22nd Sunday after Trinity Mark 10 46 -52
They say that there is none so blind as those who will not see. I suppose that is true for there are many people walking around in the world today whose eyes work perfectly, yet they cannot seem to see that the way they are living their lives will eventually lead them into eternal damnation. In this story, we are presented with a man who was absolutely blind. Bartimaeus could see nothing with the physical eyes with which he had been born, yet he had 20/20 spiritual vision.
This account is the last recorded miracle in Mark's gospel before Jesus entered Jerusalem on the way to his Passion.
Of all the other miracles that Jesus performed how many names of those he healed can you remember?
Apart from Lazarus, who was Jesus friend, no other person was named. We have Jarius’s daughter, the centurion’s servant, the leper and the deaf man – but no one by name. Theologians feel that Mark preserved his name because according to tradition, Bartimaeus went on to become a stalwart of the church in Jerusalem. Or maybe it was just because he made such an impression that his name has been preserved for all time? Bar means ‘son of’ so we get son of Timaues and the word Timaues means ‘son of honour.’
This story lends itself to engaging our imagination.
Imagine then: It was hot, it was dusty, and they were walking to Jerusalem which is about 18 miles. There was a large crowd, Jesus, his disciples, followers of ‘the way’, and pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for Passover.
The day began like any other day for blind Bartimaeus. Waking up, he shook the straw from his ragged clothes, got up and began tapping his way to the main gate of Jericho. On the way perhaps he was able to beg a crust of bread, then he sat down. Suddenly his acute hearing caught the sound of a crowd approaching – he reached out and asked a passer by what was happening.
Someone called back “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” Bartimaeus had probably heard of some of the things that Jesus had been doing and now he had to make up his mind. This must be the Messiah and he now he is coming nearby me.
For years this man had sat by the highway begging. He was helpless and in a hopeless condition. As Jesus passed by, it dawned on Bartimaeus that if Jesus was who He claimed to be, this was the day of his greatest opportunity. As a result, he began to cry out for the Lord to have mercy on him. Bartimaeus, though blind, was able to see the opportunity when it stared him in the face. Bartimaeus had to do something!
Mark tells us he began to shout:
‘Jesus Son of David have mercy on me!’ The crowd told him to be quiet – but he shouted all the more.
‘Jesus Son of David have mercy on me!’ He was desperate, he was frantic. The people around him tried to shut him up. ‘Bartimaeus stop making a scene’, But no way was blind Bart going to shut up. ‘Jesus Son of David have mercy on me!’ He knew that this opportunity might never come again. Apparently, Jesus had never passed that way before and for all Bartimaeus knew, He might never pass that way again. He knew that if he were going to receive help from Jesus, then he had to call on Jesus while He was near. And he surely did - ‘Jesus Son of David have mercy on me!’ If we turn down the volume for a moment and look at what he was saying we will see why his cries were going to get him attention. His pitiful cry ‘have mercy on me’ tells us that he was aware of his condition – he knew he was blind and in perpetual darkness. From the darkness of the womb he had entered the darkness of the world. He had never seen a tree, or the blue sky or the face of his Mother or any one else. Unlike so many who are in spiritual darkness he knew exactly what his problem was.
Secondly he knew who Jesus was. He was calling to Jesus, Son of David a blatantly Messianic title. This is the only place in Mark’s gospel where this title is used until Jesus uses it for himself later in the gospel. Bartimaeus just knew Jesus was the Messiah.
Finally knowing Jesus was the Messiah fired him up all the more and he rejected the crowds control and just kept on shouting. ‘Jesus Son of David have mercy on me!’ Would that this extreme sense of urgency be mirrored in our hearts today. Jesus said ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.’ In other words spiritual blessings belong to those who go for it – and helpless Bartimaeus certainly went for it – and Jesus heard him. Jesus stopped and said ‘call him.’
Remember Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, to face a terrible death and yet he has time for this poor blind beggar. Now the crowd change their tune, instead of telling Bartimaeus to be quiet they said ‘cheer up he is calling you.’ The instant he heard this he stopped yelling, threw off his moth eaten cloak, scattering the few coins he owned, an extreme gesture for a blind man, for he would not be able to find them again, and he stumbled helplessly forward. What a picture - face to face; Jesus with his penetrating, loving eyes staring into the sightless eyes of Bartimaeus. What a glorious moment that must have been for this poor, blind beggar! His faith was honoured - Bartimaeus son of honour had received an audience with Jesus the Messiah.
Jesus asks him ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ In other words. Do you, Bartimaeus, want to give up begging, do you want to live a different life and work for a living. It is quite a challenge, no longer to sit by the roadside relying on passers by for food and money.
This is in stark contrast to the same question Jesus had posed to James and John as we heard last week. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ – They of course wanted power, one to sit on his right and the other on his left in his new Kingdom. No power or glory for Bartimaeus he just wants ‘to see.’
Jesus said ‘your faith has made you well.’ Jesus had responded to Bartimaeus’ understanding of his own darkness. Bartimaeus, blind at the beginning of the short sentence, was seeing by the end of it. No surgery, no bandages, no drops every four hours, no glasses, just perfect sight. Just imagine the very first thing that Bartimaeus saw – the face of Jesus. How amazing was that?
So what can we learn from his story.
First of all, the cry of one in need is far sweeter to Jesus than the shallow hallelujahs of the crowd. Jesus will hear our cry when it comes from the heart. Secondly, Bartimaeus left his cloak, probably the only thing he owned to go to Jesus. Are we prepared to let go of something precious – to receive from Jesus? Or ask that question another way. What are we holding on to that is stopping us seeing Jesus? And most important of all, Jesus was passing through Jericho, never to pass that way again. If Bartimaeus had sat still that day and said nothing, then the next day would have been like all the others before. He would have sat by the road begging until he died. He may have been blind, but even he could see that unless he did something about this situation, he was doomed to a life of misery and darkness. After Bartimaeus had received healing from Jesus, he told Bartimaeus ‘go; your faith has made you well.’ However, as we know he didn’t go. He saw that Jesus’ way was a far better way than his own and he followed Jesus and according to Luke ‘he praised the name of the Lord as he followed Jesus in the way.’
How many of us are walking around like blind beggars. We can see with our eyes, but our spiritual sight still needs to be switched on, so that we can see the beggar, the homeless, the asylum seeker, the refugee, the mentally ill, the poor, and the other that is not quite like us. In other words we need to see as Jesus does.
The good news is that we don’t have to sit and wait for Jesus to pass by.
Jesus is here today, we meet him in his Word and in the Eucharist - we meet Him in the breaking of bread – and in the Wine. We receive Christ by faith – and we receive God’s grace. If we open our hearts we will receive his love and we will begin to see with his eyes and respond with his love. There is a catch however, like Bartimaeus we have to want to get up from our usual place, we have to be prepared to throw of the cloak – that is our security, the things we think we need to hold on to. We also have to ignore the crowd that will discourage us, sometimes it is a real crowd, and sometimes the crowd is a voice in our head, either way we have to follow our heart. This morning we will have that chance to respond to Jesus. We can receive the sacrament and walk back to our seat unchanged, or we can pray ‘open my eyes Lord, to see as you see, to be moved to respond as you would have me respond.’ There is always that third option that most people will look for - put it off until tomorrow, but if we miss our chance today, we may regret it for Jesus may not pass your way again – none of us know what tomorrow will hold.