As the month of October comes to a close so too does our six-week journey with Jesus and his disciples. We've been all over Galilee, The Decapolis, Samaria, and find ourselves this morning fifteen miles outside of Jerusalem on the outskirts of Jericho. The action has been swift all through Mark's Gospel, but the pace quickens as our journey comes to an end. We spend all of one sentence, four words, in Jericho, and then we are off, on the road, on the Way to Jerusalem. The road is packed with pilgrims headed along the same journey; trying to make it to Jerusalem for The Passover. Babies are crying. Children are laughing. Teenagers are flirting. Adults are chatting. Animals of all sorts make noises of all kinds. And in the midst of it all, there is a man, a blind man, who takes center stage.
The road is busy, but the excitement must reach a crescendo as Jesus approaches. How else would the blind man know that the itinerant Rabbi from Nazareth was passing by? Four words describe Jesus' time in Jericho, but details the likes of which Mark has yet to use tell the story of Jesus' interaction with a blind man on the road outside of Jericho. Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting on the roadside.
Here is the first detail – a name. Bar-Timaeus which means the son of Timaeus which means either “the unclean one” or “the highly-prized one.” Which to me, means that a transformation is about to take place. We're about to see the Son of the Unclean One become the Son of the Highly-Prized One right before our very eyes.
Bartimaeus cries out, as loud as he can, above the hustle and bustle of the crowded highway, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” And the crowd barks at him, “Shut up! Jesus is on his way to invade Jerusalem, he is on his way to glory, he doesn't have time for the likes of you, Son of the Unclean One.” Undeterred, Bartimaeus shouts even louder. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
Here is the second detail – a title. Son of David is not Jesus' title of choice in Mark. It is way too political. It is along the lines of what the misguided crowd expects; a Messiah who will overthrow the Roman occupiers. It is this sort of title that got Peter called Satan. It is this concept of Messiah that made James and John look so foolish. Yet here it comes from the lips of the least. The beggar on the side of the road, one whose standing in life is no different under Roman rule as it would be if the Jews were back in power. Bartimaeus is crying out to the Messiah; God's appointed one for help and healing not for a place in his cabinet.
In the midst of the noise. As if he were existing somehow outside of the ruckus, Jesus hears the cry of the blind beggar Bartimaeus and stops. “Call him here,” Jesus tells those closest to him. And so the large crowd, all those who had worked to stifle the man's pleas turn to him and say, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, sprang to his feet and came to Jesus.
Here is the third detail – an action. The NRSV tells us that Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, but most translations say that he cast it aside; there are very few days in Jericho where one would need to wear a cloak as an outer-garment. In reality, what Bartimaeus did was throw his cloak away. The Son of the Unclean One is claiming a miracle before it even happens. He knows that after his encounter with Jesus he will be made whole, he will no longer be unclean, a beggar, reliant on the harsh streets. He will soon be Son of the Highly Prized One. Soon he will be washed clean. Soon he will be made whole. And so he casts off everything of his old life. His cloak; his suitcase; his wallet; his everything – he throws it away knowing that he will never return to begging on a roadside again.
Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “what do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “My teacher, let me see again.”
Here is the fourth detail – an adverb - again. At one time, Bartimaeus could see, but now he can't. Something happened; an illness, an injury, an accident; something happened and it took away Bartimaeus' ability to see. In the worldview of a first century Jew this is a punishment; no two ways about it. In Jewish theology of the 1st century, losing his ability to see was God's way of teaching Bartimaeus a lesson. He had been cutoff from the God of all Creation. God's blessings were no longer available to him. This was not the case of a man born blind, wherein the sin might have been his parents or his grandparents. The only person Bartimaeus had to blame for his blindness was himself. And he wants desperately to be restored. Sure, to see again would be nice. I'm sure he misses the sight of his family, of the beautiful pomegranates and figs that grow in abundance near Jericho. I'm sure being able to physically see would be nice. But what Bartimaeus really wants is to no longer be the Son of the Unclean One. He wants to be restored to wholeness. He wants to be fully human, able to receive God's blessing, able to see the beauty of his Creation, able to see; really see AGAIN.
Jesus responded to him, “Go: your faith has made you well.” Immediately, he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Here is the last detail – a verb - to follow. The healing of Blind Bartimaeus is the final healing miracle in that Jesus performs in the Gospel of Mark. We have experienced him healing other blind people, casting out demons, and raising the dead to life. He has performed healing by touch and healing from afar. He has healed all kinds of people; young, old, rich, poor, men, women, Jews and Gentiles. And, at least as far as Mark tells us, not one of them has responded to their miracle by following Jesus. The last stop on the journey; the last healing in the story; Blind Bartimaeus is able to see again and follows Jesus on the way. Which leads us the detail after that. The way that they are headed is not to the throne, but to the cross. Our journey ends on the precipice of Holy Week. Bartimaeus and his new found crew will reach Bethphage and Bethany where Jesus will mount a donkey and ride into Jerusalem on the Sunday before he dies. Bartimaeus is about to see some things that he never expected.
The question that keeps coming up for me in Mark's surprisingly detailed treatment of the healing of Bartimaeus is this: What obstacle keeps me from following Jesus on the way? For Bartimaeus in his time and in his culture is was his blindness. For him it meant that God's love had left him. What makes me blind? Money? Power? Lust? Envy? Greed? What sort of mercy do I need to cry out to Jesus for?
And then, when he stops and calls me to come to him, what do I need to throw away to accept his blessing? What do I keep trying to hold onto that keeps me from being able to spring up at a moment's notice and follow him? What weighs me down? Insecurity? Laziness? Lowered Expectations? Guilt? Or maybe I don't really dislike my blindness all that much. Maybe I'm slow to respond to Jesus because I think things are better just the way they are.
No matter the reasons for not following Jesus, Mark makes it clear that Bartimaeus – the Son of the Highly Prized One should be our role model. As we seek after Jesus, we are as blind men and women sitting by the road, calling out to him. When he stops and calls us, we must be able to throw everything else aside and run to him. When he heals, we should be prepared to follow him to places much darker, to situations much scarier, on journeys must more dangerous. For it is at the foot of the cross that we find Jesus glorified. It is in death that he is crowned King. It is in suffering that he restores us to our full humanity.
Our journey to Jerusalem may be ending, but the real trip – the lifetime of walking with Jesus through good times and bad – well that odyssey is just fixin' to start.If only you will cry out to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Amen.