Wearable tech is all the rage these days. Smart watches can track your workouts, monitor your health, answer your phone … and even tell the time! Virtual reality goggles make you feel like you’re inside the video game you’re playing. Chances are just about everyone you’re talking to is wearing some kind of device that makes life a little more interesting, informative or convenient.
Most of the tech we wear isn’t really essential to life – somehow many of us made it to adulthood with watches that only told the time. But for some folks, that piece of technology can mean the difference between life and death. Think of those who wear a pacemaker or internal defibrillator, which monitor and regulate the heartbeat. And while those technical advances enable longevity of life, others are improving the quality of life for people with other kinds of disabilities.
New wearable technology for the blind and visually impaired has the potential to make a huge difference in the quality of life of those who must navigate the world differently each day. Called “assistive technology” or “smart glasses,” these devices act as a visual or audio assistant for those with low or impaired vision.
NuEyes Pro glasses, for example, are lightweight glasses that run on an Android platform and use cameras to magnify images up to 12 times, as well as provide the ability to change the color and contrast of the image the person is trying to observe. These glasses provide those with low vision the opportunity to see objects more clearly and even come with a bar code scanner and optical character recognition to recognize and read printed documents aloud.
Aira smart glasses use a different approach for those who are completely blind. They use a built-in camera that is wirelessly connected to a trained assistant who can provide spoken feedback to the person wearing them, helping them identify objects or read documents. It’s like having a constant pair of eyes guiding the blind person through the world.
Although with Aira you can use a phone app and your phone’s camera to show your surroundings, both of these glasses technologies are currently new and expensive, but like most tech advances, they will likely become less expensive and more mainstream over time … and be game changers for those who need them. And while smart glasses can help a person with sight, they – like most technology – can’t help that much with real insight. The blind beggar Bartimaeus could have used some of this wearable tech before he encountered Jesus, but Mark reveals that this blind man could actually see more clearly than his own disciples where it counted: in the real vision of discipleship.
Jesus and his disciples were passing through Jericho, getting ready to make the 15-mile trek from there up to Jerusalem, where the cross awaited. Jesus had warned his disciples three times that he was going to Jerusalem to die, but each time they failed to understand what he was talking about. Earlier on the road to Jerusalem, James and John had come to Jesus with a request to sit at his right and left when he came into his “glory” (10:37), which they clearly perceived to be the glory of an earthly king sitting on the throne of Israel. Jesus warned them again that his throne would not be the kind they were hoping for and that he had come to “give his life as a ransom for many” (v. 45). Even though these disciples had been with Jesus a long time, they still didn’t see the truth about who he was and where he was leading them.
But a blind man could see the truth, even without 21st-century tech. When Jesus passed by, Bartimaeus began to shout out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (v. 47). It’s significant that only here in Mark’s gospel, just before going up to Jerusalem, is Jesus identified as “Son of David,” and by a blind man no less. Throughout the gospel, Jesus continually tries to keep a lid on the “messianic secret,” but it’s now clear that it won’t remain a secret much longer, and Bartimaeus is, ironically, the one who sees the truth. “Son of David” does call to mind the kind of messiah that will be a military ruler like the original King David, but Bartimaeus also sees that this Son of David is different and is one who comes with mercy and not wrath. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me” is the cry of one who sees more of who Jesus really is than those whose eyes were supposed to be functioning normally.
In declaring Jesus as the merciful Messiah, however, Bartimaeus also seems to reveal that he sees more clearly the truth about himself. In contrast to James and John, who seek to sit beside Jesus in his “glory” as a way of enhancing the way that others see them – not as former fishermen, but powerful associates of the King – Bartimaeus sees his own situation clearly. Unlike the “Sons of Thunder,” Bartimaeus recognizes his blindness and his need for mercy. He isn’t using Jesus as a way to gain glory for himself, rather he sees himself as a beggar in need of the grace and mercy brought by the Son of David, who is also the Son of God. In a world where people believed that physical infirmity was a sign of spiritual brokenness, Bartimaeus doesn’t argue for his own righteousness or about the unfairness of it all. He simply wants mercy. Here is the original sinner’s prayer: “Have mercy on me!” His persistent cry annoyed the crowd, but it caught Jesus’ attention.
Mark makes the point of saying that Jesus “stood still” before telling the crowd to call Bartimaeus to Hm (v. 45). Standing still would enable the blind Bartimaeus to find Him and come to Him, and Bartimaeus does just that. He threw off his cloak – the outer garment he likely used for a blanket and as a catch-all for donations he might receive at the city gate – and “sprang up” to come to Jesus (v. 50). Notice Jesus’ question to the blind man. It’s the same question He asked of James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51). The disciples wanted Jesus to make them great, but Bartimaeus only wanted to see again. He uses the same word “teacher” to address Jesus that the two ambitious disciples had used. But in this case, it’s the plea of one who has actually understood the lesson, even though he had probably never read the scroll of the Scriptures. Bartimaeus may not have been able to see, but he had an expansive vision of a merciful Messiah who could open a new world for him. His spiritual smart glasses were working perfectly.
Jesus’ response to the blind man is an invitation: “Go, your faith has made you well” (v. 52). Bartimaeus responds to the command of Jesus not by going but by coming along and following Jesus “on the way” (v. 52). Mark says that he had immediately regained his sight at Jesus’ word, but we might argue that he could see all along. The implication is that he became a disciple himself and, if so, he now saw the way clearly. He was given sight because of his faithful insight, and now he would see the glory of God in the face of the Son of David.
When the original King David entered Jerusalem against the Jebusites as a conquering hero, the inhabitants taunted him saying that “the blind and the lame will turn you back” (2 Samuel 5:6). David would take the city and thus have “the blind and the lame” removed before his entry (2 Samuel 5:8-9). The Son of David, in contrast to His ancestor, removed blindness instead of the blind as He goes up to the city. The story of Bartimaeus is a reminder that this Messiah has come to restore the sight of those who have been blinded by power, expectation, despair, or sin. Only those who are willing to put on the spiritual smart glasses of a humble and repentant disciple will see and understand how he conquers the city and the world – not through the power of might but through the “glory” of the cross.
Wearable smart glasses will be a great help for those who need them, but spiritual blindness requires a different sort of correction. Do you see Jesus as a means to an end, to enhancing your reputation, your status, your own glory? Do you see Him merely as a means to getting to heaven? If so, you need a different vision! It’s the kind of vision that even a blind man can have: a vision of humility, faith and a desire to follow the One whose throne is a cross. It’s not the latest gadget that will save you from spiritual blindness. Only faith can make you well!