To have any type of disability in first-century Palestine not only meant financial hardship, but social segregation. Because Jesus’ contemporaries did not understand the causes of disability and illness, they assumed it was, to some degree, a curse sent by God in punishment for sins. Incredibly in our day, with all our supposed sophistication, some Christians have made similar statements about God cursing people with Covid-19!. Given the way Jesus acts toward those he encounters with illness, we know that God never sends disease as a curse for sin. Bartimaeus is, however, a desperate man and in the story he acts desperately, calling out until he is heard. And in one of the strangest questions in the Gospel, Jesus asks a blind man what it is he wants. Maybe Jesus wants Bartimaeus to name his deepest desire. Maybe Jesus knows that it is, often, the unseen hurt that is the most diseased and needs healing first. Whatever his motives, Jesus’ question gives the man dignity.
Sight, and the insight that can come from what we see, bestows on us the dignity of having options and therefore responsibility to do something about what we behold. We are in the position of making choices about what we look at. Not everything in the world needs to be seen. There is enough violence and abuse of human dignity in real life to discourage us from seeking out most fictionalized portrayals of it. We cannot, however, let ourselves off the hook in regard to seeing the world as it is and doing something about creating a better vision of humanity for everyone, everywhere. The same question is put by Jesus to us today, “What do you want me to do for you?” And if our answer is to have sight or insight, then let us also pray for the courage to shoulder the responsibility that comes with such a gift.