October 28, 2018
The story of Blind Bartimaeus acts as a bookend in Mark’s gospel. It closes out a long section that began back in chapter eight, when Jesus healed another blind man – only that time, Jesus had to spit twice before the man could see. This whole section has come to its climax here in chapter ten, where we’ve been walking with Jesus this month. The itinerary Jesus and his disciples have been following, as they travel from Galilee to Jerusalem, has been pretty … eventful.
They start off on this 85-mile hike, stopping outside Capernaum long enough for Jesus to teach about divorce and welcome the children who come to him. But they are soon on the road again, when they run into the rich young ruler, and Jesus tells them how difficult it will be for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of heaven.
As if that weren’t upsetting enough to his disciples, Jesus goes on to explain – for the third time since that first blind man was healed – how he will be arrested, beaten, and killed, once they get to Jerusalem. But on toward Jerusalem they go, and along the way, James and John ask a special favor of Jesus – which doesn’t make them very popular with the other disciples – and Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them how those who would be great must become servants of all.
In the span of forty-five verses, we’ve travelled from Capernaum to Jericho, just 15 miles from Jerusalem. This is where we finally meet the blind son of Timaeus, begging beside the road.
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. 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. (Mark 10:46-52)
They came to Jericho. This is, quite literally, the turning point. Jericho is where you stop going south and head west, back over the Jordan river. The disciples are about a day and a half away from Jerusalem. The only thing that lies between Jericho and the Holy City, is the Valley of the Shadow of Death. They have just made the turn, and come through the city of Jericho, when they meet the blind beggar, Bartimaeus.
We should keep in mind that begging was not addressed in Talmudic law. There is no Hebrew word for beggar in the OT – when we see that word in our English translations, it usually stands for the Hebrew word that means a wanderer or vagabond who asks for bread.
Jewish law didn’t address begging, because there should have been no need for it. If people took care of their needy family members the way the Law instructed, no one would need to beg. Yet, here we have a blind beggar on the edge of the road. And he knows something the disciples closest to Jesus apparently don’t know yet. He knows who Jesus really is.
Now, elsewhere in Mark’s gospel, Jesus calls himself Son of Man (15x). When Bartimaeus calls him Son of David, he is both dead right, and dead wrong. He understands that title to mean Jesus is Messiah, but Bartimaeus is thinking of a political or military conqueror.
Later on, in chapter 12, Jesus will refute this identity (“How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’ David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” 12:35-37).
Bartimaeus recognizes Jesus as Messiah, though. He knows that Jesus has the authority and power to heal. And healing is what Bartimaeus wants.
He doesn’t want a handout. He doesn’t want pity. “The rich young man wanted eternal life, James and John wanted glory, but this guy, blind and parked on the roadside, wants only mercy. He doesn’t even specify the nature of the mercy until Jesus puts the question to him plainly.” He wants to see again.
He knows he cannot solve his own problem, but he knows that begging only meets the superficial needs of his poverty. It doesn’t address the root cause of that poverty – his blindness. He knows he needs a “fundamental change.” And the only thing that stands between Bartimaeus and the healing power of Jesus is … the disciples.
Think about that for a moment. It’s the people crowding around Jesus as he leaves Jericho who discourage Bartimaeus from calling out to be healed. It’s the closest followers of Jesus who tell Bartimaeus to be quiet, to leave the Master alone. The very people who want to be closest to Jesus are the same people who are keeping others away from him.
These good church people – folks like us – are just trying to keep the riffraff out. These good church people – folks just like us – only want the best for Jesus. They don’t want him to be pestered by a noisy, bothersome blind man who is creating a traffic jam there in the road. Mostly, they don’t want to think about giving up their own spot near the Master, so that someone else can get near to him.
But notice what Jesus does? He stops walking. He stands still. He looks beyond the crowd pressing around him, and makes room for one more. He says, “Call him over here.” These disciples, who see themselves as Jesus’ most loyal followers, who just asked him to let them sit next to him in glory, these faithful few who were shushing Bartimaeus moments ago – they suddenly have to act as if they care.
When Jesus says, “Call him over here,” he is reminding the disciples that following means inviting others to follow. It means welcoming others into the group. It means making room for someone who was an outsider, and inviting that person to become an insider.
When Bartimaeus learns that Jesus is calling for him, he throws off his cloak and hurries toward Jesus. And Jesus asks Bartimaeus a simple, but remarkable question:
“What do you want me to do for you?”
What makes it remarkable is the fact that Jesus just asked this same question of James and John, when they asked if they could sit at his right and left in the kingdom. And isn’t it interesting that James and John pull Jesus aside so others won’t hear them ask for places of honor? But the outcast blind beggar Bartimaeus hollers out loud for mercy, and he doesn’t care who hears his cry.
When Jesus asks him the same question he asked James and John, it has a slightly different ring to it: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Bartimaeus gets right to the point: “Rabbouni, I want to see again.” Calling Jesus ‘My teacher’ (rabbouni) shows the humility of Bartimaeus. He submits himself to Jesus’ authority. His request is simple. He wants his eyesight back. Unlike the man who was born blind, Bartimaeus remembers what it was like to be able to see. He knows what he’s been missing.
Do you know what you’ve been missing? In what ways are we “blind” to God’s Kingdom? How have we lost our vision? How do our ideas of “who belongs in church” prevent us from seeing the Blind Bartimaeuses around us, the people on the margins who want to be healed by God’s mercy?
“We must get beyond the thin solutions that only serve to make us feel better that we did something. Those kind of solutions only further serve the problem. We must press into the deeper need of the other. This is not easy. It gets messy. … It means taking on the mind and mentality of Jesus who teaches us that we come “not to be served but to serve.”
How can we improve our vision, to begin to see as Jesus sees? And how do we respond when Jesus calls us over and asks what we want him to do for us? Are we bold enough, and humble enough, to say, “Lord, let me see again?”
Jesus doesn’t have to touch Bartimaeus or spit on dirt to make mud. He only speaks, and Bartimaeus is healed. The only other time Jesus has said, “your faith has made you well” in Mark’s gospel was to a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. Like Bartimaeus, she was determined to have personal contact with Jesus as he passed by with a crowd.
Jesus tells him to ‘go’ just as he has told others who have received miracles of healing to go. But this time, the one being told to go doesn’t go back or go away. He follows Jesus on the way. His faith has healed him.
“Faith is not some kind of magic or some sort of internal substance that we either have enough of or not in order for God to work. Faith heals precisely because it requires something more of us than asking for a temporary fix to a systemic problem. Faith brings people to a place beyond the symptoms to the source of a problem. It requires of them the act of moving toward a possibility that was hitherto un-seeable to them. It changes things in a permanent way.”
Bartimaeus goes from “sitting beside the road” to “following Jesus along the road.” He joins the others who are following Jesus to Jerusalem, and that means to the Cross.
There’s room for one more, after all. The disciples might have been keeping others away from Jesus in their efforts to get as close to him as possible, but Jesus always welcomes one more person who wants to be fundamentally changed. It isn’t a position of honor on Christ’s right or left, but our position at the foot of Christ’s cross that matters. And there’s plenty of room at the foot of the Cross.
In 1946 Ira Stanphil was preaching a revival in Kansas City, Missouri. He invited people to submit possible titles for a new gospel song, and among the many suggestions submitted, this one grabbed his attention: There’s room at the cross for you. It has become one of Stanphil’s best known songs.
There’s room at the cross for you,
There’s room at the cross for you;
Though millions have come,
There’s still room for one,
Yes, there’s room at the cross for you.
The disciples wanted to protect their privileged place next to Jesus, but Jesus opens his arms to all who will trust in him. Whatever has been preventing you from coming to Jesus, you can throw it aside just as Bartimaeus tossed away his cloak. There’s room for you at the foot of Jesus’ cross.
And whatever has been keeping you from welcoming others to join you at the cross of Jesus, know that you can let go of your need to be first, so you can be the servant of all, and there will still be room for you, no matter how many you invite into Christ’s presence.
May we have ears to hear, and eyes to see, that there is glory enough and mercy enough for all of us.
O Lord, we want to see. Open our eyes to your love for us, and to the need for your love in the world around us. Free us from our tendency to judge others, from our eagerness to shush their cries for your saving help. …
Lord Jesus Christ, bring us with you to the foot of your cross. Humble us. Remind us that in order to shine with you in glory, we have to suffer with you, and die to ourselves. …
We ask for your mercy. You alone have the power to heal our brokenness. We recognize, just as Bartimaeus did, that what we need isn’t a handout, but a fundamental change of heart. If there is someone here today who has never received you as Savior and Lord, let them do that now, Lord. Let them say to you now, “Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God, and I want to trust in you. Forgive my sins, and make me new. I give my life to you. I want to follow you for the rest of my life.”
And for those of us here today who may have put our trust in you long ago, but these days our faith is more of a habit than the life-giving source of our deepest joy, I ask that you help us see again. Let us return to the foot of your Cross, and let us make room.