Blind Bartimaeus

by Fr. Blake

This sermon was preached on Sunday, October 25, 2015, at the Church of St. Michael and St. George.

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, give unto us the increase of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Readings: Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen:

Blind Bartimaeus. This is one of the shortest of many short miracle stories in Mark, and it’s often cited as a perfect example of Mark’s style: short, and to the point. But don’t be fooled. The brevity of Bartimaeus’ healing masks a much more profound meaning. Even a profound series of meanings.

The early church fathers, along with monks, nuns, theologians, and all sorts of others, found a great deal to ponder here. For some, Bartimaues is a commentary on the Gentiles, and the way they come to faith. For others, Bartimaeus is a commentary on the people of Israel, and how they will come to know the Messiah. For still others, Jesus’ encounter with the blind beggar is an important step on the road to his passion and death.

My own task this morning is to say something about stewardship, in the midst of all these meanings and more. But before we get there, I’ll take just a few minutes to observe how Bartimaues teaches us about prayer.

First, Bartimaeus is blind. This is important, because it forces him to listen, to use his hearing as his chief sense. You and I may flatter ourselves that we can see better than Bartimaeus, but when it comes to prayer we are all just as blind, if not more so. If I had a nickel for every time someone said to me that they have a difficult time seeing the presence of God in their prayer life, I’m sure I’d be able to triple the parish endowment instantly. It’s hard to see the presence of God, especially when life has brought so many challenges this last year or two, both here in St. Louis and around the world. Some of you have known recent tragedies, others bear the scars of old wounds. Our experience and our memories both tend to obscure the presence of God, and we find it difficult to see his peace or his love at work.

That’s where you and I can take a lesson from blind Bartimaeus. In those kinds of scenarios, our chief task is to listen: listen for the assurance of what we cannot see ourselves. Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is coming up the road, he has heard that this Jesus of Nazareth can heal the sick, that he has healed the blind. Bartimaeus hears the crowd shouting Hosanna. And even though he can’t see them, even though he is a beggar, destitute, he believes: that this Jesus is his Savior too.  

You and I, our first task in prayer is to listen like blind Bartimaeus. We cannot see as we would like. But if we listen to the crowd, if we listen to those who have witnessed what Jesus has done, we will know that despite our blindness, he can heal us too.

Second of all, Bartimaues makes a nuisance of himself by shouting, louder even than the crowd, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus has heard the crowd shouting Hosanna, and he knows that this is a royal antiphon: this Jesus is the Son of David and the rightful king of Israel. Bartimaues calls out to Jesus with wild, almost crazy abandon. And despite an earnest attempt by more respectable people to make him be quiet, he shouts all the more, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

Bartimaeus’ words, despite coming from the lips of someone you and I might consider deranged, are at the heart of all our praying. We cannot see as we ought, and our blindness prevents us from even the right kind of polite response to Jesus. You and I can do nothing but cry out with Bartimaeus, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.’ Sometimes we embarrass ourselves with how silly we feel when we pray, and sometimes we are driven to it as if we can do nothing else. Sometimes it’s both at the same time. We don’t know what to say, but we say ‘Have mercy on me,’ and hope that God will respond with kindness.

Lucky for Bartimaeus, and for us, Jesus does exactly that: hearing Bartimaeus calling wildly to him, Jesus stops and calls back, calls for Bartimaeus to be brought near. This is the third comment I’ll make about prayer: that Jesus always responds to our prayer by calling us closer to himself.

No matter how wild our prayer, no matter how desperate our need, the first thing he does on hearing us is to call us to him. Bartimaues hears, and the people who had scolded him now help him answer Jesus, bringing him to the Lord. What about you and me? From where we sit, where does Jesus stand? And how might we respond to his call? With Bartimaeus we may stumble, we may need help to get to him. But when we pray, he always calls us closer to himself.

However difficult it is to get there, when we respond to Jesus’ call to draw nearer to him, with Bartimaeus we find our eyes opened, and we notice all of a sudden that we are in the middle of the road. Bartimaeus, with his sight restored, does nothing else but follow Jesus. At this point in Mark’s Gospel Jesus is traveling the last leg of his journey, into Jerusalem for the last time, where he will be betrayed and crucified, and where he will rise from the dead. Bartimaues can see now, and the first thing he does is follow Jesus on the road to Calvary. This is my fourth and last comment on prayer: as we draw near to Jesus, responding to his call to us, we find our sight restored, we can see him; but he is on the road going beyond us even further, and we must follow.  

Having our sight restored, and our souls healed — like Bartimaeus’ eyes — is almost beside the point. His sight was restored and he followed Jesus. The same goes for us. However it is that God heals us, it is only so that we might follow all the more clearly, all the more intently, on Jesus’ road to Calvary.

This is prayer: to listen for what we cannot see ourselves; to cry out with whatever abandon we can muster for God to have mercy on us too; to answer Jesus’ call closer to himself; and, our soul healed, to follow him to the cross and behold him resurrected in glory. This is prayer, to have our senses healed and our hearts brought to the knowledge and love of God. This is but one of the many things which Bartimaeus teaches us.

So what about Stewardship? When Jesus calls Bartimaeus, the beggar throws off his cloak as he rushes to answer him. Bartimaeus did not have a penny in this world, he had only a cloak to keep him warm. And in the rush of responding to the Lord he drops even that to follow his Savior. You and I must do no less. We are just as blind as Bartimaeus, unable to see as we ought or as we’d like. What comforts do we cling to, and what must we drop in order to respond to Jesus?  

We often think of stewardship as being responsible with all the things that God has given us, careful and measured in every exchange, every transaction. And that’s true as far as it goes, Responsibility is a good thing. But until we are willing to give away our possessions with as reckless an abandon as Bartimaeus throws off his cloak; until we can call to God with as embarrassing an intensity as this blind beggar on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem; until we can follow Jesus to death and beyond, our prayer will always come up short of its goal.

Let us call to Jesus with every fiber in us, let us give up everything which clings to us, and follow him to his passion and cross. So might we share with him in the glory of his resurrection; so might our vision rest always on the goodness of our God.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: Amen.