Growing up I loved reading comic books. I could believe storylines about other dimensions, magical villains, and mutant superpowers. What I found hard to believe was the notion of secret identities, that superheroes could walk around in everyday life undetected. Why didn’t everyone notice that Clark Kent was obviously Superman? His disguise was a pair of glasses. That’s it. How was everyone so blind? All they saw was Clark, a mild-mannered reporter.
I shouldn’t be too hard on comic book writers. Most of us wear disguises. We put on various masks to fit in and make ourselves look good, but they rarely fool anyone. On the other hand, our magnificent essence is often obscured by our faults and frailties.
In the Bible is a story about a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. (Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43). Like most good stories, the irony is the point. The blind man sees what no one else does. The crowd of sighted people see their latest superhero, superstar, prophet and magician. Bartimaeus sees deeper.
The crowd tries to silence Bartimeaus when he calls out to Jesus. But Bartimaeus yells out all the louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”…Son of David. David, that woefully imperfect king who nonetheless was said to be a man after God’s own heart. Bartimaeus sensed in Jesus that heart of God, the heart of compassion, Life Essence, the Web of care connecting all.
Jesus stands still. It takes conscious intention to stop midst the inertia of the crowd (or the inertia of our own ego), get still, check in and then act from a deeper place, from the heart of compassion.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks him. What an odd question. Isn’t it blatantly obvious? Not really. The unfortunate truth is that most of us would rather stay in the familiar dark. Did Bartimaeus really want to see? It would come with a cost: he’d have to let go of his identity as a blind man; he’d have to find a new line of work; he’d have to let go of all reasonable excuses and entrenched story lines about his life.
Do you really want to see? To see things as they are always requires that we sacrifice cherished illusions. The excuses, blame, judgments, self-centeredness, arrogance, self-pity, apathy…they fall like scales from our eyes. We see life as it is, stripped of our familiar narratives and prejudices. It’s liberating but uncomfortable.
Bartimaeus makes his choice, “I want to see again.” Jesus replies, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” Does he physically see again? Maybe. We only know a small fraction of what is possible in this surprising universe. But if all we get from the story is that a man named Jesus performed unrepeatable magic tricks 2,000 years ago and therefore must be praised and obeyed, then we’ve missed the mystical juice that still heals today.
Bartimaeus takes a leap of faith, which saves him. Is it possible that Bartimaeus takes that leap out of the familiar toward wholeness and finds in himself the very Life-Essence that Jesus radiates? It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t say “I saved you” but rather “Your faith has saved you.”
The constant choice is between a familiar, fear-based existence and greeting life as it is, with openness and kind eyes. To see life as it is requires faith because we must be willing to surrender our set story lines for an unpredictable, emerging story. If we are willing to make that leap of faith, then we will be saved in every way a person can be saved. We will see right through every disguise, including the one we see in the mirror, to the very heart of God. We’ll recognize the lively sparkle in the eyes behind those glasses.