Insight Before Eyesight

March 17 – Insight Before Eyesight: Mark 10:46-52

So, here is Bartimaeus, the blind man, standing face-to-face with Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. The man could have requested countless things – the possibilities are endless. But standing in front of Jesus that day, the blind man said, “Teacher, let me see again.”

Jesus didn’t touch the man physically. He didn’t put any salve on his eyes as he had done in other cases. Jesus didn’t perform any ceremonial rituals or say any special words over the man. Jesus didn’t chastise him or condemn him in any way. Instead, Jesus ordered his disciples to call the man over.

“Take heart,” the disciples instructed him.

The first thing the disciples requested of the man had nothing to do with his eyes. Rather, they asked him to change his heart. In other words, he had to have insight before eyesight. The heart would act as a filter for the man’s future discernment. They knew that what the man’s heart felt would influence what his eyes perceived.  The Apostle Paul (Ephesians 1:18) described it as seeing with the “eyes of your heart.”

This story holds relevance for us today. Having insight before eyesight makes you consider things from a fresh point of view. Jesus once said, blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8). Psalm 36:9 puts it this way: “in [God’s] light, we see light.” When you look at a thing through the eyes of your heart, a bigger picture comes into focus. You begin to see not only the problems but also the possibilities. When you see with the eyes of your heart, the God in you will begin to see the God in other people. Changing your heart might open your eyes to ways that influence justice to roll down like a mighty stream. Having God-inspired insight might prompt you to see hope and truth and peace and love once again. It all starts with a few simple words: “Teacher, let me see again.”

A Love Note of Hope

March 10 – A Love Note of Hope: Jeremiah 29:10-13

It was a letter to remember. A message from God. A love note of hope to a people in despair. Although God’s chosen people were to spend the next several decades in Babylonian exile, the prophet Jeremiah advised them to go ahead with their normal routines — build houses, plant gardens, raise families, and seek the community’s welfare. The prophet told them to hold on! They would get to the other side of their situation if they didn’t lose hope while they were going through. Encouraging words in a time of uncertainty.

The prophet’s advice is applicable for today. In times like these, people experience no shortage of disturbing challenges. Some of their trials have lasted so long that they have begun to feel isolated from God. They have begun to surrender to despair as the trouble intensifies. But I offer you this word of encouragement: There is a Master plan in place. So, don’t give up hope! In the midst of your routines, continue to pray fervently. Continue to seek God with your whole heart. Scripture says, when you do so, God will hear you, for God’s plan involves your shalom (peace) and not your calamity. In light of God’s benevolent thoughts and your earnest prayers, you have a reason for optimism.

 

The Practice of Fasting

March 3 – The Practice of Fasting: Isaiah 58:1-6

The contemporary practice of fasting serves at least three general purposes. First, fasting prepares us to assume an attitude of conformance to God’s purpose and to God’s will. Second, fasting cleanses us, providing a time for purging of the physical body, ridding it of impurities. Third, fasting strengthens us spiritually (Stanley, 2001). During the Babylonian exile, these traditions had regressed into baseless rituals that were not pleasing to God.

Therefore, God sent the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 58:1-12) to reinforce the importance of fasting to the Hebrew exiles. In verse 2, God spoke through the prophet: “Day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God”(58:2). In verse 3a, the people tried to rationalize their actions to God: “Why do we fast, and you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” (58:3a) Later, in verse 3b, God answered through the prophet: “Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day, and oppress all your workers” (58:3b). In short, their fasting had become a mockery of God, not a means to honor God. In verse 4b, God speaks again through the prophet to let the people know: “Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high” (58:4b). And, in the final analysis (58:5), God replies: “Is such a fast that I choose a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to YHWH?”

I submit to you that, in today’s society, justice-focused fasting should entail giving up those things that prohibit our obedience to Jesus’ commandment that we love our neighbors as ourselves. Such a sacrifice might call on us to give up both apathy and inertia. We need to shed our apathy and help each other redefine who we are as a people united for the common good. We need to care about each other enough to see our brothers and sisters who are suffering and to understand what they’ve been going through. In other words, empathy should be our focus, not apathy.

Moreover, we need to give up inertia. As a people, we need to do something actively to confront injustice and empower God’s people who are struggling to climb the rough side of life’s mountain. We need to obligate ourselves as members of a beloved community to actively tend to the needs of God’s people. We need to heal the brokenness that cripples God’s people. We need to find a way to encourage those who are scorned, brutalized, and almost defeated by life. In the book of Matthew, Jesus directs us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, provide clothing for the destitute, care for the sick, and visit those who are in prison. And when we have done it to the least of these – our brothers and sisters – we have also done it for Jesus (Matt 25:40).

In Isaiah 58:6, the prophet tells the people what acceptable fasting involves: to loose the bonds of injustice,  to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? He reminds them that such a fast would be pleasing to God.

Stanley, C. (2001). Charles Stanley’s handbook for Christian living: Biblical answers to life’s tough questions. Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.