Don’t make a scene. You’ll make scene. How many times have I said those words? How many times has someone said something like that to me? I’ve lost count on both. How many times have you said, “Don’t cause a scene”? We don’t like scenes. They are disruptive. We’re afraid of attention being called upon, of embarrassment, and questions beings asked. “Why can’t they keep their child quiet?” “Why won’t they take their fight inside?” Scenes are unseemly. They make everyone uncomfortable. Despite your best efforts to ignore what’s going on, you remain transfixed on the scene at hand. Scenes get ugly. The police might be called. Scenes are chaotic and unpredictable.
Some scenes demand to be made. It’s hard for us to make this admission. Certain scenes need to be made. Four students from North Carolina A and T State University needed to sit down and request service at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina. A scene needed to be made. The story of the blind man on the road to Jericho is the story of a scene needing to be made. It is a story where we can easily forget the importance of the scene and get caught up in the mystery of a miracle. However, this is about one man being healed from blindness. This man was not blinded by his sin. He is not John Newton writing about spiritual blindness from the deck of a slave ship. Bartimaeus is living in a wilderness of darkness through no fault of his own. He is begging on the side of this road due to genetics, biology, and the crushing poverty of his day. Those are social, scientific, and political concerns. And these very real issues are about to come head to head, in what I’ve called a scene, with the religious reality that is personified in the figure of Jesus of Nazareth.
This is a story where political and religious needs collide. The people close to and around Jesus do not want to be around this man or encounter what he has to do in order to be heard. They want to ignore him and if they can’t do that then they will physically silence him. Those are political actions which infringe on their idea of religion. Shutting him up is not a religious action. It is a political and social decision designed to conform to a religious ideal they’ve created in their mind. This is the general outline of the story Mark has chosen to tell.
The scene in the 10th chapter of Mark’s gospel was first shared long before Mark put pen to paper. This scene, while dramatic and engaging, wasn’t Mark’s idea. Mark, being the educated Greek speaker he was borrowed this idea of a blind man being healed to include in his book from two of the greatest authors of all time: Homer and Plato.
Homer tells the story of a blind seer who played an important role in the Odyssey. Called Tiresias, he encounters Odysseus and his crew as they journey home toward Ithaca. Tiresias doesn’t ask to be healed but for food, money, and clothing. A blind man, recognized who Odysseus was, as “son of Laertes” and hero of a Troy better than anyone else. Plato’s work “Timaeus” which contains page after page about sight, blindness, darkness, and light was considered was considered one of the few prose works up to the third century AD that any educated Greek speaker would have read; someone like Mark.
Mark borrowed a more ancient story, a story known to everyone in his day, to write about a blind man recognizing the son of David (a Messiah unrecognized by the masses) and being healed, to make a much larger point. A point about the scene. A point about what happens after the so-called miracle. John has Jesus healing two people that day. In Mark there’s only one man along the road. The details differ for a reason; the miracle doesn’t matter. Mark invented the encounter between Jesus and Bartimaeus. He borrowed the concept from Homer, the name from Plato all in order to tell a story about what happens when scenes are created in the midst of our well-organized religious plans.
Most of us, whether we want to admit, are in the crowd. We’re in the crowd that dutifully follows Jesus from place to place and town to town. We like being in the crowd. It’s nice, warm, and comfortable. It doesn’t really challenge us to be in the crowd. We go with the flow. We are the disciples. And when someone on the periphery starts to shout, someone beyond the bounds than our limited definitions of acceptable religious behavior, we’re the first people to say, “Shut them up, quiet them down, and be quiet”. We are the crowd. We are scolders, condemners, and the people who say, “Please won’t this angry man go away”. It’s all too easy to read this passage and imagine ourselves as the one person who said, “This guy ought to be heard” or “let’s give him and chance and bring him to the front” or “so what if he’s making a scene.” But that’s not us. That was Jesus. We’re not Jesus. We’re the crowd. Crowds don’t like scenes.
Who is blind? Physically it’s Bartimaeus. The crowd is choosing blindness and deafness. They do not want to see or hear him. According to Mark, Bartimaeus is healed. Is the crowd healed? You tell me? Do you really believe they got the point? They left as blind and deaf as they did when they encountered Bartimaeus. How do you think they responded to Bartimaeus, now walking in their midst? A bit awkward, don’t you think? Do you think each person he met pretended to be the one person who wasn’t advocating for him to shut up and be silenced? After all, how would he know, he’s blind? How would Bartimaeus know who to trust and befriend within such a duplicitous group? Other than Jesus, would you want to hangout with a group of people, who moments before, wanted nothing to do with you except for a well timed intervention from their leader? No. I wouldn’t want anything to do with them. This story isn’t about Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus is the fictional foil on which the story of the crowd is told.
What is the greater miracle? Is it the retelling of a mythological blind man being healed or you and I freed to confront the darkness within our own souls? The darkness and deafness, disabilities we gladly assume in the name God fearing, Christian discipleship because of our desire to be in the crowd, because of our presumptions about what warrants Jesus’ attention, are greater than acknowledging Jesus’ desire to meet human suffering wherever and however it exists. Calling attention to human suffering can be dangerous. Politically speaking, people don’t like to question why people suffer or why some languish in poverty. Jesus asked these kinds of hard questions and ended up dead.
The Good News is this: we may be in the crowd but we don’t have to think like the crowd. We can make scenes, we can walk into scenes, and we can be the scene. Jesus likes scenes.