A late friend of mine, Dr. Robert Washington, was blind, but he could hear better than anyone I know. I didn’t see him so often since I moved here, but each time I saw him and greeted him, “Hi, Bob,” he replied without hesitation, “Hi, Sam.” I was always astounded at his ability to recognize everybody’s voice no matter how long he had not see them.
Some blind men and women are very good with music. I’m sure we all love Stevie Wonder. I grew up listening and singing some of his popular songs, such as, “I just call to say I love you.”
I am sure many of you also heard of Fanny Jane Crosby, who had written over 9000 hymns. She was blind since she was six weeks old due to an incompetent physician. You can say she was born blind, since a six-week old child hardly gets to see much of the world.
There were great reasons for Fanny Crosby to be bitter, especially against the incompetent doctor, but she wasn’t. In fact, we all have some reasons to be bitter. Some people are bitter against the disadvantaged situation they grew up in, some against their parents, the government, the environment, or certain injustice they encountered, and still some people are bitter against God for not blessing them enough or answering their prayers, or you name it.
I’ve noticed that whenever we become bitter, we lost creativity, we lost our good sense of humor, we lost our vision and insight, we lost our ability to see the opportunities and the bright side of life. Bitterness is worse than blindness.
Fanny Crosby would rather be blind than bitter. She said that she rather be blind on earth, so that when she gets to heaven, the first face she sees with her own eyes would be the Lord’s face. What an attitude! She overcame her bitterness with faith. Her amazing faith did not restore her sight but allowed her to write 9,000 hymns and became known as the Queen of Hymns.
The truth is, if we know how to see the bright side of our misfortune, great things can happen.
Living in this fallen world, we all have encountered infelicity and injustice. This is the reality of life. The Buddhists call this world “a sea of suffering.” In Chinese, it’s “Kuhai 苦海”. It also means this world is a “bitter sea.” In fact, the Chinese word for suffering 苦 resembles a human face, indicating life itself is a suffering and we are born to suffer. We all came into this world with a loud cry. I am not being negative here but being realistic because we cannot overcome suffering by denying it.
Christians call it a “fallen world” because God’s will is not done on earth and we have fallen from grace. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” If God’s will were done here, it would have been like heaven already. We live in a fallen world and we must face it.
Jesus taught us to overcome this fallen world, or sea of suffering, by faith. What is faith? Faith is not a wishful thinking. The Bible says,
Hebrews 11:1–2, 6 NRSV
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
Remember Leonard Cohen’s song, Hallelujah? “I’ve heard there was a secret chord, That David played, and it pleased the Lord.” What is that secret chord? Obviously, it’s his faith. We know that King David had his ups and downs in life, “the minor fall and the major lift,” but one thing he never gave up is his faith. When he was up, hallelujah! When he was down, hallelujah! Known as the best song of all time, Hallelujah not only depicted David’s attitude but also pretty much summarized the entire Judeo-Christian spirituality.
Folks, unlike other people’s misinterpretation, faith is not a wishful thinking. Faith is the attitude of persistence. We see this in all faith fathers and faith mothers in our faith history. The attitude of persistence. The attitude that refuses to give up. The attitude that believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel even though it may be pitch-dark at this moment. It’s the winning attitude!
Today’s scripture lesson is about the last miracle Jesus performed in the Gospel according to Mark, which is about a blind man’s faith. It teaches us some important attitudes of a person of faith.
Cultivate Your Spiritual Vision
The first attitude of a person of faith is they constantly cultivate their spiritual vision. What is a spiritual vision? Simply put, it is hope! We must accept the suffering of life because it’s the reality, but we must refuse to let the suffering kill our hope. Even when the tunnel is pitch dark, these people of faith believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel. They get themselves educated about that light so that they will be the first to see it when it shows up.
It did show up for Bartimaeus, the blind beggar. The story begins like this:
Mark 10:46–47 NRSV
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
For those of us who can see, we would say blindness is a great tragedy. However, Jesus said spiritual blind is worse than physical blindness. (John 9:39-41). Bartimaeus had no physical vision, but he had a clear spiritual vision. The moment he heard Jesus name, he knew immediately the light has come.
Even though he couldn’t see, he kept his ears open. He was able to educate himself from what he heard about Jesus the spiritual truths that gave him hope. He is also biblically literate. How do we know? He called Jesus, “Son of David,” which is a nick name for the Messiah. That means he knew the Bible because the Bible says, when the Messiah comes, this will happen.
Isaiah 35:5–6 NRSV
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
So, this blind man is spiritually literate, which allows him to recognize the significance of Jesus’ presence.
How do you cultivate a spiritual vision so that you will be able to read the signs of the time? Mediate on God’s Word regularly and become biblically literate. The more you meditate on God’s Word, the more you become intimate with Him so that when you hear his voice, you immediately notice it.
When Jesus asked this blind man what he wants, he replied by calling Jesus, “Rabboni” meaning “My Master.” It’s a very intimate term. This blind man has never met Jesus, how could he have developed such intimacy with him? Obviously, it’s through his biblical literacy. Your biblical literacy will bring you closer to Christ and recognize his presence.
Do you know who else used this term to call Jesus? The only other person that called Jesus “Rabboni” was Mary Magdalene. She used this term to call Jesus on the day of resurrection. We know Mary Madalene had an intimate relationship with Christ through personal knowledge and being a disciple of him, but this blind man developed an equal intimacy with Christ by his biblical knowledge.
You and I need to cultivate our spiritual vision to keep your hope alive in this sea of suffering.
The second attitude is a strong conviction that overcomes obstacles and adversity.
Overcome Obstacles with Conviction
The moment you decide to call on God, you will encounter resistance. This is what this blind man is encountering. The Bible says, he shouted to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me,” but many people told him to shut up.
Mark 10:48 NRSV
Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
When you try to reach out to God, people will try to discourage you, silence you, cast doubt on you, and to make you feel stupid.
Sometimes, that doubt could come from inside you. That is your own inner voice of doubt telling you, “Don’t bother! God is too busy to care for my needs. I am nobody. God has better things to do. I am not worthy. Who am I to bother him?”
This blind man is full of conviction. He doesn’t allow the people around him to define him. The Bible says, he cried out even louder when they asked him to shut up. That’s the attitude of faith we must have. When the noise of doubt is loud, the voice your faith must be even louder.
Remember this, whenever you hear the voice of doubt, may it come from outside or inside, raise the volume of your faith. That’s the winning attitude and the Bible is full of examples of God blessing such people. Don’t give up over the noises of negative people, or negative inner voices.
This man doesn’t even allow his own possession to become his obstacle. When Jesus called him, the Bible describe his attitude vividly, “So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.” (Mark 10:50). In those days, the cloak is what a beggar used to collect alms. He basically left everything he had to come to Christ. He let nothing stands in his way between him and Christ. That’s the attitude! This is in stark contrust with the attitude of the Rich Young Ruler’s story just a few passges ahead.
So, cultivate your spiritual vision, overcome obstacles with your conviction, and…
Pray Like a Child with Affection
Many people struggle with prayers because they think they must pray pompously. However, when Jesus teaches us to pray, he wants us to start with, “Our father in heaven …” meaning we are supposed to pray like a child talking to his or her father in heaven affectionately and intimately. Very simple. The childlike attitude is what God blesses.
Seeing this blind man spring up to him …
Mark 10:51–52 NRSV
Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
This is where he talked to Jesus intimately by calling him Rabboni. “My teacher, let me see again.” His enter attitude of springing up to Jesus and talking to him intimately is very childlike.
Doesn’t this also remind us of Fanny Crosby, who said that when her eyes are opened when she gets to heaven, the first face she wants to see is the Lord’s face. When this blind man’s eyes were open for the first time, the first face he saw was the face of the Lord, his dear Robboni. What a blessing!
Just a few verses above this story, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15). The Chinese calls this attitude 赤子之心. It’s the attitude of most great people in history. Benjamin Franklin was like that, and the Ben Franklin of the tenth century China, Shu Dongpo 苏东坡 was also like that. Many great people keep their childlike attitude that allowed them to overcome negativity in this fallen world and stay creative and insightful.
This story teaches us three important attitudes of faith that can help us navigate the sea of suffering:
- · Cultivate Your Spiritual Vision (be hopeful)
- · Overcome Obstacles with Conviction (be persistent)
- · Pray Like a Child with Affection (be humble)
This is the secret chord that David played and pleased the Lord! We can all play this secret chord in our lives and use it to surf the sea of suffering. May the Lord be pleased by our faith with these winning attitudes!
Until next time, be fruitful! Amen!