Mark 10:46-52

As Jesus 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.


I am not so far removed from Bartimaeus.  I was born legally blind in 1959.  They told my parents not to invest in life insurance, because I’d most likely run out into the street, get hit by a car and be killed before I was seven.  If I did survive, I could probably learn to tune pianos or make change at a newsstand. While my seminary gave me a shot, the church wasn’t sure.  Lots of congregations out there think that God intends people with disabilities to be ministered to, not to minister.  And, although I’ve enjoyed a modicum of what we might call success, when I can’t hop in a car but need to arrange how to get from there to here, or when I need to ask for help with something that I’ve been asking for help with for a decade, and nothing’s changed, somewhere in my soul I am reduced to a beggar. 


Maybe you’re not so far removed from Bartimaeus.  Perhaps you have been someone whom the crowds want to silence.  “And many sternly warned Bartimaeus to be quiet.”  Perhaps you are someone stigmatized by some sort of disability or because you have dishonored yourself by begging in some way.  And others have felt justified in excluding you from the Jesus procession. 


Or maybe you are working so hard to maintain or sustain your congregation or institution that you’ve developed that strain of spiritual blindness so common among Jesus’ closest followers, at least as Mark tells it.  This kind of spiritual blindness comes from being unwilling or unable to accept the radical, subversive claims of the in-breaking Reign of God.  Jesus proclaims that the Son of Humanity will be betrayed into human hands and undergo suffering, rejection, and death.  And unwilling or unable to see it, Peter rebukes Jesus.  James and John jockey for positions of power at Jesus’ right and left hands.  And the disciples are just plain confused.  So, what about us when the expression of Christ’s body that we are responsible for isn’t joyful, successful, and thriving?  Do we rebuke Jesus? Do we jockey for power?  Do we stand around confused?  Or are we simply reduced to begging? 

Maybe our church is not so far removed from Bartimaeus.  “What do you want me to do for you?”  Jesus asks Bartimaeus.  Jesus asks James and John.  Jesus asks the ELCA.  “What do you want me to do for you?”  How will we answer?  Will we James-and-John it, and presumptively ask for places of honor, prestige, and success, in glory – more members, more money, more mission?  Or will we answer like Bartimaeus?  “My Teacher, let me see again.”  “Success or sight?”  I guess the question is whether we will approach Jesus relying on well-established religious laurels or admitting that we find ourselves in a place of darkness and doubt.  Are we trying to sidestep suffering, or to make our way through loss, exclusion and helplessness? Are we exercising some claim to righteousness, or bowed in need before the One who alone is righteous?  “Success or sight?”  Given the alternatives, it seems better to join Bartimaeus and beg.  


Coming face-to-face with the imploring cries of a beggar named Bartimaeus, or a beggar named Craig, or a beggar named . . . fill in your own name, or a beggar named the ELCA, Jesus hears, stops, and brings us into his presence.  Jesus allows us; Jesus invites us, to name our need. “What do you want me to do for you?” Then Jesus heals with a single word: “Go, your faith has made you well.”  “Go, your faith has made you well.” 


This is the compassionate Christ who brings near the good news of God’s victory over the physical brokenness of the world, God’s victory over the stigma of blindness brought on by society, God’s victory over the spiritual blindness so common among Jesus’ closest followers, God’s victory over the quest for institutional survival that blinds us to what it means to be Church.  


I must confess that I take great delight in the fact that Bartimaeus, who cannot see, has great insight and may even be a model for followers who claim 20/20 vision.  Bartimaeus calls Jesus, “Son of David,” echoing what the crowds will say when Jesus enters Jerusalem:  “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David.” Despite his blindness, Bartimaeus sees what others who met Jesus do not – that Jesus is the Messiah.


Bartimaeus does what the man with many possessions cannot.  Bartimaeus casts aside his cloak, his most treasured possession, the thing that kept him warm through cold nights, the place where he kept the meager spoils of his begging.  Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, leaving his former life behind. 


And once Jesus restores his sight, Bartimaeus follows Jesus “on the way.” Bartimaeus testifies to the life-altering consequences of receiving sight from Jesus.  Once Jesus brings the good news of God’s Reign to bear in our lives in tangible ways, we can do nothing but follow Jesus – even when we know that we are headed to Jerusalem.  With Bartimaeus and the disciples, we may hear the raucous crowds heralding Jesus and be tempted to have messianic expectations, if not for ourselves then certainly for our church.  We may find ourselves surprised when Jesus is betrayed, denied, rejected, suffers, and dies, and our world is turned upside down.  And when it gets tough, unpopular, costly, we, like disciples before us, might find ourselves deserting Jesus or at least Christ’s body in the world, called Church.   Or we might be reduced to begging.


And that’s why I like Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus does what I have trouble doing; what perhaps you have trouble doing, what I suspect our church is having trouble doing.  Bartimaeus begs Jesus for the help he needs.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Bartimaeus begs.  Bartimaeus is not dissuaded by the crowds who would silence him.  Bartimaeus persists until his pleas are heard.  Bartimaeus calls Jesus out.  He understands that being restored to honor, productivity, and well-being requires the mercy of the one whom he knows as Son of David.  And so Bartimaeus is not afraid to ask for mercy.  Bartimaeus is not ashamed to beg for it.  And Jesus names Bartimaeus’ begging as faith.  Jesus names Bartimaeus’ begging as faith. 


Bartimaeus gives me pause as I take in that to be faithful in this seasons of our lives, to be faithful in this season of the life our church, might mean that, rather than figuring it out for ourselves, we beg Jesus to have mercy on us. 


“My Teacher, let me see again,” we beg.  “Our teacher, let us see again.”  And Jesus does.   We see a young man, dressed in a robe of white, telling a group of women that Jesus has been raised.   We see a Church of beggars gathered around Christ’s table, receiving Christ’s mercy.  Jesus gives us eyes to see the Reign of God, the resurrection and new life of Christ, and the work of the Spirit around us.  “Go; your faith has made you well.”  Jesus says in response to our begging.  And with restored vision we set out, only to find ourselves following on the way. 

`© 2006 Craig A. Satterlee ● North/West Lower Michigan Synod ELCA ● 2900 N. Waverly Rd. ● Lansing MI 48906 ● 517-321-5066