Mark 10: 46-52 (RCL Proper 25B)
So after all this time of “oy vey” and hair-pulling frustration through these last couple of chapters of St. Mark, somebody finally gets it.
Not one of the Pharisees, in all their argumentitive posturing. They had their minds made up before they started. And not one of the curious bystanders, like the Rich Young Man. For these folks the encounters with Jesus seemed like more a bit of idle entertainment.
Not even, we certainly notice here—not even one of the Twelve. Those who have been in the past couple of chapters of St. Mark right alongside Jesus on the road outside Caesarea Philippi and through all his sermons and preaching and private teaching. Those who have been to the top of Mt. Tabor for the Transfiguration, and who have stood in his presence as he cast out demons and performed miracles of healing. Not Peter, who was the first to use the word Messiah about Jesus, at least to his face, and not James and John and the others who had been arguing about which one of them would be greatest when Jesus came into his power.
But here this morning: old blind Bartimaeus. A beggar by the side of the road. A nobody. Who so far as we know had never met Jesus before, never heard him preach or teach, perhaps heard only the most vague accounts of a rabbi who had been performing miracles in the villages nearby.
But here it is: somebody finally gets it. Old, blind Bartimaeus. Which we know not by what he says, because at the most critical moment of his life, he doesn’t say anything, nothing at all. But which we know because we see what he does.
He first calls out as the party comes by, and when Jesus asks him what he wants he cuts right to the chase. No bargaining for position and status, like James and John. No trick legalistic questions, like the Pharisees. No playing to the crowd, like the Rich Young Man—who wanted to be sure that everybody knew, we’ll remember, that he had kept all the commandments since he was young.
Bartimaeus isn’t trying to impress anybody, not seeking a gold star at the top of his spelling test. Not wanting to be the greatest in the coming Kingdom, or to sit at the right hand of Jesus in his glory. He just speaks to that one fundamental need at the top of his mind and the center of his life: “Rabbi, I want to see.”
What a great thing to say. We hear it literally, of course. Bartimaeus is blind. Perhaps he’s lost his eyesight because of cataracts or glaucoma, or some other disease or injury. Or perhaps he has been blind since birth. “Rabbi, I want to see.”
Although when I hear that simple statement of desire, of yearning for the healing of his physical disability, I can’t help but think about the circles of wider meanings. Echoes of the hymn, “I once was blind, but now I see.” Not just about physical seeing, but about seeing with a deeper gift of perception and understanding. About a deeper knowing.
For Bartimaeus that morning, the opening of his eyes to the bright afternoon sunshine of this world’s light. And the opening of his eyes, his mind, his heart. Standing before him there, the giver of all gifts, the life of all who live, the light of the faithful, the strength of those who labor, the repose of the dead. Who is all in all: the Light of the World. This what it means, to see. What our eyes were made for.
And there are no words. Bartimaeus doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t comment or question or interpret. He doesn’t ask for directions or guidelines. Mark simply says, and this is enough, and all we need to hear and know ourselves about Bartimaeus. “And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.” Immediately: he saw, and he followed.
So a little lunch after service this morning is hosted by our Vestry as something of a kickoff for our Annual Campaign--what some churches call “Stewardship Sunday.”
For us even without that official name, an opportunity to celebrate our life together, to talk about our hopes and dreams and plans and concerns for the year ahead for this great place, and an invitation to think about the kinds of commitments it will take, and truly serious commitments—time, talent, treasure: the whole package--in order to be able to move forward with health in the year ahead.
A time to celebrate the great progress we’ve made especially over the past couple of years. To say I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard about a congregation that has rallied in such a significant way and in such a short period of time to a new understanding and practice of discipleship not only in the areas of “time and talent,” but also critically in terms of “treasure.” Even in the midst of this economy.
When I look at what you all and we all have accomplished over the past few years, I consider it nothing short of heroic—and that’s not too dramatic a word. A great deal of courage to face uncomfortable realities and to overcome denial, and to rise to the occasion. We still have a way to go, no question about it. But what has happened so far has been just for me profoundly moving. A little more of that, later.
But what I just want to say in the context this morning as we all of us begin to think about the “Little Blue Pledge Cards” that will be arriving in the mail in the next week or two is that the foundation of what we are and who we are as Christian people is right here in front of us at the end of Mark’s tenth chapter. I don’t hear much about “Saint Bartimaeus.” But he is an icon. Both a witness and a window to the power of the Christian message.
The gift of healing, which is the miracle of blessing that we are all invited to share in with much love. Physical healing. The healing of mind, heart, hopes, memories, relationships. The healing that comes through his presence in so many ways. The new life of baptism, the taste of bread and wine at the altar, the opening of the Word in the scriptures, the offering of music and art, the vibrant conversations we share, the creativity of our children, the very meaningful and important outreach, as we engage with the needs of the world around us. Healing. May you find it here, in him.
As we would open our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts to him. Where we have been hurt, broken, wounded. Where we feel isolated, or afraid. His healing and his blessing. Have you seen Jesus, my Lord? Bartimaeus says over the centuries, “I met Jesus, and now I can see.”
And then, simply, to follow him. Understanding that how we do that is going to look a little bit different for each one of us. Maybe a lot different. But to trust. To have confidence. To love.
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and the Cross this morning, but Bartimaeus doesn’t know that. He doesn’t use any calculations. He doesn’t seem to be signing-on with the return half of a round trip ticket in his pocket. He has seen the love of his life, his Lord and Savior, and there’s never for him even a moment’s question about what to do. In that moment Jesus gave himself to Bartimaeus, and Bartimaeus gave himself to Jesus. For any of us, for all of us: what it all is about. Healing and blessing and new life, and a walk into the future with Jesus.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.