I have a confession to make: I don’t notice things. I’ll have spent half an hour with someone, and they’ll finally ask, “So what do you think of my new glasses?” I never realized they were wearing new glasses—or a new haircut, or a new dress, or whatever the fairly obvious to anyone but me change might be. A friend of mine drives a bright aqua (i.e., very noticeable) Jeep, and she’ll say, “I drove right by you this morning and waved,” and of course, I’ll have had no idea. I’d like to think it’s because I’m constantly Thinking Deep Thoughts, but I’m afraid that’s not the answer. I just don’t notice things.
That’s not very nice, of course. People like you to notice; noticing shows that you care about them, that you’re paying attention, that they’re important to you. I do care, and so I’ve tried over time to train myself to notice things. And I end up being ridiculous, commenting on a “new chair” that the person in question has had forever and that I’ve probably sat in many times without noticing. Oops.
Seeing is important. Seeing others, really seeing them, is an essential part of living in community. It enables us to transcend differences, to form bonds, to delight in shared values. And despite my apparent inability to notice the world around me, I always feel that the most traumatic loss of a sense would be the loss of sight. It’s difficult enough to navigate life with my eyes open; I can’t imagine doing it were they to be permanently closed.
And that’s where we start with today’s Gospel reading: with a blind man. You’ve probably noticed the number of blind people referenced in Scripture; diseases of the eye leading to blindness were widespread in the ancient world. There was little those afflicted could do by way of work, so most were reduced to begging. And so it was with this fellow—Mark’s Gospel identifies him as Bartimaeus—who is on the roadside outside Jericho. He is poor, he is blind, and he is clearly a nuisance; when he learns that Jesus is passing and calls out, everyone around tells him to shut up.
It’s a small story, this; someone calls upon Jesus for help, shows their faith, and is cured. There are other similar stories scattered like jewels throughout the Gospels. But this one contains more than one simple storyline, and it’s worth taking a second look—noticing—to see what those storylines are.
First, there’s the fact that this blind man, someone who clearly lived on the fringes of society, knew who Jesus was. He’s not stupid; he’s well-informed and attentive. He notices things. He’s noticed the size of the crowd and knows what that means; and when he’s told who is passing, he knows exactly who Jesus is and what he can do.
Second, he is willing to claim his rights. He shouts; the good citizens around him, embarrassed, try to hush him, but he shouts. He’s determined. He doesn’t let them tell him how he should behave. He doesn’t let them make decisions for him.
Third—and this is particularly interesting—Jesus asks him a question. “What do you want me to do for you?” It probably drew some irritation from the people pressing on with Jesus, anxious to get to Jericho, perhaps thinking longingly of a fire and an evening meal. Of course he wants to be cured! What else could he possibly want? Do it and let’s move on!
They’re right, of course; he did ask to be given his sight, and that’s what Jesus did for him. But Jesus didn’t make any assumptions. He let the man choose. He showed this blind beggar the respect no one else had. He treated him as a valued human being.
What do you want me to do for you?
Have we come so very far from the people who told this blind beggar to be quiet? The poor can be a nuisance because they disrupt our comfortable lives. How do we look at people who are poor, people with disabilities? Do we treat them as valued human beings? Do we even notice them?
Seeing them, truly seeing them, is believing they are sacred, special to God. The more we see, the more we will believe and understand that we’re all children of God, beloved by our Creator and worthy of being noticed. When we can ask of others, “What do you want me to do for you?” instead of assuming we know best what someone else needs, then we too will be closer to Jesus—on that road to Jericho, and in our own modern lives.
It really is all about noticing!
Jeannette de Beauvoir is a writer and editor with the digital department of Pauline Books & Media, working on projects as disparate as newsletters, book clubs, ebooks, and retreats that support the apostolate of the Daughters of St. Paul at http://www.pauline.org.