Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 25B)
October 24, 2021
Text: Mark 10:46-52
“We are all beggars. This is true.” The thoroughfare was packed that day, as Jesus was leaving Jericho, our new and greater Joshua marching forth to knock down the walls of the enemy fortress by his impending death and resurrection in Jerusalem. The crowds wanted to catch sight of Him, hear His words, maybe even see a miracle, perhaps even benefit from a miracle. In all the hubbub, you’d hardly have noticed him, seated over there on the side of the road, cloak spread over his lap to receive whatever pittance a passer-by may toss his way. Blind. Begging. Bartimaeus. That is, “Son of Timaeus,” Son of… Honor? But there is nothing honorable about him. That is why he belongs over there, off to the side, where we can ignore him, especially when more important things are going on. Like this messianic procession. So when he pipes in with his begging, even audaciously addressing his plea to the Grand Marshall of the parade, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47; ESV), we give him a stern rebuke. “Quiet! Be silent! Jesus has more important things to worry about than giving alms to the likes of you.”
Blind. Begging. Bartimaeus. But we must ask, who is really blind in this instance? And who is it, who really sees? The crowds see a Wonder Worker, who may have a political future, on His way to Jerusalem to do big things. They do not see the least of these consigned to the margins whom God has entrusted to their care. And they cannot see in themselves what the blind man sees about himself. That we are all beggars, this is true. The blind man sees that if he is to live, he can only live by mercy, by what is given to him. And he sees something else. By his ears, he sees that his Help is on the way. He has heard of this Jesus, that He is just the One who has mercy on the poor, the blind, the beggar… that He heals, restores, forgives, and raises the dead. He has heard the Word of this One. He has heard the preaching. And now he sees that Jesus alone can help him. So he prays… he cries out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And the blind hoards tell him to hush. But faith will not be silenced. It cries out all the more, “Kyrie eleison!” “Son of David,” my Messiah, my King, “have mercy on me!” (v. 48).
And Jesus hears him, blind, begging, Bartimaeus, as He always hears our prayers for mercy. And Jesus, whose eyes are ever on the righteous, those justified by faith, and whose ears are ever open to their prayer (1 Peter 3:12), stops. And He speaks. “Call him” (v. 49). Now suddenly the crowd is on board. This should teach us something about the opinions of crowds. The majority sentiment can change on a dime, with the simple shifting of the wind, so that one moment everybody believes one thing, the next moment they believe the opposite thing, never acknowledging the contradiction. So maybe we shouldn’t ever just follow the crowd. It’s nearly always a case of the blind leading the blind. In any event, this crowd has changed its tune. “Take heart. Get up” (Mark 10:49), or better, “Be courage-ed! Arise!” Why? He is calling you.
When Jesus calls, it puts the courage into us. And it does even more than that. It takes blind, begging, dead sons of… honor? … and bids them arise! His speaking raises us up to life! Which is to say, it imparts mercy.
Now, already, the miracle has happened. Just see what takes place. The man throws off his cloak… you know, the one laid across his lap, collecting the coins, the alms, now overturned like the money-changing tables in the Temple. Because the Greater Almsgiver has arrived to give greater mercy, mercy money can’t buy, mercy that cannot be collected in a dusty old garment, but can only be received by faith. Faith that lives because Jesus speaks. Faith that springs up at the call of Jesus and comes to Him. Jesus has brought Barimaeus to faith!
And then: “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 51). It is an invitation to ask for great things. This is, after all, Jericho, where the walls fell down at the blast of a ram’s horn. This is the Lord who did it. This is where a prostitute, Rahab, became a daughter of honor, as she and her whole family were saved, and brought into the Family of God, the Children of Israel. So, go ahead, ask. Not just for coins. For the real need. “Rabbi, let me recover my sight” (v. 51). “Okay, but not just restored eyeballs. True sight that sees in Me your only Savior from sin and death and the resulting brokenness.” “Go your way; your faith has made you well” (v. 52). Yes. Good. Fine translation. And true. He really has been made well. The eyes of Bartimaeus can now perceive images, and undoubtedly his sight is 20/20. But the word translated here as “made well,” or “healed,” is σῴζω, and that is, “saved.” So which does Jesus mean? Your faith has made you well? Or, your faith has saved you? Yes. The answer is yes. Now, by a long shot, the lesser miracle is the seeing eyeballs, as wonderful as that may be. This is but a sign of the greater sight bestowed, which is faith in Jesus Christ, and the greater healing, which is eternal life and salvation. Jesus called Bartimaeus, raised him up from pitiful begging, raised him up to life and to sight. And now Bartimaeus sees so that he can keep his eyes fixed on Jesus and follow him on the way.
The way. There is more to that phrase than meets the eye. In the Scriptures, “the way,” is often a technical term for catechesis in the holy Christian faith. Bartimaeus had been sitting, not just “by the roadside,” as our ESV translates it, but “by the way.” It was “by the way” that he heard Jesus passing by, and sitting there “by the way,” he cried out for mercy. Jesus stopped on His Way to Jerusalem to die on the cross for the sins of the world. By virtue of His going that Way, Jesus pours out mercy, healing, and life on the man, and bids him go his Way, which is the Way of Faith that saves him. And immediately, he follows Jesus on His Way. The first Christians were called The Way (Acts 9:2). Those for whom Jesus is the Teacher, the Rabbi (Mark 10:51), know the Way Jesus goes. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
So here you sit, “by the way,” where Jesus is processing with all His gifts of mercy. Do you see of yourself what the crowds do not see? What the crowds cannot see? We are all beggars. This is true. Sinners! Blind. Begging. But… Here is Jesus. This is His Way. And His Way is the Way of mercy, the Way of the cross, the Way of forgiveness of sins, healing, wholeness, and life. Whatever the crowds are saying, you know to keep crying: Kyrie eleison. “Lord, have mercy.” It is your greatest need. And He stops. He hears. His eyes are upon you, and His ears are open to your prayer. Jesus calls you. He calls you by His Word. He calls you in the waters of Holy Baptism. He calls you by God’s own Name and makes you one with Himself so that you are now a true Bartimaeus, a Son of Honor! Sins forgiven. Righteous. Justified. And raised from destitution and death to Jesus’ resurrection life. You cast aside your earthly cloak, your dusty robes, your worthless pennies, your old sinful nature, as you spring up to follow Him. On the Way. The Way of the cross, to be sure. Death to sin. Death to self. But in this very thing, the Way of Life. The Way that is Jesus.
Now you see. Your eyes are opened. Toward Christ. Faith. And, it must be said, toward your neighbor in whom Christ dwells. Love. Jesus opens your eyes toward the least of these, those consigned to the margins. The blind. The beggars. Those in need of Christ’s mercy. Those whom the crowds would silence. The Bible names them all over the place. The poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger. We must certainly include among them the unborn. We should remember what Jesus says of those who are hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, or in prison. That insofar as we feed them and give them to drink, insofar as we welcome, clothe, and visit them, we do so unto Christ (Matt. 25). That is to recognize that our fellow human beings are, in fact, themselves Bartimaeus-es, Sons of Honor, because that is what Jesus says of them. They are bearers of God’s Image, redeemed by the blood of Christ. Let not your eyes be closed to them, nor your ears to their cries. God’s ears and eyes are assuredly open. And as you follow on Jesus’ Way, He sends you, enlivened with His life, encouraged with His courage, to help, to bring His healing, peace, and life. After all, you, too, are a beggar on the Way. It is, as the old cliché goes, simply a matter of one beggar telling another beggar where to find food. They need more than your pennies. Oh, many certainly do need your material help, even as Bartimaeus desired the healing of his eyeballs. So do that where you can. Give generously. Feed. Clothe. Shelter. Etc. But it is more than that. They need you to speak. To them: “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” “Jesus wants you. You are precious in His sight. He loves you. He died for you. He lives for you.” And for them, to Jesus, to cry out with them, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy”… on us all! And He does. He hears. And He answers. Go your way. Your faith has saved you.
“We are all beggars. This is true.” Do you know those words, and where they come from? They were scrawled on a piece of paper found in Martin Luther’s possession on the night he died. They are his last words. And they are exactly right. We are all blind, begging, Bartimaeus. That is, all that we have, we receive from God freely, by grace. If we are to live, it must be by His mercy. And if we are to rise and follow Him, it must be by His call. To know that about yourself, and to know that about Jesus, is to see what is true. When you see just what Jesus has done for you, everything else becomes quite clear. So, beloved, be courage-ed. Arise! Jesus is calling you. Follow Him on the Way. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.