There are none so blind as those that will not see: Looking again at Bartimaeus

fresh-start-beggar

Mark 10:46-52

Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho.  As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Sermon

Mark invites us to look and see

See poor Bartimaeus sitting by the Road.

Poor, blind Bartimaeus

Bartimaeus – which means son of Timaeus – his name repeating his father’s name

Such that he doesn’t have his own name

He is known only by the name of his father, Timaeus

Timaeus whose sins must have been so terrible that his son was blind – since the Hebrew Bible tell us that ‘the iniquities of the fathers are visited on their children into the third and the fourth generation’.[1]

If Bartimaeus is blind – it must be his own fault – or his ancestors’

– in any case he is a man to be scorned

Blind Bartimaeus, sitting beside the road near the gates of the busy town of Jericho.

People arrive at the town and they see him – though he cannot see them

When people leave they see him again, still sitting there

For he cannot leave

He must sit there for a lifetime

Stuck in a world where there is no hope – no change – no forgiveness

Only a lifetime of punishment and suffering

His only possession is his cloak, his uniform as a mendicant – his badge of office, his shield against the oaths and blows of those who despise his condition, and when the night comes – and with it the cold – this cloak is his only shelter, his home

People are leaving Jericho now – he cannot see them

But he hears a name – a name he has heard from others

Jesus of Nazareth – people have told him about Jesus – he has heard the Word coming from Nazareth where Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’[2]

He has heard about the miracles and healing that Jesus has done

Being blind gives you time to think – time to mull things over, to dwell on the meaning of words

Jesus who interprets and reinterprets the scriptures in ways that dazzle and frighten

Jesus who forgives and heals

Jesus, whose Hebrew name – Jeshua – means ‘God saves’

Jesus who talks about the year of the Lord’s favour, the jubilee, a new start

This excites Bartimaeus

Excites him so much so that he calls out – he has heard the Word and he believes he has understood that this godly man who calls himself ‘son of man’, is not only a prophet but also a king –  the son of David – the king of a new kingdom, a new Israel – he is the anointed one, the Messiah

Bartimaeus calls out and names him ‘Son of David’

The king who has come to release the captives, to bring recovery of sight to the blind

Bartimaeus calls out and asks the king for clemency, for healing, or mercy – Eleison, he calls – have mercy on me,

Eleison – show kindness to me

And those around him tell him to be quiet to stop making a nuisance of himself

But he is getting desperate now – really shouting out so that he can be heard above the crowd – is it a joke that he – the blind man – is the only person who can see what Jesus truly is – what he offers

He desperately wants to see Jesus …

In a way that celebrated people have – like the Queen on a State visit or Pope Francis recently in America – something in the crowd has got Jesus’s attention – he stops in his tracks and turns aside – he asks his attendants, his disciples, to call on Bartimaeus to come to him.

Is this another joke – Jesus is asking a blind man to walk through the crowd to find him

But there is no physical impediment in coming to Jesus all that is needed is a faithful heart.  Have courage his disciples say, take heart – and with that Bartimaeus gives up the cloak off his back[3] – the only thing he has – leaves his old self behind and strides over to where Jesus is standing

A final joke – Jesus asks what do you want –the king asks the beggar, if you had all the money in the world what would you want?

Having addressed him as prophet of Nazareth, and King of Israel, Bartimaeus now addresses Jesus as priest – Rabbouni – dear rabbi – heal me, let me see again

And Jesus heals him [4] and sends him – ‘Go your faith has made you well’ – his healing is a sign of his faith.  His sending – his mission – is a sign of his healing.

So what do we make of this?

This story coming at the pivotal point before the entry into Jerusalem sums up all of the teaching which has gone before in Marks’s Gospel.

Of who Jesus is and what he offers – especially to those in need

And as a story of vocation and discipleship it tells us something of what it means to follow Christ

Where do you find yourself in this story?

As so often in these Bible stories we are offered the chance to be the disciple ourselves – to be Bartimaeus and to follow the experience of his calling

We – who have not seen Jesus in the flesh – can be like Bartimaeus who heard the word from afar and who understood what it meant and believed

We can hear the Word and we have the opportunity to be transformed by it – we only need the courage to do so

We can hear the Word and give up what we have, what was important to us but which holds us back – like the wealth of the rich man earlier in this Chapter of Mark

We can hear the Word and give up the possesions that enslave us, throw off the cloak that belongs to an old life

We can hear the Word and strike out into a new place

We can hear the Word and start out on the Way

But we are also challenged to follow in the footsteps of Jesus by the path he has shown us

Following Jesus on the way means listening to the voices at the margin, those at the side of the road,

 

We cannot hear this story this week without thinking of the plight of those displaced people from Syria whose only crime was to be born in the wrong place and time

Are we comfortable to be like the Hebrews and blame them for the sins of their parents in having created a defective society, having tolerated an autocratic regime?

Or do we have mercy, hearing them crying out for pity – Kyrie Eleison, Lord Have Mercy

Following Jesus means showing mercy – offering kindness to those who need it

Christe Eleison, Christ Have Mercy

Following Jesus means committing to build up and maintain the new kingdom of the new King with its new obligations

Kyrie Eleison, Lord Have Mercy

And what have we done in response to the Bishop of Guildford’s challenge to do something and make a difference for the refugees from Syria?

Even if we have not opened up our homes, have we given, have we written, have we pondered, have we prayed?

Is it we who have been blind – turning a blind eye to those in need?

Or have we followed our calling and been true disciples of Christ,
turning aside from our busy lives to listen to the voices of those in need and
making ourselves agents of the transforming power of Christ’s love, here on earth?

Christe Eleison, Indeed!  Amen.

[1] Exodus 20:4 KJV

[2] Luke 4:16-21

[3] Luke 6:29-30

[4] And immediately Bartimaeus can see – perhaps he was healed when the disciples called him and he stood up, perhaps he was healed before then when he heard the Word and knew what it meant, perhaps he has been able to see all the time – a fraudulent beggar – and he was healed the moment Jesus sent him on the way to pursue a new life in truth not fraud, as a disciple of Christ to the end of his life.

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