“They came to Jericho.” That is the opening sentence in today's gospel. I wanted us thinking about Jericho so that's why I shared the famous story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho. Julie and I passed through Jericho on our way from Cana and the Jordan River to Jerusalem when we visited Israel. Mary and Joseph would also have passed through Jericho on their way to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus and to Jerusalem for the high holy days. It is a common stopping off place on the journey and Jesus and the disciples in today's reading were leaving on their way to Jerusalem.
I want to make a link between the Old Testament story of the walls come tumbling down and today's healing of Bartimaeus.
As Jesus and the disciples were leaving, note how Bartimaeus attracted the attention of Jesus, “he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!” Once again, it was shouting out that made the difference; Jesus was attracted by the shouting voice of the blind man. And he healed him.
Both these instances are somewhat counter-intuitive. Wars are not won, typically, by making noise. It would be nice.... Blind beggars simply should be seen and not heard. Quietly begging would be the norm; shouting, making a spectacle of oneself was not the way it was to be done. It was not polite or proper. But here we are; walls brought down and a new life-transforming miracle because the subtle, quiet, polite pathway was not taken. Loud, obnoxious, vociferous, earsplitting voices won the day.
I heard a story this week where subtlety won the day. A woman named Laura had a son, Brian, who moved to the big city. He was raised in the church and Mom was nervous about the influences of the big city. Well, wouldn't you know it, he got a female roommate. Now he insisted to his Mother that it was purely platonic but Mom had her doubts. As he and Brittany set up housekeeping together, they invited Mom to supper and Brittney prepared a wonderful meal and they had a very nice evening together. All went well. But a couple days later Brittany went to Brian and said, “I'm not accusing anybody, but since your mom was here for supper, I haven't been able to find my sterling silver gravy ladle. Not that I'm accusing your Mom.” Brian doubted that his mom would take it but promised he'd check with her just to be sure. He sent his mom an email, “I'm not accusing you of taking it, but ever since you were here for supper, Brittney has not been able to find her silver gravy ladle.” Mother Laura replied with her own email, “I'm not accusing you of sleeping together, but if Brittney had been sleeping in her own bed, she'd have found the gravy ladle.”
Subtle, but effective. Bartimaeus was anything but subtle. First as I said he was loud. But we should note the title he used for Jesus. “Jesus, Son of David!" He was told by the people around him only that it was Jesus of Nazareth who was leaving town. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That was a common expression in those days. But Bartimaeus got beyond that and somehow knew to give him this messianic title. This is the only passage in Mark where Jesus is referred to as the Son of David. The title Son of David is used more often in the gospel of Matthew. In fact, the very first verse of the New Testament, Matthew 1: 1 says, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham.” In the gospels, Jesus is addressed this way at least 6 different times always as an identification of Jesus as the Messiah. Somehow this blind beggar knew who Jesus truly was. And Jesus asked him what he wanted.
Before we discuss the healing, I think we should note where this story lies in Mark's gospel. Last week Amy preached on the passage where James and John were asked by Jesus what they wanted. Their answer was power and glory. And before that, a rich young man came and asked Jesus about receiving eternal life. When he was told to sell what he owned and give it to the poor, “he went away grieving for he had many possessions.” Bartimaeus cried out for mercy and when Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants, he answers that he wants to see again. But if we look at the title he gave Jesus, we can understand that Bartimaeus already saw the things of God more clearly than all the others. And his faith was strong and sure. We can infer that because Mark added a detail that it is easy to skip over. Mark tells us that Bartimaeus threw off his coat and went to Jesus. Why is this significant? Consider that for this blind beggar, his cloak may have been his most valuable possession. Not only that, it would have been his shelter from the cold and his source of income as he would have laid his cloak before him for the people to toss in their coins. This was no lukewarm response to Jesus. Bartimaeus was all in. He was so all in that after Jesus restored his sight, he became a follower of Jesus, following him and the disciples on their journey. And where did the journey bring them? The very next paragraph in Mark's gospel is the account of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem; Palm Sunday. Bartimaeus joined the disciples and experienced with them the sight of Jesus being hailed as the Messiah. In fact, listen to Matthew's account of the people shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Imagine the thrill of being part of the group of followers witnessing this apparent victory for the Son of David. But we know that by the end of that week, which began with such promise, Jesus had been arrested, tried, convicted and executed. Probably not what Bartimaeus signed up for. But we can have hope that his faith was such that he stuck around and was a witness also to the resurrection. His faith was strong at the beginning and, while we never read of Bartimaeus again in the scriptures, I like to believe he was faithful to the end.
So what do we learn from this exuberant disciple? Well, we learn that Jesus is not calling us to be a passive believer. Jesus wants us all in, Jesus wants to transform our lives and help us to see clearly the things of God. In bible study Tuesday we talked about other forms of the gospel that have been or are being taught. But as Christians today, we don't follow any gospel other than the gospel of Jesus which calls us to radical transformation. Like Bartimaeus, when we encounter the Lord we are to go from sitting on the side of the road to following Jesus on the path of service and suffering and love. That path will bring times of triumphant and joy like the victorious entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. But it may bring deep suffering and trials like Jesus and the disciples faced on Holy Week.
Today's psalm was of course written centuries before Jesus walked the earth. But we understand Psalms, many of them, to be, by the Holy Spirit, part of the witness to Jesus as the Messiah. As I share once more the words of Psalm 24 that Don shared, picture the rejoicing of Bartimaeus, first at his healing followed by his inclusion in the followers of Jesus and as witness to the resurrection. And make these words ours for we too know the good news of salvation, of redemption, of transformation. “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.” Let us magnify exalt the Lord together right now, using the hymn of praise, Praise ye the Lord, the Almighty
Hymn: Praise ye the Lord, the Almighty 482 PH