Sermon text: Mark 10: 46-52
In between innings at Altoona Curve games there’s always some sort of entertainment in the stadium. There’s trivia, races, mini games with the fans for prizes, and my favorite, the t-shirt cannon. And sometimes the t-shirt cannon is even better…the hot dog cannon. Who doesn’t love the possibility of processed meats being launched through the air at dozens of feet per second?
What I love most about the t-shirt cannon is the excitement it generates in the stadium, especially for the children. They spring to life. Most of the people in the stadium will raise their hands and say something in an attempt to attract the attention of the armed mascot, but I have memories of children screaming with all their might. “Over here! Over here! Over here!” Their reaction is better than the prizes; just unbridled hope and excitement, jumping up and down, waving, yelling.
That’s what popped into my mind when I pictured Bartimaeus as he cries out for Jesus. “Son of David, Have mercy on me! Son of David, have mercy on me! Son of David, have mercy on me!” The persistent, unwavering expectation, the unflinching certainty that this man of God has the power to change my life forever.
Bartimaeus doesn’t care that he’d annoying those who are nearby. He doesn’t care that there’s a sea of people in the way, standing in front of him. He doesn’t care that he’s blind and can’t see the man in whom he has placed all his hope. All of that doesn’t matter. Jesus is within earshot, and that’s all he needs. If this man is truly an arbiter of God’s mercy, if he truly is the Son of David, the messiah, then he will help. There’s no way he cannot.
What faith he has in Jesus. I can’t help but wonder, what would our lives be like if we approached Jesus with the same brand of blunt force expectation and hope every time we needed assistance instead of treating God like our plan of last resort?
Of course, what does Bartimaeus have to lose by putting all of his trust in Jesus? He’s already lost his eyesight, and that misfortune has most likely cost Blind Bart everything. No vision means no livelihood. No livelihood means no money. No money means no home, no spouse, no children, no family. Bartimaeus is a beggar on a street corner, a man who exists on the edge of society, the poorest of the poor. He doesn’t even have a reputation to lose. He is outside of the city of Jericho, outside of the road, outside of the light, outside of the cares of the world.
The only thing Bartimaeus has to speak of is his cloak, his mantle. The cloak for Bart is more than a fashion choice. For someone living in abject poverty the cloak provides warmth and shelter when the weather was poor, it provided a blanket to sleep under at night when he was out under the stars, and it functioned like a street performer’s guitar case, a place where people could toss money for the beggar. For some people, the cloak was a symbol of power and status. For Bartimaeus it was all her had.
And yet, when Jesus hears Bartimaeus and call him over, when the crowd tells him, “Take heart, get up, he is calling you,” the man throws off his cloak. He discards his only possession so that he can stumble over to his savior and beg hopefully for the last time in his life. “My teacher, let me see again.”
It’s at this point that I’d like us to zoom out, because this isn’t the first time Jesus has been called a teacher in this chapter of Marks’ Gospel. It’s also not the first time Jesus has encountered a person on the road as he’s walking with his disciples. Two weeks ago we heard these words: As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before Jesus and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” But unlike our Gospel lesson today, that story ended in sadness, for the rich young man had many possessions and could not give them up to follow Jesus, no matter how much Jesus loved him.
In today’s story Bartimaeus does what the rich young man could not. He gives up everything and follows Jesus, and in the process he is healed. He is given new life. He experiences a kind of resurrection. I understand that this might not be fair to make that comparison. Giving up your cloak is not on the same scale as giving up your family estate.
But Bartimaeus doesn’t even think twice about abandoning everything he has in order to receive the mercy of God. He doesn’t flinch at becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, but blindly sets out to meet his savior, and then blindly follows the way.
Bartimaeus has faith that Jesus can transform his life, and he bites, hook, line, and sinker. The man who had been sitting by the roadside is now bounding down it, on the way with Jesus.
While the restoration of sight is the miracle we record in this story, perhaps the true miracle is Bartimaeus’ disposition. The miracle of faith and hope in a life that could have been dominated by tragedy and physical limitation, and poverty, and isolation. Bartimaeus is a shining beacon of light, showing ultimate trust in the Son of David, despite the darkness of his existence. Here we see Bartimaeus already had the gift of true sight as he called out for Jesus on the side of the road.
In the end, the question that Jesus gives Blind Bart is the same question we should always be asking ourselves as we live out our lives in Christ. “What do you want me to do for you?”
We could ask and answer that question every day and not come up with an exhaustive list of answers. What do we want Jesus to do for us? What do you desire? What do you hope? What life altering change can Jesus cause in you? What can Jesus do for you?
But of all the answers, perhaps the best answer has already been taken. “My teacher, let me see again.” If we are gifted the sight of Bartimaeus, then we will be set for life, for eternal life. If we have eyes to see like Bartimaeus then we will steadfastly follow the way of Jesus. For Bartimaeus walked by faith, not by sight. We will see Christ. We will see opportunities to learn and follow. We will see things that make us grateful. We will see God at work in this world. May we see as he saw. May we follow in his footsteps. AMEN