Job 38:1-7; Mark 10:46-52
Last Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 28.10.18
Rev Tulo Raistrick
This is one of those gospel stories that is so vivid it is worth stepping into the shoes, or more likely, the sandals, of someone of the time and imagining it through their eyes.
Imagine you a member of the crowd in Jericho. You are excited. Jericho is your last stop on your pilgrimage before you climb the long, winding road up into the hills to reach Jerusalem. You can’t wait to get there. You’ll be celebrating Passover in what for you is the holiest place on earth, alongside hundreds and thousands of others. To be honest – you’re also a little apprehensive – its a long climb up to Jerusalem – you want to get going.
But there’s another reason to be excited too. You heard this teacher, a fellow called Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, the day before, and you were impressed by what he had to say. Not just that, you were impressed by how he spoke, as if he could see right inside your heart and speak words that seemed to be spoken directly to you, even though there must have been hundreds all gathered around listening. Well, Jesus is making the same trek up to Jerusalem today, so that will make things interesting.
Finally, you’re off. As you get to the outskirts of Jericho, you begin to hear a bit of an altercation going on ahead of you. Someone is shouting out, and others are telling him to shut up. As you get closer, you can see the cause of the disturbance is a blind beggar. He is shouting out for everyone to hear: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
You wonder if the beggar has had too much of the early morning sun already. You’re heading up to Jerusalem, the city that David built, the city where David was king of a united and glorious Israel, the city that symbolises all the hopes that Israel will be great once more, and this beggar is calling Jesus “Son of David”, as if he is the successor to David, the next great King, dare you say it, the Messiah that has so long been predicted.
Its ridiculous, let alone dangerous, nonsense of course, and the crowd are rightly trying to hush him up. And, after all, you’ve got a journey to make. You haven’t got the time to stop for a beggar.
But the beggar will not stop. He keeps on shouting out. And that’s when Jesus hears him. You expect him to walk on past – he, too, has a journey to make – but he stops. And he tells you to go and get him and bring him to him. To be honest, speaking to and escorting beggars is a bit below your pay grade, but there is something about Jesus that inspires you to do what he asks you to do, and so you bring him to Jesus. All around, you can hear the grumbling of the crowd, the irritation with this dirty, unkempt beggar who is shouting ridiculous things and holding everyone up. Doesn’t he realise that we are on the important and holy business of pilgrimage?
The beggar does’t act as you expect when you tell him to come to Jesus. You expect him to scrabble about on the floor, picking up all the coins from his cloak that has been spread on the floor, before following, protecting his earnings. But instead he jumps up, too excited to think about his cloak or his money, and heads straight for Jesus. You have to ask people to move – they are reluctant to move aside for this beggar – but finally you get to Jesus.
And Jesus speaks to him – not as a beggar, but as a man, as an equal, in the same way as he would speak to his disciples.
You’ve heard stories of Jesus healing people; maybe he will heal this man straight off. But instead he asks the man a question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Surely the answer is so obvious Jesus doesn’t need to ask, but then you see the impact of these words on the man. No-one has ever treated this man with such respect, such dignity, before. You look at Jesus and you see utter love for this man.
And his response: “I want to see.” You’d heard rumours that on the way to Jericho there had been a big falling-out amongst Jesus’ disciples. He had asked them the same question, and two of them had asked for power and status. But this man does’t ask for money or status. You realise he is asking for something far greater – to be able to see.
And Jesus looks straight at him and tells him: “Your faith has healed you.” At that moment, it feels like scales have fallen from your eyes, as well as from that man’s. For the first time, it feels like you can truly see too – that in front of you is the Son of David, the Messiah, the one who is going to change the world for ever. This man who can speak direct into your heart, this man who treats everyone, no matter how seemingly unimportant or lowly, with the utmost love and respect, this man is God’s anointed.
The crowd get going again, but you now continue with bubbling over joy. You find yourself walking alongside the healed man, talking about Jesus and as later that day you enter Jerusalem you find yourself with him waving palm branches in the air and bursting into spontaneous song: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna to the King of Kings!”
But that’s another story.
There is so much in this story worth meditating upon, so many aspects of it which may resonate with us in different ways, but let me share with you three that struck me.
Firstly, I am struck by Bartimaeus’ persistence. He is getting rebuked and shouted down by the crowd – it must have been a particularly intimidating environment for someone who could not see. And yet he persists in calling out to Jesus. He does not give up until he finally gets heard by Jesus.
You may be able to think of times in your own life when things have been particularly difficult. When health has been poor; when you have battled with loneliness, relationship breakdown, depression; when work has been been very tough. At such times it can feel as though there are many blockages in finding our way to Jesus. We may feel as though events and situations are shouting us down, telling us: “Don’t bother God. He’s got more important people to worry about; more important places to get to. Stop your shouting.” But like Bartimaeus, if we persevere, Jesus will not only hear us, he will bring us to the very centre of his presence. As James put it in his letter: “Be patient and stand firm, for the Lord’s coming is near.”
Secondly, I am struck by the nature of Bartimaeus’ request. He asks for mercy – “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” He knows that even more than physical healing he needs forgiveness, he needs mercy. Mercy is more than pity – feeling sorry for someone and giving them help, often in a patronising way. Mercy is compassionate action that addresses failure and puts right wrongs. Mercy is not a sticking plaster; it goes to the heart of the matter; even when the heart of the matter is the matter of our hearts – when we need forgiveness as well as healing.
And that attitude of seeking mercy is what seems to make the difference between the answers of James and John on the one hand, and Bartimaeus on the other, when Jesus asks them the same question of what they want from him. The brothers, not coming from a place of humility, ask for power and status. Bartimaeus asks for healing.
When we come before Christ, what do we ask for? Do we seek his forgiveness? Its why forgiveness is an important part of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught us to use; its way we have confession in services. When we realise our need of forgiveness, we are much more likely to ask for the things that really matter.
And finally, I am struck not just by Bartimaeus’ persistence and request, but also by his response. We are told that he cast his cloak aside. In a place as hot as Jericho, he would not be wearing a cloak – it would act as the receptacle into which passers-by would toss their coins. He is walking away from his old life, a life that no matter how uncomfortable and difficult, possibly had some security and familiarity to it. And instead, after his healing, he immediately “follows Jesus along the way.” It is a lovely reference from Mark, for “the way” was not just the route up to Jerusalem, it was the first name by which the Christian community was called. The fact that we know his name, and who his father was, suggests that thirty years on Bartimaeus was still going strong in following Christ when Mark came to write his gospel.
Its an encouragement to us all that when God calls us, he calls us out of an old way of life into something new, something that transforms our lives for the whole of life and for eternity. Some of us here have been travelling that journey of faith for far longer than thirty years; others here for a much shorter period of time. But for all of us, Bartimaeus is a reminder of the transformation that Christ brings and the call to keep on along the way.
May God open our eyes that we may follow him afresh today.