Grace United Methodist Church
October 25, 2009
Mark 10: 46-52
46They 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. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then 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.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
We talk about hope a lot. As a matter of fact, as I was sitting at home working on this sermon, I was scanning the TV listings for the evening, and one of the movies showing on that particular day was, Star Wars IV: A New Hope. Despite all the talk about hope, assurance of hope is not so easily found it seems. Last week, we listened as Job mourned the absence of God even as he searched and hoped for God’s presence and justice. Today, we have the story of blind Bartimaeus, who himself has lived a life full of hopeless difficulties. So where’s the hope?
As we search for that answer, let’s put ourselves in Jericho for a moment. Have you ever been on a trip where you had been gone from home for several days, living out of a suitcase and separated from your friends and family? The day comes for you to head back home and you are so excited. And then you find out your flight has been delayed or worse yet, cancelled! If you’re anything like me, you get really antsy and anxious when something like that happens.
So here we are, traveling with Jesus. A huge crowd is following him as we make our way out of Jericho and toward Jerusalem. It’s hot and dry and dusty and we are all just excited to be on the road again. And then someone begins shouting from the roadside. It’s annoying, a nuisance, like your flight has been delayed. As Jesus turns to the voice, your anxiety level increases; no wonder everyone in the crowd is trying to “shush” this beggar hunkered on the side of the road. This is not on the schedule. We don’t have time for this. Can’t we just get on with it and get to Jerusalem? All the discouraging comments would be enough to quiet the hopes of any of us. But not Bartimaeus!
Mark lifts up the story of blind Bartimaeus because Bartimaeus is a model we should all imitate. We all come to places where we feel more hopeless than hopeful. And often, in the midst of that, we reach out to God and yet feel as if there is no help. It is then that we should yell all the louder; that we should cry out to God all the more! And this is exactly what Bartimaeus does! The story of blind Bartimaeus is not important so much because Bartimaeus was healed of his blindness, but more because Bartimaeus had the type of faith that heals. We can hope for many things, but until we seek God in faith, those hopes are nothing but empty vessels.
So here is Bartimaeus. Sitting by the roadside begging, simply trying to get by; and yet, all the while clinging to a hope that he might one day see again. Then he hears a crowd coming near. Can you imagine the excitement that must have welled-up in Bartimaeus’ heart when he realized it was Jesus coming his way? So Bartimaeus cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus was so overcome with excitement and hope that he most surely did not even notice the grumblings of the crowd now gathered around him. “Who does this guy think he is? He’s a nobody; a nuisance; he doesn’t matter! Get him quiet, we need to be on our way to Jerusalem!” Bartimaeus was a man who had obviously heard about Jesus. He had heard about the miracles Jesus had been performing. And here comes this great man; he may never come this way again. This was Bartimaeus’ big chance! So, Bartimaeus hollered for Jesus! Bartimaeus wasn’t going to let anything get in his way, he was determined that he would speak to this man who heals! We are all given the opportunity that Bartimaeus was given. Jesus came his way. And Jesus comes our way. This was Bartimaeus’ time to reach out in faith and hope, or let Jesus just pass on by. So Bartimaeus decided to take action and he cries all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And then, Mark tells us, Jesus took notice. Jesus stood still, the story says, and he called Bartimaeus to him. Let us be reminded, when we call out in faith, Christ will hear us!
You see, when we have hopes; when we want things to turn around and be better in our lives, we have to pursue that with everything we’ve got. We cannot just sit idly by, lift an occasional prayer asking that things may change, and then expect that a magic wand will be waved and all will be right in the world. We have to seek to know God in Jesus Christ more and more, and then we have to listen actively for the approaching crowd that signals the coming Messiah. And when we are moving forward in the faith and the naysayers begin to boo and hiss in our ears, telling us to be quiet, we cannot stop calling out for Jesus! And through this all, we have to believe, really believe that Jesus can help us. Such was the faith of Bartimaeus, who caught Jesus’ attention; such is the faith which gives substance to our hopes.
We have come to that time of year when most of the flowers in our lawns have wilted and sagged. The autumn sleep has begun. Yet, as I took a hike earlier this week, a bit of unexpected color caught my eye. One little, yellow flower had poked a blossom up above the leaves. Seemingly, its expectations were different from the rest of the plants nearby. Exhibiting a faith that the sun would be there when it poked through, it was determined to blossom that day no matter what. For a Christian, it is no different. If by faith we expect God to act on our behalf, and if we step out in faith as Abraham did when he walked his son Isaac to the altar, or as Bartimaeus did when he heard Jesus approaching, we can have hope that God will take care of us, and we can be assured that God will act!
Bartimaeus, full of hope, cried out in faith, and sure enough, Jesus acted! “Call him here,” Jesus said. So the crowd, which now seems to have had a change of heart, recognizes that because of Bartimaeus’ faith, something amazing is going to happen and they tell Bartimaeus to get up because Jesus is calling him. Then, Bartimaeus gets up and goes to Jesus. But it’s not just like Bartimaeus eases up in his blind state and stumbles over to where Jesus stands. No. Bartimaeus jumps up, he springs from his place by the roadside, and he throws down his cloak as he moves quickly toward Jesus. Bartimaeus threw down his cloak! Do you know what that means? Certainly, cloaks were meant to keep people warm in Jesus’ day. But for the beggar, the cloak was more than a piece of cloth by which to stay warm. It was the way money was collected; kind of like we use a hat or a guitar case or a milk jug today. So for Bartimaeus to throw that aside is huge! Again, Bartimaeus is exhibiting a great faith. Bartimaeus so believes that his hopes will be fulfilled by Jesus, Son of David; that he will no longer be blind, that he will no longer need to beg by the roadside in order to maintain his existence. Bartimaeus doesn’t need that cloak anymore to collect money because Jesus is going to heal him!
Do we have that kind of faith? Do we believe so strongly that Jesus Christ will fulfill our hopes that we willingly, perhaps even joyfully (?), toss aside that which keeps us from following Christ with everything we’ve got! This is the kind of faith through which we can have hope. Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus expresses exactly the possibility for which Bartimaeus has always hoped! “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks blind Bartimaeus. It’s as if Jesus is asking Bartimaeus a whole slew of other questions: Do you, Bartimaeus, want to give up begging? Do you want to have to live differently, to work for a living, to have no reason to sit by the roadside whining at passers-by? But Jesus’ question does not deter Bartimaeus. “My teacher,” says Bartimaeus, “let me see again!” Bartimaeus wants the new life; not only his sight, but the chance to follow Jesus. That, my friends, is true hope, a hope grounded in deep faith; a hope which looks beyond the self to Jesus and Jesus’ very hopes for our lives; a hope which aspires first to follow Jesus fully and completely, and only secondly to pursue our own dreams.
So Jesus heals Bartimaeus saying, “Go; your faith has made you well.” That’s it! Bartimaeus’ greatest hope has been fulfilled! Yet again, this is Bartimaeus’ chance. He can head back into the village of Jericho and look for work; he can fashion himself a house and get on with life. Jesus gives him the freedom to “Go.” But Bartimaeus doesn’t go anywhere! Instead, Bartimaeus “follow[s Jesus] on the way.” Bartimaeus continues to show his deep belief in the Savior of the world, his profound faith in the Messiah, a faith that allowed his hopes to be fulfilled, his life to be transformed. You can almost imagine this one-time blind beggar staying close to Jesus as they climbed the road toward Jerusalem. He probably drank deeply of every Word that Jesus spoke. He probably took in every visual impression along the way. And a little while after this he may have been one of the ones to witness Jesus on Palm Sunday; to see his Savior go into Jerusalem. Bartimaeus’ new eyes probably also took in the Crucifixion on Calvary and the resurrected Jesus and the exciting, Spirit-filled Pentecost! He may have even been part of the leadership of the early Church, holding meetings in Jericho.
Bartimaeus had heard about Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of David who heals our lives. And when Jesus came Bartimaeus’ way, Bartimaeus took the opportunity to call out in faith, hoping that he too might be healed. Faith brings assurance to our hopes. When we call out to Jesus, Jesus will call back; and when he does we must spring up, leaving our old lives behind, throwing our cloaks to the side. And when we tell Jesus that we want to see, that we want to be made whole, that we want our hopes fulfilled; if we do this in faith, Jesus will say to us: “your faith has healed you.”
Then, in gratitude for what Jesus has done for us we give him our unswerving loyalty. We deny ourselves and follow him into a whole new existence; an existence where we learn more and more every day how much we really are loved, how much we really do matter, how in Christ our hopes are not empty vessels! It may take a while. We may have to yell over the discouraging drone of the thronging crowds. But we should not hold anything back. Things might be tough, but if we call out, Christ will hear us, and Christ will respond! Let us not lose hope!