Dr. Jon Burnham preached this sermon from Mark 10:46-52
at Batesville Presbyterian Church on October 29, 2006
A blind beggar sat on the side of the road just outside the ancient city of Jericho with a cloak over his shoulders and a cup in his hands. The cloak was for warmth and the cup was for begging. The blindness was for his sins. Or so thought his family, his village and his people. He was considered to be cursed by God. Blind. Beggared. Thrown away. Alone. The system was not working for Bartimaeus son of Timaeus. But Bartimaeus did have two things that served him well. He had faith and he had hope.
Bartimaeus was ecstatic when he learned Jesus would be passing his way. He had heard about Jesus perhaps from a member of Jesus family. He knew Jesus was from the royal family, the lineage of King David of old. And Bartimaeus had heard that Jesus was not only a member of the ancient royal family of the Hebrews but that he was the very one, the very Messiah that the prophets had foretold. This Jesus was the Son of David, the ruler of Israel, the one who would return the downtrodden nation to glory. As the Hebrews of old who were enslaved by Pharaoh in Egypt, so the Hebrews of Jesus' day were calling out to God for deliverance. And just as God had heard and answered their prayer by sending them Moses to deliver them from Egypt and Pharaoh so God was hearing their prayer now and sending them Jesus to deliver them from Rome and King Herod. The blind man would love to join the cause of the Messiah, to march with him in the great stride toward triumph over Rome. If it meant his death in battle, little did he care about that. For he had suffered these many years the disdain and disgrace of blindness which in his culture and to his people meant that Bartimaeus had sinned against God and was worthy of the punishment of blindness. Only later would Bartimaeus learn that Jesus was a different kind of king than he had imagined.
Even though he was blind Bartimeaus reconized the identity of Jesus as the Messiah. So when he heard Jesus was coming down the road he began to shout and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Bartimaues begged Jesus for mercy.
Last week a middle-aged man whom I had never met walked in the church and caught me in the hallway. I could tell from his body language he wanted something even though it was not a good time for me. It was lunch time and I was headed out the door when he caught me in the hallway and demanded some attention. The man said he was seeking money for a doctor. He had been getting treatment for his back at the emergency room but was now getting scolded for doing so. He needed to be under the care of a physician but without $80 or $100 he could not get in to see a doctor. He had applied for disability but it would not come through until next year. He had no insurance. He had no money. He had no doctor. He had no access. The system was not working for him.
I told him our church offers two things and two things only: Gasoline or food. I could send him to Rascal's gas station if he needed gas for his car or he could come to the food pantry if he needed food. He said he did not need gas and he had already been to the food pantry earlier that morning. Like blind Bartimaeus this man was begging for help and like Bartimaeus he was crying out to me, a representative of the church, a disciple of Jesus, "Have mercy on me."
I wanted to hush him up like the crowd wanted to hush Bartimaeus. We do not want to hear from people whose lives are not working for them. We think of poverty as a curse from God and we wonder what these people did to be so damned by the divine. We do not want to know about people for whom the system is not working.
So it was for Bartimaeus that, as he shouted loudly, many in the crowd tried to hush him up, this blind beggar, this man whom God had cursed, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" This was his one chance in life and he would not be denied an audience with Jesus. His faith and his hope rose like a powerful wave that crashed over his tongue and he cried out as loudly as he could: "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
Jesus stopped in his tracks. He crowd stopped in their tracks. There was a hushed silence as the sound wave from the shouts of the blind man cleared the air. "Call him over" said Jesus.
They called him. "Get up old man. This is your lucky day! Get up! He's calling you to come!"
Bartimaeus leaped to his feet and threw off his cloak. He would find it later with his own two eyes. He came to Jesus with eager expectation.
Jesus said: "What can I do for you?" Although it seemed obvious that the man wanted to be healed of his blindness, Jesus wanted to hear his intention. If he was cured then he could no longer be a beggar. Some people become habituated with their role in life even if it is the role of a beggar. They fear change and do not want to be cured.
The blind man said to Jesus, "Rabbi, I want to see." He knew the implications. He was aware of the potential downside of even such a positive change as being cured of blindness. He wanted it anyway. He wanted to see.
"Go on your way," said Jesus. "Your faith has saved and healed you." Jesus saved him from his shame by restoring his dignity in the eyes of the community. Jesus healed him by curing his blindness.
In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road. This was what Bartimaeus wanted. He wanted to be able to see so he could join the cause of the Messiah. He followed Jesus down the road ready to live or die for him.
Bartimaeus recognized Jesus. He knew his true identity. Even though he was blind he could see clearly that Jesus was the Son of David, the Messiah promised of old. Bartimaeus recognized Jesus. And Jesus recognized Bartimaeus. Jesus stopped walking when he heard Bartimaeus' cries. He heard him crying out for the Messiah as God had heard the children of Israel crying out for a savior in Pharaoh's Egypt. Jesus recognized Bartimaeus. Here was a true believer. Here was a person of hope. Here was a person of faith. Here was a person who could see without eyes.
My encounter with the man seeking money for a doctor did not come to such a dramatic conclusion. I did not solve his problem. I did not cure his illness like Jesus cured Bartimaeus. But I did recognize the man who came to the church seeking help. I did recognize him as a human being like me. I did recognize him as a child of God. I saw Christ within that man. And from the way he looked me in the eyes, I think he knew that I recognized Christ in him. And I think he recognized Christ in me. So even though he did not receive money for a doctor he was recognized by a person who represented Christ to him. And that may have been miracle enough for him for that one day. I hope it was. I pray it is.