It has been a week since my last post. For those of you who have grown to look forward to my reflections, I apologize for disappearing over the past week! I am on a marathon travel schedule, and it has been challenging to find time to reflect and write. But I am grateful for this pocket of time now to revisit Mark 10. Thanks for journeying with me!
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” The words of St. Francis continue to reverberate in my heart as I make my way through this week of being away from home, away from my husband, away from my usual way of life. In my waking and sleeping, in my going out and coming in, may I be an instrument of not just some generic “peace,” but your peace. Peace that passes all understanding. Peace that is rooted in sacrifice. Help me to sow love, pardon, faith, hope, light, and joy wherever I go.
I’m finishing Mark 10 today, reading verses 46-52:
And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
(Mark 10:46-52 ESV)
I’ve read this passage so many times before. I have heard at least three sermons on this text (probably more, but only three left enough of an impression that I still remember them.) But there was something I had never noticed until now: Bartimaeus is described as “a blind beggar.” But he is also described as “son of Timaeus.”
It is so easy to view people through a dehumanized lens. There are many examples of how this happens. Consider, for example, the world of pornography. When people view pornography, they are seeing dehumanized versions of those onscreen. Rather than considering the innate value of each human being, made in God’s image and created for his glory, they see the people on their screens as fantasy people—characters. Not fully human.
I’ve seen it happen in service industries as well. Today, I was in a restaurant with one waitress serving nearly twenty people. She was trying hard to keep water glasses full and get orders taken and deliver appetizers and deliver main courses, all by herself. At one point, someone at a nearby table was out of water, and rather than recognizing how hard the waitress was working to serve everyone, he barked at her, demanding that she fill his glass. To him, she was not a person worthy of respect; by his estimation, her main concern was to keep him well hydrated. She was there to serve him—forget about the fact that she was trying to serve nearly twenty others at the same time!
Indeed, there are many ways we fail to see and honor the humanity in those around us day by day—being rude to an annoying telemarketer, being impatient with a cashier, or even snapping at our spouses when they’re not saying or doing exactly what we want, when we want it.
But I think homeless people—or, as CJ Speelman calls them, “friends who live outside”— are some of the most dehumanized of all. They interrupt us as we’re walking down the street, they knock on our windows at stoplights, they confront us with signs asking for help. I’m in New York City right now, where I lived for over twelve years, and I remember times when I would get on a subway train only to discover that a homeless person’s overwhelming stench filled the whole car and made me gag. In these instances, the individuals were, at the very least annoying, and at worst, vile and offensive.
Once, years ago, when I was working at a coffee shop, I had an experience that defined the dehumanization of homeless people that continues to haunt me, even today. There was a man who was seen frequently downtown, near where I worked. One particularly freezing February night, I had the closing shift. As I was preparing to dump out all of the remaining coffee before cleaning up for the night, I saw through the window that man, crouched outside our door, trying to warm himself in the air that came from inside the shop each time someone came or went. Since I was about to dump it all out anyway, I first poured him a large cup of coffee, doctored it up with cream and sugar, and took it out to him—a bit of warmth to give him momentary relief from the cold.
When I came back in the shop, my manager was livid. “Why the hell did you do that?” he asked, and when I looked at him in shock that he would even need to ask me that question, he continued: “We don’t want to encourage the dogs to come begging.”
This man who frequently passed by our shop, often three sheets to the wind, had been completely dehumanized. To my manager, the man outside—someone’s son, a man woven together in his mother’s womb by God for a purpose—was a dog. Probably, worse than a dog; I would imagine that if my manager had a dog, he brought it inside to sleep on a cold winter’s night.
As I read this passage, I am so touched by the fact that the writer included this detail about blind Bartimaeus: he was “the son of Timaeus.” In that day and age, it was important to know whose son a man was. Your father’s name was your identity. And even though he is described as a “blind beggar,” the writer preserved the dignity and identity of Bartimaeus by recording this details: the son of Timaeus.
There is so much more in this passage, but tonight this is my nugget of gold: people’s humanity matters to God, and therefore it must also matter to me. From the person working in the service industry (waitress, cashier, guy pumping gas) to professionals at every level, from top-floor executives to the homeless people who beg outside their buildings, the dignity of the human person matters to God. They are somebody’s son or daughter, made in the image of the Creator, and beloved of God. Even if they are just a “blind beggar,” Jesus sees them. And cares.
He cares so very much.
How can I make an effort to acknowledge and honor the full humanity of everyone I meet today? The Prayer of Saint Francis, which I have taped to my computer keyboard and pray regularly, is a great place to start. Consider keeping it handy and prayerfully reflecting these words back to God several times a day:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.