A Deeper Vision

“Jesus and his disciples 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 and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”

—The Gospel of Mark

One can read a piece of scripture many times and feel complete familiarity with the words and their message. Then read it one more time and find a new kernel of revelatory truth. That happened to me with this passage from Mark.
What hit me right between the eyes—this time—was that, rather than go to the blind man, Jesus instructed that the beggar Bartimaeus be told to come to him, instead.
I thought that was just a bit insensitive. It would have been much easier for Jesus to go to the blind man. But Bartimaeus had no difficulty at all. “So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus,” the Gospel of Mark tells us. No problem. And that is a crucial point.
Despite the potentially confusing presence of the disciples and the “large crowd” leaving Jericho, a man who cannot see was able find and stand face to face with Jesus, not having to hunt and search by trial and error, person to person. Surrounded by the darkness of being blind, the man was able to zero in on the light of Christ.
It was as if he had a homing signal. As if his soul had radar and sonar capabilities that led him unerringly to Jesus.
Jesus, of course, heals the man, telling him that his faith has made him well. But the events leading up to that healing are relevant to everyone. As is the healing, itself.
We all suffer from some form of at least momentary “blindness.” There are events and circumstances (both past and present), fears and anxieties, any and all of life’s challenges that can make us feel that we are surrounded by darkness, suddenly blind to the light of Christ and his message of God’s love and grace.
When that happens—and at some point in our lives it happens to us all, at least once—it is best to follow the example of Bartimaeus and shout with our soul for Jesus to come and heal our blindness.
And continue shouting with stubborn persistence, no matter how much the darkness that has blinded us tries to keep us silent, as those around Bartimaeus had attempted to silence him. Because: when our yearning soul persists in crying out for Jesus, we will be found by Christ.
Our eyes will be opened to his light.
And in that light we will understand that Jesus never went anywhere. He never left us behind, outside the walls of our own Jerichos. In our blindness, we couldn’t see that he was right there beside us all the time.
In our moments of blindness, it is our faith that truly is a homing signal for our soul, radar and sonar that will unerringly lead us to the truth of the ceaseless presence of Holy love in our lives.
But there is something else we need to remember:
We mustn’t forget to throw off our cloaks, just as Bartimaeus did. That cloak had become a cocoon of imprisonment. That cloak was the “skin” of Bartimaeus’ former, blind existence.
Throwing it off, as he sprang up and came to Jesus, he became like a butterfly pulling free of its chrysalis.
Spreading the wings of his new life of sight.
So, too, can we realize that vision.
Because the deepest “sight” we possess has nothing at all to do with our eyes.

Giving Jesus A Home

This is how much Jesus loves us:
Foxes have their dens to call home.
But Jesus has none.
Birds of the air have nests to which they can fly.
But Jesus has nothing.
In his own words from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us, “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
But he could have. Anytime he wanted to, Jesus could have settled into his den, made himself comfortable in a nest, laid his head down in his own bed. Wrapped himself up in his own blankets.
He chose not to, however.
And that is how much Jesus loves us.
He left everything he could have had behind to tell us about the love of God.
That’s how much he loves us.
Jesus could have married. Could have had children. Could have lived a normal life. He could have contented himself with a devout and holy life for himself, going to synagogue like everyone else.
Instead, as Luke tells us, he set his face toward Jerusalem.
He set his face toward the Garden of Gethsemane instead of his own garden behind his own carpenter’s shop.
He set his face toward Pilate rather than pilot his own fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus set his face toward Golgotha.
He could have gone off in any other direction.
Jesus set his face toward the hammer and the nails.
He could have gone anywhere else.
Jesus set his face toward crucifixion.
Every other point of the compass offered him escape, but his face was set.
Because he set his face toward the only place he could find us.
That is the only place he could find you and me.
That is the only place he could find St. Anne’s.
And that is the only way we’d ever find him.
Up until the very end, Jesus could have run off, walked off, pleaded off and saved his life.
Jesus could have gone off anywhere and begun a new life, a safe life, a devout life, a life with a wife and with children and a stable career, a life where he could wrap himself up in his own warm blankets.
Even Pilate gave him a chance to do so.
Had he done so, however, his mission, his ministry, the message and the meaning of his life would have been gone from the face of the Earth forever.
Instead, he set his face toward Jerusalem.
He set his face toward us.
He set his face toward you and me.
Jesus gave up what even the foxes and the birds take for granted, gave up every creature comfort, for you and me.
And so there is one thing we can do in return.
We can set our face toward him.
We can invite Jesus into our own lives.
Into our own homes.
And not just the living room or front hallway.
Invite him into every room in the house.
Attics and basements, too.
And by that I mean every aspect of our lives, all that we are, warts and all.
Jesus knows us, warts and all, and loves us, warts and all.
So, yes, come live with us, Jesus.
Here is a comfortable bed, Lord.
Here are warm blankets for the Son of Man.
Wrap yourself up in them.
Sweet dreams, my Lord, and may all of them come true.
Because all of his dreams are set toward me and you.

Believing In Santa Claus

“‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’”

—The Gospel of Mark

When I was a child, I believed in Santa Claus.
I believed in God.
And I believed in Jesus.
I was told by adults that all three of them are real, and I unequivocally believed what I was told.
There was no doubt in my mind, or in my heart, of their existence.
When I was a child, all three of them were as real as real can be.
For years, I believed that all three of them genuinely existed. I clung to that faith long after many of my friends had peeled away the veneer and discovered the fiction behind it all.
Eventually, I grew up, and also accepted the truth that I’d been trying to avoid.
I learned that Santa Claus lives in our hearts.
But that is all. That is the only place where Santa Claus resides. The North Pole is a frozen wasteland. None of the animals there have red noses. Only the wind-chilled scientists and explorers have red noses, and none of them guide Santa’s sleigh.
As an adult, I have also grown to understand that God, too, lives within our hearts. Or can reside there.
As does Jesus. If we let him.
But—and this is a gloriously hallelujah ‘but’—that is not all.
That is not the only place.
God is real.
Jesus is real.
Both of them genuinely exist whether I let them live in my heart or not.
I simply know that to be true.
I believe it to be true.
Nor do I feel compelled to prove it to anyone in order to reinforce my own faith. But there is still plenty of evidence.
The existence of God and the risen Jesus are demonstrably proved by the post-crucifixion turnaround in the disciples, from cowering cowards to bold preachers who feared nothing for their physical safety.
Only a genuine encounter with the resurrected Jesus can account for that. And Jesus can only exist as our resurrected savior if God exists. Therefore, the fact of Christ confirms the fact of God, and a loving God, at that.
Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, transforming him from a murderer of Christians—an accessory before, during and after the fact—to an obsessed disciple of Christ, is another stunning piece of forensic evidence.
Nor are those two examples the only New Testament “exhibits” one could place before any jury that doubts the existence of God and Christ.
But I have also had enough “thin moments” and “close encounters” with the Holy Spirit, and with Jesus (therefore with God, as well) to personally cement my faith.
And I accept those “thin moments” as genuine encounters, as a child would accept Santa Claus, sitting on his lap at the mall. I do not look cynically for any other “explanation” that might seem more rational to an adult mind.
I can pull on the beard of Christ all I want, but it isn’t coming off. He’s no seasonal, moonlighting phony. The kingdom of Heaven is real.