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 on the way. (Mark 10:51-52)
Back in the early 70’s, a man was driving to work when he happened across a white service van. The van had the following words printed across the back doors: “This vehicle is driven by a blind man.” The man freaked out... was afraid to even try to pass the vehicle lest he stray into his lane. So he took down the license plate number of the vehicle and when he got to a telephone (this was the 70’s) he called the police. The police had been receiving all sorts of similar complaints because these words had been printed across a whole fleet of service vans. Had the driver chanced to pass the vehicle he would have realized that it was a service vehicle for a window and blind company – so the driver installed blinds for the company... he was a “blind” man. The police asked the company to remove the words from the back of their service vehicles because they could well contribute to traffic accidents. People just aren’t comfortable following the blind.
But that is exactly what we are called to do in today’s passage – to follow the blind... to follow the example of blind Bartimaeus. In Mark’s Gospel the lowly are exalted and the exalted are made low. In other words, the least in the Kingdom are raised up, exonerated, made exemplary, and those you’d expect to be leaders are not. Earlier in this chapter we read the story of a rich man who comes to Jesus asking how to inherit eternal life. Jesus says, “Keep the laws and commandments.” He says, “I have my whole life.” Jesus then says, “You lack one thing: sell your possessions, give the money to the poor and follow me.” And the man turns and walks away. He can’t do it ‒ he has great wealth and can’t let it go. Jesus concludes that it’s very hard for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.
And in the story prior to this one, two of Jesus’ disciples come to him seeking places of honor in his Kingdom. James and John want to be the left and right-hand men of Jesus when he takes the throne. Jesus asks them, “Are you able to drink from the cup I drink?” “Oh yes!” they answer. Then Jesus tells them that the greatest in his kingdom are servants of others... but they don’t seem to get it. So, the disciples are not the leaders you’d expect either!
So, if the rich aren’t leaders the way and Jesus’ own disciples aren’t leading the way, who is? Mark’s gospel points to several unlikely sources ‒ to a poor widow who places two copper coins in the temple treasury... gave all she had. A child is sitting on Jesus’ lap – “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And in today’s passage Bartimaeus is singled out. In fact, of all the stories in Mark this is one of the most revealing when it comes to the topic of discipleship.
Now some of you will argue – this isn’t a discipleship story, it’s a healing story. True – at first glance this appears to be a story about Jesus giving sight to a blind man. But look closer – there are several things that happen in this story that shift the focus from healing to discipleship. For starters, the blind man has a name... nowhere else in Mark’s gospel is a person being healed by Jesus named. It’s not necessary because the focus is on Jesus and the healing. But we know that this blind man is Bartimaeus. We’re even given his father’s name! Timaeus. Now why such attention to identity? Because the focus is really on Bartimaeus and his discipleship, not on Jesus and his healing. I mean, just look how short the description of this healing is: Jesus says, “Go, your faith has made you well.” And that’s it. It’s all over in one sentence. Contrast that with the story of the blind guy that Jesus heals in John’s gospel – he spits on the earth and makes a poultice and applies it to his eyes and says, “go wash in the pool of Siloam.” But here the healing is all over in an instant. But that’s not the end of the story! It ends with the focus on Bartimaeus and what he does! So let’s hear again this story as a discipleship story and learn what it has to teach us.
Bartimaeus is sitting by the roadside in Jericho when a large crowd begins to pass by. It’s Jesus and his disciples on his way to Jerusalem, followed by a large crowd. When Bartimaeus hears that it’s Jesus of Nazareth passing by, he begins to bellow above the noise of the crowd. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” The crowd tried to silence him, but he only shouts even more: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus hears him, stops and calls for him to come. He springs to his feet and hurries to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” (Notice these are the exact words Jesus used in the previous passage when James and John ask for political favors) Bartimaeus doesn’t ask for wealth or political favors, only for his sight. Jesus says, “Go, your faith has made you well.” And immediately he regained his sight and followed on the way.
I hope you like this story as much as I do. It’s quite refreshing. This Bartimaeus fellow is such a unique character. First, he’s persistent. He won’t give up. Jesus is passing right by him – it’s the chance of a lifetime to meet Jesus and receive healing, so he starts shouting for all he’s worth. The crowd tries to shush him, but he just shouts all the louder ‒ he keeps calling out to Jesus until he finally gets an answer. It’s refreshing to see someone with such drive and determination. It would have been far easier for him to shut up, give up and sit there wallowing in self-pity. “I am just a poor blind man, I can’t do anything, nobody cares about me, the odds are against me.” No, he shouts and shouts till he is finally heard. I hope all of you have a Bartimaeus in your life. I hope you all have someone that just won’t give up on you, who keeps on praying for you week after week and who encourages you when the chips are down, refusing to let you sink into despair. Even more, I hope you have a little bit of Bartimaeus’ tenacity in you! That you won’t give up on yourself, that you keep on praying calling out to Jesus for help in your hour of need... and won’t stop until you are heard. That’s a gift worth pursuing – a tenacious faith is worth its weight in gold.
The second thing about Bartimaeus’ is he’s not greedy or selfish. Jesus says, “What do you want me to do for you?” and he says, “My teacher, let me see again.” Now contrast that with the request of James and John – “grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory.” And how many of us make selfish requests like that? “Gimme prayers” I call them ‒ “Oh, God – just gimme one lottery jackpot... just one million dollars and I’ll never ask you for another thing my whole life long!”
What does Bartimaeus ask for? Only what he needs – his eyesight. He asks for only what he once had but lost. And there is a maturity of faith that knows how to separate precious needs from frivolous wants. And surely God is receptive to prayers for the things we need more so than the things we desire... just as you as parents or grandparents are far more likely to answer your kid’s request for things they need (I’m thirsty) than for things they want (I want more Halloween candy).
Finally, Jesus says to Bartimaeus, “Go, your faith has made you well.” And what does he do? He doesn’t go at all... instead he comes along... he follows Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Bartimaeus joins the crowd of faithful people who want to worship and serve Jesus. And that must have been a refreshing change for Jesus to see too – considering all the people he healed who simply turned their backs and went on their way. I know there are plenty of requests come to me from people outside the church – people asking for food or money to pay the rent, looking for a place to have a wedding or baptism or a funeral... and once they receive it, they turn and are gone.
We are living in a consumer culture and the church is not immune... people have needs and when they get met, they are gone again. That’s just the way ministry is... but how refreshing that occasionally, Bartimaeus comes along who receives something from us and then out of gratitude or restored faith, they follow on the way with us... to worship, to do mission work with us, to join one of our groups.
Some churches react negatively to the consumer culture and try to limit being used by others... so they turn the church into a “member’s only” club. Only members can get married here, only members can have their children baptized here, only members can secure free room space here. Problem with that is it prevents Bartimaeus from coming to your church, receiving and then deciding to join. And I’ve had several wonderful people come into membership beginning with a simple request for help. And you don’t want to miss Bartimaeus when he/she comes because they are such interesting characters.
In my second church, I had a Bartimaeus join and he was the most refreshing thing that ever happened in that church. He and his wife were new in town and so were we. We invited them over for dinner and we became fast friends. The two of them started coming to church and I invited him to run the youth group. He didn’t know the Bible very well, but he liked kids and he played the guitar ‒ 2 out of 3 ain’t bad! I had a church mouse puppet that I used for telling children’s stories in worship and this gave him the idea to get into puppetry. So, he and I started writing puppet plays together and creating songs to go with those puppet shows. We even built the puppet stage together and used it to perform a puppet show in church one morning. Thanks to him I’ve been involved in puppetry ever since!
The story of Bartimaeus is a reminder to us that there are people on the periphery who not only have needs, but also have faith. And if we remain open to them and care for their needs they may well follow along and share their gifts with us. But Bartimaeus also stands as an example of faithful discipleship. His tenacity is enviable – we ought to be as persistent as Bartimaeus when we are calling on the Lord for help. Don’t give up after the first prayer... keep at it. Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened, ask and it shall be given, but you may need to ask and ask again. Even your children know that – they know how to be persistent – if at first they don’t get what they want, they keep asking and literally wear down their parents. Today’s passage encourages such persistence.
(My neighbor, Sandra told me a story once about her young cousin. Sandra was visiting at their place and her young cousin (age 4) wanted to go to the ice cream store so everyone could have ice cream. Her dad told her – not today, no we’re not going.
A little while later Sandra overheard her little cousin in her bedroom kneeling at her bed praying to God to convince her dad to take them for ice cream. She told her uncle about it and so in a little while he announced: OK, everybody loads up, we’re going to the ice cream store. The little cousin got into the car and shouted, “Thanks, God, gee that was fast!”)
Of course, our prayers ought to be reserved for the things that we need not so much for our wants. Make your prayers count – ask for the things that truly matter. And when God blesses you ‒ let gratitude fill your heart and move your feet to follow. After all that’s the definition of a disciple ... a follower.
So, let’s follow on the way, like Bartimaeus did. After all, there’s a little bit of Bartimaeus in all of us believers... we once were blind but now we see... thanks to Jesus. So, go out and use your boldest Bartimaeus voice and proclaim Jesus to others.