The Gospel passage we`ve just heard (Mark 10.46-52) is to my mind one of the most poignant and evocative in the whole of Scripture. That`s a large claim but I think it`s all to do with the way this account of how Bartimaeus the blind beggar became a follower of Christ seems to draw us in. Perhaps it`s the way Mark tells the story but it does seem to me that we can`t help ourselves engage our imagination …. If we`re paying any attention at all we easily find ourselves as a character or participant in this encounter….In other words, we`re led to take it `personally`. So to that extent this passage stands as an example of `how Scripture `works`.
Now, the end of Mark Chapter Ten (which is the point we`ve reached this morning) is clearly a turning point in this Gospel. The next passages we would hear are about the first Palm Sunday… Jesus`s entry into Jerusalem and so, from this point we see that Jesus`s teaching ministry in Galilee is over…. What lies ahead (and all those who were travelling with Jesus knew it) was confrontation and the Cross.
You might recall that Mark is well known as a writer who tells his story at breakneck speed so the first thing we can see in this meeting with Bartimaeus is a certain urgency. Mark tells us that Jesus is effectively `passing by`. He was leaving Jericho … there was a great crowd surrounding him and Bartimaeus (who clearly has no momentum) is sitting by the roadside. His life is going nowhere and he`s in danger of missing his moment. In fact there are a number of ways in which Bartimaeus is clearly pushed to the margins. Not only is he blind; as a beggar he`s completely dependent …..and interestingly, he doesn`t even have his own name! It`s curious. He is called `Bar-timaeus, Son of Timaeus`. Now the Word `Bar` means `Son of`; so strictly speaking his name is `Son of Timaeus the Son of Timaeus`. He`s a man who is completely overshadowed by the past; his background and dare we say it a completely over-bearing father(!). He `gets by` scratching a living from other peoples` pennies.
And when he shouts out – when he tries to break out of all that confines him –we see that he`s told to shut up. He`s crowded out. But what he has one thing in his favour…. that sense of urgency which is emphasised by the way in which he shouts even more loudly, “Jesus son of David, have mercy on me”. And as I say, our imagination comes into play as we`re invited to pray with the way we might experience life as, so to speak, passing us by. The confines of our own past; upbringing and opportunities denied or squandered.
We might reflect on the ways in which we experience an unwelcome dependency or an inability to see a way forward. Maybe we have regrets and burdens that leave us crying for mercy. Perhaps there are `voices` that tell us we have no right of access to this God of ours. So, there`s an invitation to pray with these things this morning…. And again, with urgency. As Paul told the Corinthians… “now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Corinthians 6.2)
And if you`re unsure that you`ll get a hearing just notice how for a moment Jesus`s momentum ceases. Interestingly, Mark tells us quite clearly that Jesus `stood still` (Mark 10.49). And then Jesus says, “Call him here”. So, Bartimaeus (and we) find ourselves with Christ`s undivided attention. And then we`re told, “They called the blind man, saying to him, `Take heart he is calling you`” (Mark 10.49). And we hear a different set of voices now. There`s apparently a group of people around Jesus who encourage and draw Bartimaeus, (who draw us) into Christ`s friendship… And I wonder how it feels for you to know his undivided attention? And to be told, “Take heart he is calling you”.
I like to think that these voices are a good picture of the Church… a group of those who draw others into friendship with Jesus. I like that and I wonder how might it feel to be part of a Church like that? And who might you be asked to say that to, this week? `Take heart he is calling you`” (Mark 10.49).
Of course that`s when Bartimaeus `springs up` and comes to Jesus. He grabs his moment. And symbols of the change that`s begun are all too clear to see. So he throws off that cloak. Not that he was wearing it of course…. Again it was there as a way of gathering a few coins but it was very clearly the main symbol of the life he was leaving behind…. It had been his means of otherwise `getting by`. What we might call his `half-life`. Which of course, leads us to ask, “In coming to Christ what do we need to be `throwing off` today?” What are the symbols of our `half-life?` What habits and patterns of living that we use to `get by` do we need to discard so that we can give our full energies to being in company with Christ?
And then, `coming to Jesus` he hears a question. (We so easily think of prayer as `us talking to God` and forget that it`s in His nature to sometimes question us…..) And Bartimaeus gets both barrels. “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10.51) asks Jesus. How would you answer that question? What do you want Jesus to do for you? This is why, as I say, this story draws us in…. you can`t escape being put, as it were `on the spot`. Invited to come out from behind your fig-leaf.
Now, it hardly needs saying that on the face of it Jesus`s question seems a little absurd. I mean, wasn`t it obvious?…. The man is blind; of course he`s going to want to see again. And yes, when we pray we know that `he knows our needs before we ask`. But just like Solomon who could have asked for wealth but instead asked for the more fundamental gift of Wisdom…. So Bartimaeus is asking for more than an appointment with the optician. The blindness that Bartimaeus experienced was more than just physical. “Teacher, let me see again” (Mark 10.51) or as another translation has it: “Master, let me receive my sight”, was his way of acknowledging that …
And Christ could only address this when Bartimaeus was faced this truth; this deeper and much more fundamental need. Salvation, not sticking plaster was the key. Bartimaeus accepted that this is what Christ had come to bring… That was the object of his faith.
Now, Bartimaeus clearly had much to learn. I mean, `Son of David` and `Teacher`… were correct but only partially correct titles for Jesus but that doesn`t seem to matter. We`re told, “he followed him on the way”….
Followers of “The Way” as it happens, is what we were called before they gave us the title `Christians`; which has always struck me as more appealing as a name if only because of this sense of movement, growth, momentum; of journeying. But in saying “he followed him on the way”…. Mark wants us to know that there was more to come.
I said earlier that we`ve reached a turning point in Mark`s Gospel and Bartimaeus is almost the last `disciple` to be added to the followers of Jesus as he approached Jerusalem. The last, I would suggest, is that Roman soldier who you remember stood at the foot of the Cross and said, “Truly this was God`s Son”. You see, that I believe is what Mark is getting at. One of the reasons that Mark is in such a tearing rush to get to Jerusalem and to tell us about what happened there is that he wants to make this very point. “It`s at the foot of the cross that you`ll finally get it”.
In other words, everything in his Gospel points us to the cross because it`s there that Bartimaeus (and we) at last receive our sight. It`s there at the foot of the cross where our `half-life` is seen for what it is. It`s where Jesus is seen for who he is. It`s where our God and his purposes are at last fully revealed. It`s where we are finally drawn in and invited to come for mercy and forgiveness. It`s where we throw off our means of `getting by`, receive our sight and follow him on The Way.