The Sunday Lesson – Blind Bartimaeus
Most Sundays, I post a brief vignette of the life of Jesus and consider how it relates to our lives. I don’t preach. My goal is both to understand what the writer writes, and what the hearer hears. I leave the what it really means to others, smarter than me, and more bold. It’s impossible for me to write and think about this without bias, and I will address it when I see it. I’m comfortable with Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant theologies, and with some atheist ideals. It was Augustine who said that ‘all truth is G’s truth’ and I gladly sup coffee around that campfire. My Christian belief is an expression of faith, not logic, and whatever I glom onto, I hold loose in an open hand.
The Disciples get it wrong, again, like us, like me
A crowd followed Him everywhere: some wanting a show, some the Messiah, and some a loaf of bread. Today they made for Jericho with the disciples leading the way. How could He not hear it? A man, sitting on the side of the road in tattered clothes, shouting. “Jesus! Son of David! Have pity on me.”
The disciples scolded the man. “Shut up, beggar,” they shouted. “Leave the Master alone.” An assenting murmur ran through the crowd, but it did no good. The blind beggar shouted with more urgency: “Son of David. Hear me. Have pity!”
Moving in and out of the crowd, playing with children, Jesus stopped and raised his arms. “I hear a man,” He said.
Leading the way, Peter laughed. “You hear a man, Master? Of course, you do. I hear a hundred! And they want a word from you.” he said. “What word do you want to give to these hungry people?”
Stopped now, Jesus said, “What I want to say is…bring me that man.” He pointed to the side of the road, to the beggar.
“Bartimaeus! He’s calling for you! Jesus wants you!” the beggar’s friends shouted.
In an unexpected flash, Bartimaeus jumped up, throwing his torn and dirty cloak to the side. The crowd slowed and hushed, waiting to see if Jesus would scold him for being obnoxious or for the sins causing his blindness.
Jesus stood still, waiting while friends guided the blind man to Him.
“Brother?” Jesus said, resting a hand on the man’s shoulder. “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Let me see again, Master.”
Jesus breathed deeply, lifting His eyes and then looking at Bartimaeus. “G be with you son. Your faith has made you well. Receive your sight.”
Instantly, in the next blink, the beggar could see and began dancing and praising G. Jesus laughed and clapped as the crowds lining the street began to praise G, too.
It’s everywhere in the gospels, but Jesus was constantly hounded by crowds of every ilk. Believers hoped for blessing, Jewish leaders looked for something to trip Him with, and the hungry waited for dry bread.
I see two things here to fill our hearts:
- In the middle of the noise and dust and crowds, Jesus hears one man’s cry.
- Jesus hears one man’s cry and stops to meet the man and engage him.
The beggar annoyed the disciples and the crowds, but Jesus, the King of Kings, the Son of David, stopped what He was doing and waited on this one broken person. He still waits on one broken person when we cry to him in the midst of our doings.
Notice, too, that there’s no show here. Jesus doesn’t run over to the man and smack him on the head like a televangelist. “Be healed!” Instead, He stops to focus, to ask Bartimaeus what he would have from the Son of David. Does the man want slaves to carry him everywhere on a palette? Riches? No. He wants to see.
Jesus asks him what he wants. Certainly, Jesus knew? Certainly, Jesus could healed from the street with a nod. But Jesus – G – wants engagement. He invites Bartimaeus to participate in his healing, in his miracle. I think of this when people comment to me – and I’ve said it myself – that if you believe in healing, why not just stand in front of the hospital and declare everyone healed? I absolutely believe that G could simply speak this into reality, to make this happen. But G wants us to participate, to be a part of our own blessing. It’s something of the mystery of the transcendent G.
Note that the Greek of the final verse can be interpreted with different emphases. “Your faith has made you well. Receive your sight.” Different Bible versions translate this with a focus on faith or on salvation. In one, it’s the man’s faith that makes him whole, in another, the man is saved and this salvation brings wholeness. I’m no Greek scholar, but I like the Contemporary English Version and think it best translates the words into a common vernacular: “Look and you will see! Your eyes are healed because of your faith.”
Lastly, look at the first part of the short story: it’s the disciples – the faithful, the church leaders, the elders, and the Christian writers – who think they know it all. “Hey beggar!” they shout. “We’ve got the Messiah over here. Shut your pie-hole and let Him get on WITH HIS IMPORTANT WORK!” Jesus did have important work. Important work right here with one poor, blind man who had a need that only Jesus could satisfy. I think about it often for myself and about anyone purporting to know: the minute you think you have the answers – the minute you’ve got G in a box? – that’s the exact moment you cross the line into arrogant silliness.
Regular readers know what a fan I am of the Victorian Christian vanguard, Charles Spurgeon. He’s digging deep in this short story of hardly a paragraph, but pulls out the gem that the blind man, when Jesus calls, gets up, and throws his dirty cloak to the side. I didn’t catch it, but he reminds the reader that, oftentimes, when Jesus calls, before heeding the call, we need to first cast off any worldly hindrance. There’s deep thought in that nugget.
One other thing: this passage mirrors another in the Synoptics. In that telling, probably written first, Jesus and the disciples are leaving Jericho rather than entering. It could be that both are true, but the stories are too similar, and it bothers me that the story is told twice in ways that can’t both be true. But I have long ago grabbed hold of the primacy of a relationship with Jesus rather than fealty to any systematic theology requiring logical adherence.
My sister and I often talk about the good ol’ days when something silly happened in our family, but we have different memories of how it happened.
“Man,” I say, “Remember when mom did this?”
“That was hilarious,” she says, “but, that’s not quite how it happened…it went this way.”
We laugh together, knowing that it happened and that we’re human, and that Mom loved us.
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