St. Giles’ Episcopal Church
October 28, 2018 – 23d Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 10:46-52 – Blind Bartimaeus
Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
This morning we heard one of those Gospel passages that immediately draw us into the action, the story of Jesus healing the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. The reading begins by giving us the location of the action. Jesus and his disciples had been in Jericho, just a few miles from Jerusalem. They were leaving Jericho, and they were on the way to Jerusalem. We know from previous readings that “on the way to Jerusalem” means being on the way to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Now, as they leave Jericho they are accompanied by a large crowd of people. This is Mark’s way of emphasizing an important point: what Jesus did, what Jesus said, and who Jesus was attracted people. They wanted to be near him, to be around him. And he was well-known. The blind beggar, Bartimaeus, only needed to hear the name of the person passing by on the road in order to join in the shouting and ask for Jesus’ help.
There are many accounts of Jesus healing people in Mark’s Gospel. Bartimaeus is unique in two ways. He is the last person healed in this Gospel. And he is the only person healed by Jesus who follows Jesus after his healing, who follows him on his way to Jerusalem. Hearing that it was Jesus on the road, Bartimaeus begins to shout. He says, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Son of David” is a name for the Messiah. So, blind Bartimaeus “sees” who Jesus truly is, a healer and much more. Mark tells us that “many sternly ordered him to be quiet,” so apparently Bartimaeus was able to drown out everyone else. Telling him to be quiet, however, doesn’t work – Bartimaeus shouts “even more loudly.” Bartimaeus is persistent. Jesus told his followers to “keep asking.” Bartimaeus keeps asking. And it works. Bartimaeus gets Jesus’ attention.
Jesus stops and asks the disciples to summon him. When Bartimaeus hears them say, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you,” he throws off his cloak, springs up and comes to Jesus. Bartimaeus was a blind beggar. His cloak may have been his only possession, his shelter. Leaving it behind in the crowd as he did probably meant losing it for good. Bartimaeus gives up all he has to answer Jesus’ call. Do you remember our lesson from two weeks ago about Jesus and the rich man, the man who had many possessions and could not give them up and follow Jesus?
Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants and Bartimaeus makes his request – “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus grants the request, and he says to Bartimaeus what he has said to many of the people he has healed: “Go; your faith has made you well.” But instead of going, Bartimaeus follows Jesus, even to the cross.
I think we can learn a great deal from blind Bartimaeus. This Gospel account challenges us to put ourselves in the action of the story. Let me suggest some ways in which we might do that.
First of all, Bartimaeus placed himself on the road that Jesus was taking. Like Bartimaeus, we call Jesus “my teacher.” We regard ourselves as his pupils, his disciples. And we know much more than Bartimaeus did about Jesus’ path, his way of self-giving love, love for God and for God’s people. Are we placing ourselves on that road of love where we have a good chance of encountering Jesus?
When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was calling him, he willingly left behind his cloak so that he could spring up and go to Jesus. In what ways are we like Bartimaeus in his readiness to answer the call of Jesus and to follow him? In what ways are we like the rich man who went away from Jesus, grieving, when he learned the cost of discipleship?
It was obvious to Jesus that Bartimaeus was blind. Yet he asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” He gave Bartimaeus the freedom to ask for what was most important to him. How would you answer if Jesus asked you, “What do you want me to do for you?” This is a question worth taking time to answer. What do you most want from the Lord? And when you know what that is, I think this lesson teaches us to shout out our request to God. Shout and shout. Persist. Keep asking, day and night. God will answer our requests. Perhaps with healing. Perhaps by leading us to change the request. Perhaps with a deeper knowledge of God. Perhaps with the peace that passes all understanding.
Personally, what I shout out most often is something like, “I want to find you, God!” There are many healings I would dearly love to receive, and I ask for them. But if I had to choose one request, it would be to find God. The best answer I have experienced to this request has been in knowing Jesus in the Gospel record of his life, ministry, death, and resurrection. That is why I preach about Jesus nearly every Sunday. I hope that you will find God in Jesus, that you will be able to follow him better by thinking about him more.
I have also found God by hearing what God means to other people, how Jesus has touched other people’s lives. Some of you here at St Giles’ have shared your experiences. I hope we’ll find ways to do that more often. I also read about Christians, and the witness of how their lives have been deeply touched and changed by Jesus helps me find God. In his book, “The Road to Character,” David Brooks writes about people changed by a Bible verse. This is one example: “One summer morning in 1896, Albert Schweitzer came upon the biblical passage ‘Whosoever would save his life shall lose it and whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall save it.’ He knew at the moment he was called to give up his very successful career as a musical scholar and organist to go into medicine and become a jungle doctor” (p. 24). One sentence of the teaching of Jesus had that power!
I am also deeply moved by Christian faith expressed in song. I love many hymns of many denominations. But if I had to choose one kind of song where I find God through the witness of women and men of faith it would be the Negro spirituals. If you don’t know them, I would urge you to learn them and learn from them. These songs can help you call out to the Lord in your sorrow – “Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child.” They can help you express your love for Jesus – “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” They can lift you up to praise the Lord for his goodness – “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” – to shout about the power of God’s Spirit – “Every Time I Feel the Spirit.” These songs witness to the faith in Jesus that has sustained people in slavery and in every kind of sorrow, faith that has lifted people’s souls to God and God’s glory, to the promise of salvation offered to us in Christ.
Each of us has someplace in our hearts and minds and lives where we are like Bartimaeus, blind beggars calling out to Jesus to be saved. Like him, may we take heart, for our Lord is calling us. Like him, may we find healing and the road to life, the road of following Jesus our Lord. Amen.