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Pentecost 22B Sermon
10: 46-52
October 24, 2021

Sermon Archives


Mark 10:46-52

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.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

I have always considered the story of Jesus healing the man born blind from John 9 to be my favorite healing story in the Gospels. It is a long account, loaded with plenty of irony and humor, especially as the religious leaders investigate the healing in order to discredit Jesus and embarrass the formerly blind man. I especially like the response from his parents when asked how this supposed son of theirs was healed - “well, we know that this is our son, and we know that he was born blind. But we do not know how it is that he gained his sight. Ask him - he can speak for himself!” I always get a good chuckle out of that story everything third year when it comes up in worship during the season of Lent as it speaks to the issues of physical blindness and spiritual blindness.

I must say, though, that this story of Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus comes in a close second. There are so many layers of meaning to this story, built upon blindness and roads and cloaks and prayer that when we dig into them, we cannot help but be inspired by the promise of love and healing that we have from Jesus. To recap the story … a blind man named Bartimaeus is sitting by the roadside, begging for alms. As Jesus and a large crowd pass by, the man begins to shout: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those standing nearby try to shut up him, but their reprimands only prompt Bartimaeus to shout even louder. Finally, Jesus stops, stands still, and asks the same people who had just scolded the blind man to lead him forward. They obey. “Take heart; get up, he is calling you,” they tell Bartimaeus, who throws off his cloak and springs up. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks when the blind man approaches. “My teacher, let me see again,” Bartimaeus replies. “Go; your faith has made you well,” Jesus responds. “Immediately,” the Gospel writer tells us, Bartimaeus regains his sight, and follows Jesus “on the way.”It’s a beautiful and layered story,which begs that we peel back some of those layers to get to the heart of the good news here.

First, notice how Jesus heals the spiritual blindness of the surrounding crowd. Though Bartimaeus is the literally blind man in the story, it’s the crowd — the blind man’s friends, his peers, his community, his society — that renders him unseen. To their seeing eyes, the blind man who has been relegated to the roadside is invisible, and therefore expendable. His shouts and cries are not worthy of attention. His suffering is not important enough to warrant tenderness, patience, or even curiosity. So often when the invisible one dares to speak out, the only thing we want to do is to shut him up. We prioritize our own comfort and well-being and deny that there is real suffering going on right next to us, maybe even within our own household.

But Jesus does not let them rest in their comfort. Once the crowd sees Bartimaeus, they can’t unsee him. Once Jesus opens their eyes to the blind man’s full humanity, they must respond with compassion: “Take heart; get up; he is calling you.” It sounds like Jesus healsthe crowd first so that they can, in turn, participate in Bartimaeus’s healing. What the blind man needs is not physical sight alone; his suffering needs to be lifted up among his community as their blindness is healed. In this double miracle story, Jesus grants him both.Notice that Bartimaeus — in his blindness — sees what the crowd does not. He calls Jesus “Son of David,” a title Jesus did not make public during his ministry. The Gospels, especially Mark, make clear that Jesus’s true identity remains hidden from most people until after the Resurrection. We have just experienced three instances where Jesus’ disciples struggle to understand who and what their Teacher really is. It might be the case that most of Jesus’s followers are too busy seeing what they want to see — a magician, a political and military leader, a carpenter’s son, a wise man or prophet — to notice what this blind man, free of all such filters, recognizes: Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of David, the Son of God.

This is one of the rare and beautiful moments in the Gospels when Jesus himself is truly seen, ironically by a blind man! Bartimaeus sees Jesus as wholly and purely as Jesus sees Bartimaeus; the gaze and the recognition in this story are mutual. I wonder if Jesus stops and stands still precisely because the blind man surprises him and delights him with this visionary gift. “Teacher, I see you.”

One of my favorite “layers” to this story is when Bartimaeus “throws off his cloak” and follows Jesus “on the way.” A cloak is both a beggar’s covering and his livelihood. It’s a cloak he wraps around his shoulders every night for warmth and security, a pillow to lay his head on for comfort, a cloak he spreads out on the ground every morning to collect coins from passersby, and then folds again to gather up each day’s meager earnings at nightfall. Imagine the trust Bartimaeus has in Jesus by the end of this story — a trust deep enough to enable him to cast aside what’s most familiar and safe and vital for survival in this life of blindness, in exchange for “a way” that is new, and full of uncertainty. In shedding his cloak, Bartimaeus sheds his identity. In setting out on “the way,” Bartimaeus becomes a disciple, a traveler, a pilgrim. He commits himself without looking back. He strains forward instead of clinging to his past. You might say that he is, in the truest sense, born again.

The final, and maybe the most precious, painful layer to the story, is when Jesus asks Bartimaeus to articulate his heart’s desire. “What do you want me to do for you?” In one sense, it’s a bizarre question. Isn’t it obvious what Bartimaeus wants Jesus to do for him? He’s a blind beggar, for goodness’ sake! How hard can it be to figure out what he wants? But Jesus asks, anyway. He doesn’t presume. He doesn’t reduce Bartimaeus to his identity as a blind man, invisible to his community. Instead, he honors the fullness and complexity of a real human being who likely has many desires, many longings, and many needs. In asking the question, Jesus invites Bartimaeus into the honest self-reflection essential to growth and healing. What is in your heart? What do you long for? What do you imagine I desire for you? Where in your deepest desires might we find each other?It is at once a lovely and a terrifying question. It calls for radical honesty. Radical vulnerability. Radical trust.

When I visit with a person who is deeply hurting because of illness, or with the family of someone struggling for life, I will often ask them what they want me to pray for. End stage cancer rarely responds to prayers of miraculous healing, especially after long and drawn-out battles with the best medical treatments available; and yet some folks hold onto that hope. Regardless, I always pray that as God’s will is done, and we might all recognize the healing power of Jesus for all of us.

We all are in need of healing - individually and as a society. What do you want Jesus to do for you? How can your church pray for you? How can we all be healed of blindness so that we might not only recognize those among us who are hurting, but also the presence of the savior to heal that hurting? I watched an interview recently with Mike Rowe - the “Dirty Jobs” guy - who said that Jack Kennedy once told us to not ask what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. Today we need to narrow down our focus from country to neighbor - ask what we can do for our neighbor, because there are some truly hurting people among us. What can we do for our neighbor … or more accurately, what can Jesus do for our neighbor through us? The answer is… healing! Thanks be to God, Amen.