t know how long he had been there, but I remember when I first saw him. Coming out of the theater with a bunch of boys pushing and shoving, we round the corner and here he stands against the wall. How many times have I walked past him? He wears a heavy coat, ripped at the seams, baggy gray pants and work boots. Tobacco stains his chin and shirt. His hair is wild, too and thin. His eyes have the glaze of blindness, milky white, half-shut, strange. A dog stands by his feet, near the tin cup. The red-tipped walking stick leans against the wall. Whenever he hears coins clang in the metal cup, he says thank-you and plays another tune on his accordion.
As far as I can tell, the blind beggar never moves from this street corner by the theater.
Some say he is faking the whole thing, just another scam. I say, look in his eyes.
People walk slowly by him, staring at him, ignoring the music, getting their children away. Once in a while someone drops a coin in the cup. To the young matinee crowd he is an extension of the movies. Sometimes we mimic him on the way home.
I don’t know what happened to the blind beggar and his dog. The last time I looked he was not there. Now looking back I wonder if my own blindness kept me from seeing him as he was: A blind beggar whose only words are thank-you.
When the crowd following Jesus surges out of Jericho, Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus is in his usual place on the corner. He is blind and is begging as he has for years. To the crowd around him he is nothing but a blind beggar who sits by the roadside in the same place day after day, stretching out his hand for help. A blind beggar, period.
But what if you are Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus? Ah, then, you know something else.
If you are Bartimaeus you remember what it is was like to see everything clearly.
And what is remembering but hope kept alive?
And what is hope but a deep yearning to see clearly again?
To those who avoid you, you have no past and no future. You stretch out your hand as they walk by in fear and disgust. Coins clink in the cup. They whisper: nothing will ever change.
Yet, you, Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus, have hope. You yearn to see like you did once before. Behind your eyes, you feel the hurt; you know the cruelty of others; you understand what it feels like to be shunned, shamed and shackled by guilt. You are an outsider, looking in. Still there is hope within you. You know what you want. More than anything else in the world, you want to see.
There is a certain clarity that comes from knowing your true condition as a human being. Knowing who you are truly, underneath the surface of things, where you live with your hurts and fears, anguish and hope, sets you in a posture to cry out honestly, in risky faith, for what you truly need.
When the crowd comes down the road, Bartimaeus knows Jesus is with them. Bartimaeus, knows his true condition and so do you. Don’t you? You know what it is to hurt. You know what it is to be shamed and shunned. Most of all, though, you know what it is to see and oh, how you want that gift again. You have come to believe that this one walking down the road toward you is the one who can change your life.
The one who can make you whole.
The one who can give you sight.
The one who can bring you light.
When he approaches, there is only one thing you can do. You rush toward him, despite the cries of those who urge you to be quiet. A great explosion of hope erupts in your soul – you must cry out to him. So you cry, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me.
The crowd demands that you stop shouting. You recognize their voices: they are the ones who slam the door against you. They do not welcome you into their sanctuaries or invite you to sit at table with them. You have heard their coins clang in your cup, their whispers, their laughter and their footsteps as they scurry away. They do not know the deep hope that is rising within your heart. You wonder if they know the hope is captive within them. Nothing now can stop your hope from crying out until Jesus hears you and heals you.
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Once more the cry comes from way down deep in your soul, surging against all resistance.
Jesus, have mercy upon me!
Jesus, please, make me whole again!
Let me see all things new again.
Heal my brokenness, take away my blindness, and give me life.
I know that you can. Listen to me!
Have you every prayed that way?
The cry of genuine faith always rises above the clamor of the crowd. The courage of faith overcomes the rules to be polite, to be quiet, to be blind to your humanity. Emily Dickinson once said, to be human is to ache, not to be polite.
The last cry pierces the sky and Jesus stops and stands in silence. “Call him over here,” he says to the disciples. They come to you, crying, groping in the air, hoping, yearning.
“Take heart,” you hear them say. “Get up. He is calling you.” The crowd withdraws, as you throw off your dusty old beggar’s coat and spring up.
When Jesus calls it is a summons to get up, to spring up wherever you are, to come running, walking, skipping, stumbling crawling.
All the hope has been poured out now. He has heard your cry. Tears stream down your face. You cannot see him, but you touch him. He asks you the same question he asked his disciples, James and John, “What do you want me to do for you?” Can you imagine:
“Blind beggar, you who long for sight, light, life? What can I do for you?” He asks, “What do you want?”
Okay. So here we are today – like Bartimeaus. Don’t you want to see life clearly, as it is in all its fullness and radiance? What would you say to the living Christ were he to ask you,
“What do you want?” Would you say, “Open the shutters of my eyes. Give me sight to see life in all its fullness – radiant light.” “What do you want?” is Jesus’ gracious question.
You see, Bartimaeus is the one within us who feels like a beggar at the whim of God or fate. Do you know him? I do. Bartimaeus is anyone who stretches out a hand asking for the kindness of others. I know Bartimaeus. He lives within me.
I also know the forces that would keep the Bartimaeus within me quiet and polite, never to take risks and never to make a disturbance, especially when in the presence of Jesus.
But Bartimaeus will have nothing of politeness at the cost of life. He wants to see clearly and so do I. Don’t you?
Bartimaeus wants to notice every single red, yellow, orange, and green leaf on every tree.
He wants to see, really to see every smile on every face and every tear falling, too.
He wants to see every child, every friend, every neighbor.
Most of all he wants to see, really to see the wondrous world as God intended it to be.
So do I. So do you. Don’t you? I mean really! Don’t you? “Go now, your faith has made you whole,” says Jesus. And when your eyes are opened you see him and just over his shoulder, off the distance is a winding path and further still, there is the cross.
What else is there for you to do? You follow him gladly, because once you were blind but now you can see. And it’s a beautiful world, indeed, even with the cross. You follow him along the way, singing: “Alleluia! Alleluia!”
– Copyright for this sermon, 2003, the Rev. Roy W. Howard. Used by permission.