The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
Sermon by Bill Chadwick | August 23, 2020
As many of you know, in addition to serving in ministry with you good folks, I am also the visitation pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Stillwater. Much of that visitation in recent months has been done, of course, via telephone. On Friday I called a parishioner who two months ago lost her husband of 71 years. Knowing, there are always good and bad days, I asked, “How are you doing today?” She replied, “Well, I learned yesterday that I am now losing the sight in my right eye. The left is already almost totally gone.”
Oof! What a heartbreaking situation. With that as the background, listen to these words from the gospel of St. Mark, chapter 10:
New Revised Standard Version
The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
46 They 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. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 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.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, [ a ] let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
I once was blind, but now I see. Let us listen to Amazing Grace:
The healing of blind Bartimaeus is a problematic passage for me. There are two challenges. Usually, in the setting in which I am preaching, there is a person or two who is blind. And I so often wish I had the gift of healing or some sort of a magic wand to heal this and other issues in people’s lives. To compound things, Jesus says “Go, your faith has made you well.” It seems to add insult to injury. If you only had more faith, you would be made whole. Ouch.
(Much of the following exegesis comes from Dick Donovan in Sermonwriter)
CONTEXT: There are two stories in the gospel of Mark of Jesus restoring sight to a blind man: in chapter 8 an unnamed man and here in chapter 10, a beggar named Bartimaeus. Mark uses these two stories to bracket a series of stories about disciples who are spiritually blind. This story of the Bartimaeus is the final healing miracle in this gospel. Immediately following is the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we commemorate on Palm Sunday.
Let’s walk our way through the passage.
Why is Bartimaeus unique in the Bible? He is the only person healed by Jesus in the gospels of Matthew, Mark or Luke whose name we know.
Jericho is the oldest continuously occupied city in the world, 17 miles from Jerusalem. It would be crowded with Pilgrims on their way to Passover. Many people would have heard of Jesus and clamored to be near him. At this point there is probably a huge entourage, almost a parade already, as Jesus and the disciples walk along.
There is a man there in Jericho. His name is Bartimaeus, which means by one translation, “Son of Honor.” But he is not honored. He is blind. He is a beggar. Worse yet, the belief of the day was that it was his own sin—or perhaps that of his parents—that caused him to be blind. It’s not just bad luck. It’s his own or his parents sinfulness that caused him to be blind. He begs alongside of the road, the roadside being the home of the marginalized in society. Bartimaeus, son of honor?
But this is a good time for beggars. As people make their way to Passover the Pilgrims would be expected to give alms. So, this is high season for Beggar Bartimaeus, sort of like the Christmas shopping season for today’s merchants. Bartimaeus would call to the passersby: “Sons of Abraham, have mercy on a blind beggar.” “God blesses those who show mercy to the needy.” “The God of Mercies loves the merciful.”
Bartimaeus hears a commotion as the entourage comes near and he asks what’s going on. Someone tells him it is the great teacher Jesus passing by. Now Bartimaeus immediately shouts for Jesus’ attention. Bartimaeus obviously knows about Jesus.
So, there is implicit in this story an unnamed hero, someone who told the beggar about Jesus, and what Jesus had done in other towns. How Jesus is a startling teacher and, more to Bartimaeus’ situation, how Jesus had healed people, making the lame to walk, the deaf to hear and the blind to see! Praise God for this unknown evangelist who had shared the message of Jesus with this blind beggar.
We can imagine that ever since Bartimaeus had heard of this amazing man Jesus, that Bartimaeus had fervently hoped and probably prayed that someday this Jesus would come to Jericho that perhaps he, Bartimaeus, might also be given his sight.
Now the day has come. Jesus is walking by!
Bartimaeus calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
Do the people in the crowd respond with grace and kindness, saying, “Oh, yes, quickly, bring the poor man to Jesus so that he might be healed”? You’d think at least the disciples would have done so, having been rebuked by Jesus when they tried to keep the children away. But no.
No. Mark records that many sternly ordered Bartimaeus to be quiet.
“Shut up, beggar, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He doesn’t have time for you.” Those in the crowd were the ones who were truly blind, blind to the ways of Jesus,
But Bartimaeus will not be silent. He is persistent, “Son of David, (a term denoting the Messiah), have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still. Amidst the noise of the crowd, Jesus hears the cry of this beggar and stops. Jesus’ ears are attuned to hear the marginal person.
Instead of addressing the beggar directly he says to the crowd, “Call him here.” He commands them to stop obstructing and start helping. He gives the crowd a chance to participate in a small way in the healing.
They say to Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
Throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus springs up and comes to Jesus. His cloak would have been spread before him to collect coins. He tosses it out of the way and hurries to Jesus. Bartimaeus knows that both coins and cloak are likely to be stolen in seconds. But he doesn’t care! What a contrast to the rich young man who couldn’t leave his old way of life behind to follow Jesus. This brings to mind Jesus’ words, “No one can serve two masters; …You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt 6:24)
Jesus asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus doesn’t just treat him as a problem to be solved and quickly gotten out of the way. He takes the time to truly encounter Bartimaeus, to enter into a relationship, albeit brief. “What do you want me to do for you?”
Well, where have we heard that before? The preceding passage. Jesus asks the question of the disciples James and John and they respond, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” They ask for places of honor, to be in an extraordinary position. Bartimaeus, “the son of honor,” by contrast, just wants to be like the other ordinary people, able to see.
What will happen? Unlike other healings, Jesus does not touch the man, does not spit onto the ground and make a mud pie to put on his eyes…He merely utters the words, like God speaking Creation into being: “Go, your faith has made you well.” The Gk word translated “well” can mean healed, made whole, or saved. In this man’s case, all three are true. (Donovan)
“Immediately, writes Mark, “(Bartimaeus) regained his sight and followed (Jesus) on the way.” Though Jesus has told Bartimaeus to “go,” he doesn’t. He “comes,” he follows Jesus. Immediately (Bartimaeus) regained his sight and followed (Jesus) on the way.”
At the beginning of the story, we found Bartimaeus sitting by the roadside (transliterated hodon). At the conclusion he is following on the way (hodo), which is not geography as much as it is the way of discipleship. In the book of Acts, the early Christians are called “followers of the way (hodo).” Bartimaeus becomes a follower of Jesus and presumably accompanies him to Jerusalem for the profound events of the coming week.
A fascinating story.
But, what and where is the Living Word for us today? Let me suggest four possibilities.
- Let us notice people on the margins. Don’t be blind ourselves. Years ago, I heard a preacher challenge the congregation by saying, “Do you personally know any poor people? Have you been with a poor person recently? If not, are you truly following Jesus?” I know that many of you volunteer at the food shelf, hospital, school and other places and you encounter people on the margins. There is a man who lives in my neighborhood who is in awful circumstances financially, as some of those circumstances being of his own making and some not. He struggles with mental health issues. He has attached himself to me and we now have a relationship. And it is good for me. Not fun, but good for me to be frequently confronted with what life is like on a daily basis for a truly poor person in America, especially a Black man.
- Let’s not be afraid to call out to Jesus. “Take heart!” God hears our prayer. Our prayer may not be answered the way we’d like it to be. Presumably, the request of James and John to sit at his right hand was not answered in the way they had hoped. But let us not be timid to bring to God our requests. An entire prayer practice came out of this passage. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” It’s called “the Jesus Prayer.” As you pray it silently, you breathe in on “Jesus, Son of David,” and exhale on “have mercy on me.” You can use it anywhere: if you’re having trouble sleeping, during a test, waiting in an interminable line. It helps us to fulfill Paul’s mandate to “Pray without ceasing.” “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Call out to Jesus. This reminds me of novelist Annie Lamott’s two favorite prayers: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.;” “Help me, help me, help me.” There probably were other beggars along the road. Only one called out. Only one was healed.
- The Spirit of Christ asks each of us this morning, “What do you want me to do for you?” Or are we able to do it all on our own? Are you the self-made, self-sufficient, independent man or woman? Critics have long sneered that “religion is a crutch.” Agreed. But who isn’t limping? Recently, one of our adult children has been sliding off the rails, wandering in the wilderness. It has sent me to my knees, to cry out in the strong name of Jesus for healing and protection for our child. I’m relieved to report that things are definitely moving in the right direction. And I ask you to join me in praying for our child.
Pastor Anne Robertson declares: Jesus is passing through the (town) this morning. What will you ask of him? To sit on his right hand or his left, demanding his service as James and John did, or will you cry out for his mercy like Bartimaeus? Are we ready to acknowledge … that we need help — that Jesus can give us what we need in this hour? How silly we must seem. The God who made the earth and the heavens, who set all this in place, who created the human body, with all its miracles and wonders — do we honestly think that the God who did all that can’t handle our little problems? Our problem is safe in the hands of God, and the God who ordered the universe, who put the stars in place and determined the course of the winds, that God is at work to order our lives as well.
Jesus is passing through the city this morning. Will you call out? Or will you sit like the other blind beggars at the gates and simply let him pass by?
- Let us, like Bartimaeus, respond to God’s healing grace by following Jesus “on the way.” Why do we know Bartimaeus’ name? Is it because he is personally known to Mark and his community as a leader in the early church? We don’t know, but it’s a compelling theory. A wonderful British preacher named Paul Martin writes: Jerusalem gets nearer. Soon Jesus and a motley gathering of Bartimaeuses will enter the city gates to confront the forces of cruel domination. In the face of overwhelming odds they will be at the beginning of a still ongoing story in which powerless love dares to confront the love of power. And guess what! The Bartimaeuses of this world are the ones who will change the world whilst the mighty, the powerful and the seemingly wise, stand exposed as dinosaurs whose time runs short. With “nobodies” like Bartimaeus, Jesus is bringing in the (Kin-dom) of God and confronting the empires of self aggrandisement. Yes indeed, the times they are a changing. For in Bartimaeus we see a story that confirms that which Jesus has already taught.
The first are becoming last whilst the last are becoming first!
Amen and amen!