Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Fresh Encounter with Bartimaeus Mark 10:46-52

Just outside the walls of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China a deformed man came running up to our small group yelling at us in Chinese. His appearance immediately made us take a step back. The intensity of his begging made us remarkably uncomfortable. Even the thought of this moment brings a twinge to my heart. I have seen beggars all over the world – and even encounter them now in our city – but this was different. He just kept yelling out. The passing Chinese tried to quiet him down, but he just kept yelling. His very survival depended on getting people to give him something. He needed them to look past his appearance long enough to help. He was trapped in a world of despair and the there was nothing he could do but keep yelling.

There is a story in scripture of a beggar made everyone uncomfortable. It is a story of when Jesus and a crowd of those with him ran across a beggar on a roadside. The story begins in a rather predictable fashion, but then, as so often with Jesus stories, Jesus turns everything upside down. Our focal passage this morning is found in that second book in the New Testament, the book of Mark, in Chapter 10. We pick it up in verse 46. 46Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Our story begins with Jesus just outside the walls of Jericho. I love these stories from the road. They are pictures of Jesus meeting people where they were. Jesus found the blind beggar Bartimaeus in a very bad place. In that era an able bodied person would never have considered begging. It put you in a dark place in the community. The beggar named Bartimaeus had no real place in the culture. His blindness meant that he could not work in the fields nor help in any of the trades. Since he could not produce anything he had no value to his community or even his family. Each day someone would guide him to a place in the road where he could beg from those who walked by. His very survival depended on the charity of others. He would have been seen as a nuisance, a bother, an annoyance. Most would walk by him and simply ignore him. His empty stomach and struggle for life was not their problem. In fact, their cultural belief was that his blindness was a result of sin – he or someone in lineage’s had done something that merited the life of punishment and agony. They could ignore him and feel good about it.

Bartimaeus had no right to call out to Jesus. He had no position that would make him worthy to demand Jesus attention. He calls out anyway and the people try to quiet him. Our passage tells us;48Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" The term Bartimaeus uses for Jesus is stooped in meaning. It was the language of the Messiah. Further, his call for mercy speaks to a mercy that could heal his body and bring him into relationship with God. Either the crowd does not understand or does not care. The crowd heard him and tried to silence him. He called out all the more. The crowd wanted him silent but Jesus heard and understood and responded beyond everyone’s expectations. 49Jesus stopped and said, "Call him." So they called to the blind man, "Cheer up! On your feet! He's calling you." The NSRV, the translation found in the pew racks, translated this last phrase a bit differently, declaring ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ Several other translations claim; "Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you."

Can you imagine how these words must have sounded to Bartimaeus? Jesus heard him. Jesus calls for him. I love how Edward Markquart, hears this call. He offers; “This is what we want in life. We want Jesus to stop in front of our little lives. We want Jesus to notice us in this big world of ours. We want Jesus to say to us, ‘Take heart. Get up. I am calling you.’ …..Jesus knew Bartimaeus was “down.” When we are ‘down and out’ and life is all messed up and we are in the bottom of our ruts, we want to hear the voice of Jesus directed to us, “Take heart. Get up. I am calling you.” We want to hear the voice of God and experience the help from God in our painful situations.

Bartimaeus’ response was lightning fast. 50Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. 51"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asked him. The blind man said, "Rabbi, I want to see." If Bartimaeus liked being summoned to Jesus’ side, I can only imagine how he must of felt when he heard Jesus ask, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus’ response was simple but significant. I want to see. Sight meant place. Sight meant hope. Sight meant a future.

We hear Jesus ask some others this exact same question in the story just before our focal text. The stories could not be more different. Hear the Mark 10: 35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." 36"What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.

In our story we hear the blind Bartimaeus ask for something life giving, something life sustaining, something that would transform him to be of value to his family and community again. These two disciples had a very different response to Jesus’ question. 37They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." WOW!!! These two who had walked with Jesus – who had seen him heal and love and touch and change people’s lives – when given the opportunity to ask Jesus for the desire’s of their hearts, their answer was selfish, self centered and petty. They wanted position and prominence. I do not think it is by accident that Jesus asks this roadside beggar the same question. I believe Jesus wanted them to hear the right kind of answer. I believe he wanted them to hear the way he would respond to an earnest request of someone who the culture would deem unworthy. I believe he wanted them to understand what he came to give.

This common roadside beggar called out to Jesus claiming the language of the Messiah. This common beggar called out to Jesus asking for mercy; a mercy that could change his body and change his life. This common roadside beggar; this cultural outcaste; this one with no value and no position; finds favor with Jesus. 52"Go," said Jesus, "your faith has healed you." Just when the story seems incredible, it takes one more step. We hear; “Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.” You would think that Bartimaeus would want to go and tell everyone that he could see. You would think that Bartimaeus might seize the moment to be a valued member of his community, that he would seize the chance to move from his humble roadside position living on the charity of others. You would think that he would run through gardens, hold the beauty of the flowers in his hands. None of his happens. He had cried out for mercy and Jesus had responded. With pausing for a moment, IMMEDIATELY, he joined the parade of those who would follow Jesus. William Loader observes; A nobody in the world’s eyes, a sidelined person, a blind beggar, becomes the hero of faith. This is typically Mark at his subversive best. Mark can do this because he knew such stories. Jesus did not sideline people. Jesus responded to what were seen as the ‘hopeless cases’ of his day. He calls them to his side.

So where does Bartimaeus’ story and our life story come together? I think it can have the greatest impact on us if we hear the story from two different positions. We need to hear the story from Bartimaeus’ point of view. He understood that the only thing that could change his life and his way of life as an act of Jesus. We, like Bartimaeus, are in need of the divine miracle so that we can be saved and follow Jesus on the way. We are supposed to hear, "Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you." Jesus meets us where we are. We do not make everything right before we come to Jesus. He calls us where we are; unworthy and unremarkable. He hears our cries and responds. Take Courage… are not alone. Stand up…..get ready to get up and get on the road of followship. He is calling you…..out of love and mercy. When we see the story from Bartimaeus’ perspective we see one who is healed and who when given the chance to claim the life he had always hoped for, he chooses instead to “immediately” follow Jesus. Jesus told him he could go – to go and claim the kind of life he wanted. The kind of life he wanted was a life centered on following Jesus. He did not have to follow. There was no debt to Jesus to pay off. He understood that when you are around Jesus everything changes. The challenge will be that when we come to a spiritual crossroads where one path leads us toward our plan – and the other leads to following Christ – our choice should be no choice at all – that we choose to follow “immediately.”

We also need to hear this story as members of the crowd who need to see the blind man in a new and different way. We need for Jesus to give us sight. It is easy to see those on the margins of culture as unworthy of our attention. It is easy to push those who make us feel uncomfortable away. It is tempting to want to keep those on the cultural margins of the fringes of our walk with Jesus. The problem is that while we find ourselves tempted to ignore them or push them away, Jesus keeps calling them close. Do we believe that Jesus calls them to his side? If so, we need to share the news. We continue to have to learn to see others, particularly those that our society devalues, through the eyes of Jesus. If we can, then we become the kind of people who bring people to Jesus rather than leaving them on the roadsides of life and culture.

I hear Jesus’ words echo from the Jericho roadside; “What do you want from me?” I want to cry out, “I want to see;” “I want to follow.” How will you respond?

[1] Note NASB, NKJV, and the NHSB translations.
[2] Markquart, Edward F. “Blind Bart: Gospel Analysis” available online at on October 20, 2009.

[3] Loader, William, “Pentecost 21: 25 October Mark 10:46-52” available online at on October 20, 2009.

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