22nd Sunday After Pentecost ~ Proper 25B
TEXT: Mark 10:46-52
… As [Jesus] and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. (Mark 10:46)
“Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee! E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me.” 1
Nearer to God. Nearer to Jesus. That’s what we all want, isn’t it? It’s what John and James and Peter and the other disciples wanted, certainly. And it was what a man called Bartimaeus wanted.
On their way to Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples—with a large entourage—were passing through Jericho. And as they were leaving town, there—sitting at the side of the road begging for money—was a destitute blind man known only as Bartimaeus. That, really, was not so much of a name as it was a reference to the man’s own father; “bar-Timaeus” means “son of Timaeus.” He surely had another name—but Mark never tells us what it was; likely, he didn’t know, either.
Anyway, someone had obviously told Bartimaeus about the amazing rabbi who could make the deaf to hear and the blind to see. And when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, Bartimaeus began shouting at the top of his lungs: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy. Help me!”
Now, at this point, Mark tells us that many people—and I would guess this probably included at least some of the disciples—try to shut Bartimaeus up. But that just makes him shout even louder: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy. Help me!”
So, what’s going on here? Let’s step back for a moment and consider a few things.
First of all, we need to consider what it means that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. Even though—right now, in our liturgical year—we are on the threshold of Advent and Christmas, in Mark’s narrative it’s getting close to Easter. Actually, closer to Good Friday.
Jesus is on his way to claim his Kingdom by being enthroned upon a cross. He’s going to Jerusalem to die, and he knows it. That’s what he’s been trying to tell his disciples for many weeks now. But they still don’t get it.
Oh, it’s not that they don’t understand who he is. Not that long ago, Peter had made the bold declaration for all of them: “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29). They know who Jesus is. They know he’s the Messiah. They just don’t understand what that means. Even though—numerous times—he has told them, bluntly, that he is going to be rejected and killed …
Well, they refuse to believe it. They were expecting—as many Jews were expecting—a Messiah who would raise an army and boot the Romans out of Judea.
They were looking for a Messiah who would set up a new government, with himself as King. That’s why we hear about them arguing with one another over which of them was the greatest (Mark 9:33-34); already, they are jockeying for cabinet positions!
Human nature, right? If you back the successful candidate, you expect a reward, do you not? Which one of them would be Jesus’ prime minister? Or fisheries minister? There were at least three of them who must have felt qualified for that position!
Or even something higher. Remember our gospel lesson from last week? Immediately preceding the story of “Blind Bartimaeus,” we read this account:
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to [Jesus] and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:35-37).
“What do you want me to do for you?”
“Glorify us, Lord. Make us almost as great as you are. Make us wealthy. Give us seats of power. Titles. Honour. Expense accounts. A senator’s pension.”
“Bartimaeus, what do you want me to do for you?”
“My teacher, let me see again.”
Two very different requests. And each one tells us something about the ones who ask.
The disciples want to get on with the business of setting up the Kingdom. But they do not understand that stopping for a blind beggar is exactly what Jesus’ Kingdom is all about.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy. Help me!”
In Jesus’ day, people with disabilities were, for the most part, socially powerless. The blind, the lame, and others who could not work for a living were able to support themselves only by begging—normally on a busy roadside.
Judaism considered it righteous to help them. And Jericho was a prosperous town with a good climate. No doubt, Timaeus’s son received adequate—even generous—support there. So Jesus’ followers may have thought this guy was really not so bad off.
In any case, they appear to have regarded Bartimaeus’s loud pleading as a kind of intrusion—just like when the children came to Jesus (Mark 10:13-16) and “the stern disciples bade them to depart” (to quote the old hymn).2
Remember, they were on their way to Jerusalem, to install Jesus as their King. This was a royal procession! How dare this blind beggar disrupt things?
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy. Help me!”
“Call him over,” Jesus says. And he stands still, allowing the blind man to come to where Jesus’ voice had last sounded.
So the people call to Bartimaeus: “Come on! It’s your lucky day. Jesus is calling you.”
The blind man springs to his feet. He doesn’t even bother picking up his cloak; he just hurries over to Jesus. And the Lord asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man answers, “Teacher, I want to see again.”
Jesus says to him, “Done! Your faith has paid off. You are made whole.”
And Bartimaeus receives the gift of sight. Yet, it occurs to me that this man—who could not read the Scriptures, or witness miracles and mighty works; who had no idea what Jesus looked like … Bartimaeus had another kind of vision. God had opened the eyes of his heart.
“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
Scripture tells us: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34).
You will not cry out to the Lord when your heart is blinded to him. Bartimaeus was longing for the Lord, and he would cry out to him, until he was heard. And Jesus did hear him. A whole multitude was following him, but the cry of this blind beggar was important to him. In fact, it was as if Jesus himself was longing to hear it. So he stood still and called Bartimaeus over.
That’s what Jesus does, you know. The Lord stands still when he hears you call his name. To him, each and every human soul is priceless. He pays no attention to colour or race or social standing. He does not care about what sort of car you drive, or about the size of your bank account. He does not look at names or titles or résumés. No. He looks into human hearts, and he sees that—without exception—each one of us needs him the same.
Until we meet him, we are blind. And when we meet him, we receive our sight. As the Book of Acts, chapter 26, verse 18 puts it: our eyes are opened, and we are turned “from darkness to light.”
Turning to Bartimaeus, Jesus says: “Go; your faith has made you well.”
Immediately, Bartimaeus regains his sight. And immediately, he follows Jesus on the way.
What a picture of confident faith! I’m reminded of Jesus’ words to Thomas in the Gospel of John: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
Bartimaeus could have had one thousand doubts about calling on the Lord.
“What will people say? I mean, I’m just a lowly beggar.”
“Maybe it isn’t true. Maybe it’s all a hoax, a trick, an illusion. Maybe Jesus can’t really heal anybody.”
“Maybe I should ask the priests first; maybe I should find out what they believe about this guy.”
Bartimaeus could have listened to his doubts. He could have obeyed the voices telling him to be quiet. He could have stayed put there on the roadside, with his beggar’s basket and a measure of security. But then he would have stayed blind forever.
Here’s the truth: if we want healing—if we want to receive our sight—we need to ask. We need to cry out to Jesus.
And here’s another truth: Jesus of Nazareth is passing by us—right now! He passes by you. He passes by me.
We can stay quiet, or we can call out to him. We can stay put—chained in place by our thoughts and doubts and reasonings. Or we can spring to our feet and follow him. And we can do that with confidence, for Jesus himself has promised that he will never reject anyone who comes to him (John 6:37).
That’s Jesus’ pledge to all of us who think we’re not worthy, not good enough, too far gone. Cry out to him. Come after him. He will make time for you. You can get near to Jesus. It is not a hard thing to do!
Blind Bartimaeus had faith in that promise. And, by the side of a well, a Samaritan woman discovered its truth (John 4:1-26). It’s what the disciples themselves found out, when they tried to give those children the brush-off (Mark 10:13-16).
There’s a song about all of that. Close to 40 years ago, Ralph Carmichael used each of those gospel images when he wrote the lyrics.
Right there in the dust, he sat by the gate,
To listen to footsteps and patiently wait.
The blind man just didn’t dream that this was the day
That Jesus of Nazareth would pass by his way.
She stood by the well, so tired and alone,
Misfortune and heartache was all she had known,
She looked at the stranger, but who would ever think,
‘Twas Jesus to offer her living water to drink.
They were only wee children so happy at play
And told to stay quiet and out of the way;
But then came the Saviour with arms open wide,
They’re part of His kingdom, make room by His side.
My friend, if you’re listening now humbly to me
Yes, this is the moment that you can be free.
This very same Jesus is right here today;
Release your faith and touch Him, then believe me when I say:
Something good is going to happen to you;
Happen to you this very day.
Something good is going to happen to you;
Jesus of Nazareth is passing your way. 3
Believe, my friends. Trust. Cry out. Follow. Amen.
1 “Nearer, My God, to Thee” (public domain) Sarah Flower Adams, 1840.
2 “When Mothers of Salem” (public domain) W. M. Hutchings, 1850.
3 “Something Good is Going to Happen to You” Copyright ©1969 by Lexicon Music, Inc. Written by Ralph Carmichael.