Meeting Jesus: Blind Bartimaeus

 

“Meeting Jesus: Blind Bartimaeus”
A Message on Mark 10:46-52
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 28, 2019
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

Mark 10:46-52 (NRSV)

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, 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.

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Today we are beginning a sermon series titled, “Meeting Jesus.” Through this series we will explore people who met Jesus with specific focus being on how their lives were changed by meeting Jesus.

Today we start of in the Gospel of Mark with a person known as “Blind Bartimaeus.”

Here’s what we know about Bartimaeus. He was the son of Timaeus. We know this because the prefix “Bar” means “son of.” Another example would be Bartholomew, one of the 12 disciples.

We know that Bartimaeus is blind. This is a significant challenge even in today’s world, but had much more dire circumstances in the first century Middle East. Because of his blindness Bartimaeus can’t work and has to beg in order to survive. He had to depend on the kindness and generosity of others just to have something to eat.

We know that at one point Bartimaeus had sight. We know this from his asking Jesus, “My teacher, let me see again.” This implies that at one time he had sight, but that he doesn’t now.

There is something else that is important to know about blindness in the first century. If a person was blind it was thought that that person had sinned, and therefore the blindness was punishment from God. And if a baby was born blind, then the baby’s parents must have sinned.

In John 9 the disciples ask Jesus about this. “As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3 Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.’” — John 9:1-3

So not only did Bartimaeus face physical hardships because of his blindness, but he also had to deal with the social and emotional trauma of people thinking he was blind because of some horrible sin he had committed.

We know that Bartimaeus is set up on the side of the road outside of Jericho. This would have been a high traffic area, providing him with a large number of people both entering and leaving Jericho to beg from, increasing his odds of success.

Jesus and his disciples and followers are on their way to Jerusalem when they encounter Bartimaeus. They had traveled to Jericho, gone through the town, and were headed to Jerusalem. The very next chapter in Mark’s Gospel tells of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we just celebrated on Palm Sunday.

When Bartimaeus heard the commotion of a large crowd of people coming he asked who it was that was coming. He was told that it was Jesus of Nazareth. Bartimaeus must have heard of Jesus and known about the many things he had done and the teachings he had made. He started shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Now you would think that he would cry out to the entire crowd instead of singling out just one person. He could have cried, “Alms for the poor!” or something similar. After all, with such a large crowd coming by he could have given him a lot of money. The way beggars at the time functioned was by setting up at a high traffic spot, such at the side of the road. Bartimaeus would be sitting on the ground with his cloak spread out in front of him.

Today those asking for money will have a bucket or perhaps a coffee cup for people to place money in, but in those times it was the cloak. People could drop coins on the cloak, which was the heavier, outer article of clothing worn. It acted not only for warmth but also for protection from rain and the elements. As many poor people of the day didn’t have homes or shelters they lived outside in the elements and the cloak provided them their only shelter from the elements.

The cloth material of the cloak would have absorbed the energy of coins dropped onto it, thus preventing them from bouncing off or rolling off to the side. The cloak also made it easy to gather the coins together by lifting up the edges, making it easier for the beggar to collect the coins and put them somewhere safe where they couldn’t be stolen as easy.

But Bartimaeus didn’t ask for money. He didn’t call out to the crowd, but only to Jesus. And when he did he called him the Son of David. Now this isn’t just a casual title, but a very important one. The Old Testament scriptures had said that someone of the lineage of David would rule on the throne of Israel forever. This person, the messiah, would be of the bloodline of King David.

We know that Jesus is a descendent of David. That’s why in the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus’ lineage listed all the way back to Abraham, and in the Gospel of Luke the lineage is listed all the way back to Adam. It was though Joseph, Jesus’ earthly step-father, that Jesus had this lineage.

So Bartimaeus calls out loudly to Jesus, only to be “shushed” by those around him. “Hush, be quiet. Leave him alone. He’s too important to want to have anything to do with you.”

But Jesus does something interesting. He stops. He quits walking. In the NRSV translation we read today it says he “stood still.” This would have meant that the entire crowd that was following him would have stopped as well.

Now the way I read it there seems to be some distance between Bartimaeus and where Jesus stops. Jesus doesn’t speak directly to Bartimaeus, but asks others to “call him here.” It says that “they” called to him, which I think means they passed it down the line. “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”

Now what I wonder is if the people telling Bartimaeus to shut up were the same ones that told him that Jesus was calling him. If so I can see them doing it with a bit of attitude, can’t you? I don’t see them joyfully telling him “Take heart; get up, he is calling you,” but more with an attitude of “hurry up. We don’t have all day, you know.”

As we talked about on Palm Sunday Bartimaeus throws aside his cloak before he gets up to go to Jesus. This is very significant. That cloak serves as his tent as well as he collection plate. It would have been very valuable to Bartimaeus, probably the most valuable thing he owned. And yet he threw it aside to go to Jesus.

When he comes to Jesus he is asked a simple question by Jesus: “What do you want me to do for you?”

There are a lot of things Bartimaeus could have asked for. He could have said money, he could have said power, he could have said a place to live and food to eat. But he simply said, “My teacher, let me see again.” That was it. No riches, no list of wishes as if Jesus was a magical Genie who could grant him those wished. He just wanted to see again.

Jesus response was simply, “Go; your faith has made you well.” There was no Benny Hinn swinging of the jacket or placing his hand on his head and shoving him. No magic words. Just simply “Go; your faith has made you well.”

Now this is significant in that Jesus tells Bartimaeus what has restored his sight. “…your faith has made you well.”

We see that several times in Jesus ministry. It is faith that does the healing. In Mark 5 Jesus heals a woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years when she just touched the edge of her cloak. He tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

In Luke 17 Jesus heals 10 lepers, yet only one of them returns to thank him. Jesus tells him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

So you see it is a person’s faith that is integral in healing.

But the most amazing thing that I find in the story of Blind Bartimaeus is that last sentence of the scripture we read today: “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”

Mark’s gospel is known for its use of the word “immediately.” Mark doesn’t wait around, things happen…well… immediately. So Bartimaeus is immediately healed. He regains his sight.

And he does an interesting thing, in my opinion. Instead of jumping up and down and going and telling everyone that he can see again, he follows Jesus. He becomes part of the crowd of followers as Jesus goes to Jerusalem. We don’t know if he goes back and gets his cloak or not. We don’t know if he lays that cloak down for Jesus’ donkey to walk on. I think we can safely assume that he would have been among the crowd who shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.” But in my mind I cannot place him with those who, just days later, yell “Crucify him!”

So what does Bartimaeus teach us that we can apply to our lives today? How did Bartimaeus meeting Jesus change his life?

First, I think it teaches us just how powerful faith is. Bartimaeus receives his sight back because of his faith. I wasn’t his righteous acts. It wasn’t because he was a good person. It was his faith that made him well.

How strong is our faith? I have seen miracles involving faith. Not restoration of sight miracles, but miracles nonetheless.

When I was serving as an associate pastor at Greggton UMC years ago there was an elderly gentleman in very bad health. He was dying, and he knew it. The senior pastor and I went and visited him in the hospital. We prayed over him and then he surprised us. He prayed over us. I can’t recall the prayer word for word but it was one of the most eloquent, thoughtful, and meaningful prayers I have ever heard. He prayed for us as ministers. He prayed that we would continue to share God’s love with others, that we would continue to share the Good News. He prayed blessings on us. And that afternoon he died.

That is the kind of faith I want to have. That is the kind of faith I hope you want as well.

Another thing I think can be learned from this is that we are called to follow Jesus. Bartimaeus, having his sight restored, could have started working and making money to buy a house, food, and all the things he had struggled with. But instead he “immediately” follows Jesus. He leaves his old life behind, becoming one who follows Jesus without regard to the cost.

I’m afraid today we have many who just “sorta-kinda” follow Jesus. If it’s convenient and doesn’t take away from the other important aspects of our lives, and if we can work it into our schedules, then we might follow Jesus. Maybe. Sorta-kinda.

But Jesus doesn’t want–or need–“sorta-kinda” followers. He wants his followers to be all in.

It’s like having bacon and eggs for breakfast. The chicken is “involved” in the making of the eggs, but the pig is fully committed in making the bacon.

Are you more like the chicken or the pig?

Bartimaeus’ life was changed when he experienced Jesus. Not only did he receive the miracle of having his eyesight restored, but he became a follower of Jesus. In the words of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” he once was blind but now he can see. That means spiritually as well as physically. He knows that life without Jesus isn’t much of a life, and a life with Jesus is a life with meaning, purpose, and value. And it is a life that gives us victory over death as well.

So my challenge to you this week is to be a spiritual Bartimaeus. Be thankful for all that Jesus has done in your life, for giving you new life and a way of seeing things that you were blind to before. Now go and follow him. Be all in as a follower of Jesus Christ, not just a “sorta-kinda” follower.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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