I was going through the aisles of CVS the other day, looking for an adaptor plug for some new headphones I recently bought. The headphones promised to let me hear the more subtle notes and tones, the full range of the music, but the plug was too big, and I needed an adaptor. As I went down one aisle, and then another, I heard an old familiar tune. There was a little girl playing with a toy jack-in-the-box, sitting on the floor, turning a little handle that was making the tune play out of the box….and at the end of which a clown would pop out of the box. She was having a great time of it, giggling every time the clown popped. Her mother suddenly appeared and told her to get up off the floor, it was time to go.
“Three blind mice. Three blind mice. See how they run. See how they run. They all ran after the farmer's wife, Who cut off their tails with a carving knife, Did you ever see such a sight in your life, As three blind mice?”.
I have no idea why that tune wound up in those jack-in-the-box toys, but as left the store with my plug, I started thinking about those mice. Why were they blind? Were they brothers and sisters? And if they weren’t, how did they find one another? And what was the deal with the farmer’s wife---why were they chasing her, and how could they even see where they were going if they were blind? And then why did she cut off their tails? That wasn’t a nice thing to do. Now they were blind, and they had no tails. I felt badly for them.
As I walked on the sidewalk, musing about these poor mice, I passed by two people, one after another, looking for change from passersby. To be honest, I tried not to look at them, but the second one was particularly aggressive, and it was hard to avoid him when he said, “Please, sir…. please??”. There was something about his voice, something in the tone and the note that got through me, and I looked at him. His face was thin and lined with creases, he had a scraggly beard, and his lips looked chapped. All I had was 41 cents in my pocket, which I dumped into his hand. It looked like dried blood on his fingers. He smiled and thanked me, and I moved on down the sidewalk, and entered a small park.
The leaves were turning on the trees, and one was particularly beautiful. It looked like it was on fire—like a child’s drawing of a tree with wild splashes of orange and yellow and red. And the way that the sunlight was falling on it, it was just stunning.
I sat down on a bench to admire it. And I thought about those mice.
They would never be inclined to stop their senseless running to look at this fiery tree in front of me because they would have no functioning eyes to see it. But what if one of them sensed the possibility of beauty that might be right in front of them as they went after that old battleax of a farmer’s wife, what if she said…wait, there’s something here, stop?
And maybe they all would slide to a stop for a moment and climb up beside me on the bench, “seeing” the beauty of golden leaves gently fluttering in the breeze of the afternoon, feeling the warmth of the sun on their blue-gray fur, their little hearts beating a little less frantically on a pitstop away from their crazy running race.
What if they could see the truth break through for a moment about the real world that was all around them? Maybe their story wouldn’t end so tragically with tails cut off and perpetual blindness.
You know, it’s like the Gospel story about blind Bartimaeus. He calls out to Jesus as he is passing by, and Jesus asks him what he wants. I want to see, he says with a thin, creased face, a scraggly beard, chapped lips and maybe blood on his hands. And Jesus smiles at him, says your faith has saved you, and the Gospel says he immediately received his sight.
I think that there's a good chance that Bartimaeus’ retina might have remained permanently damaged after his encounter with Jesus. If he had gone to his ophthalmologist and done the eye chart, he would have failed.
See, I think the real point of the story is not about a physical miracle. The real point of the story is about faith. As a jaded New Yorker, I usually say, I'll believe that when I see it, and Jesus turns that around in this story and says, no, you've got it all wrong, buddy, you'll see that when you believe it.
See, the moment Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by and impulsively called out to him, "Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me,", he had already received his sight, he saw what he believed. He saw God go walking by. He saw a tree ablaze in golden colors.
See, faith is just the opposite of what the hard world teaches us, faith is not something you have because you can see it, touch it, feel it, smell it or taste it, faith is not the result of our experience in the world. It's just the opposite: faith is contrary to what the world tells us.
This little man, this carpenter turned preacher, this ragmuffin with a beard, this is God come walking down the road?
Bartimaeus didn't need his eyes to see the truth he believed. And if you read the story again, you see that it doesn't really matter if a physical miracle occurred. Maybe Bartimaeus went right on being blind till the day he died, but that didn't change the fact that he could see again.
It’s like the wisdom that we hear from the fox when he tells his friend The Little Prince: “Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
Or what Pope Francis said to the bishops in meeting, when they were discussing the pain of some of our brothers and sisters in the church who have been divorced, who are gay, who are suffering under the dysfunction of their families. Pope Francis suggested that the bishops--and all of us--need to listen and ‘see’ with our hearts the truth that is right in front of us.
Three blind mice. Me blind mouse. See how I run. Away from the truth that is right in front of me? Towards something that is an illusion fueled by my fear, my jealously, my anger, my greed, my pride, my lust, my misplaced desires, my lack of self-esteem, my disbelief?
Perhaps it is time to call out to Jesus, like Bartimaeus. “What do you want of me?”, Jesus will ask. And we will say, “Sir, I want to see.”
So when we pray for miracles to occur in our lives, or in the lives of those we love, maybe we should remember that sometimes the miracles we really need are much deeper and invisible to the eye. These miracles, the real miracles, don't occur abracadabra: they happen because we believe when we have no good reason to do so. Believing is seeing, and healing, and freeing. Against all the evidence, all the discouragement, all the blindness, you hang in there, you hang in there until the carpenter comes walking by, you leap up at him with all your might, throwing aside your cloak and all your doubts.
Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me. And you know what? He will. He will. You'll see...what you believe.