The Call of Bartimaeus

Sermon from October 28, 2012. Text: Mark 10:46-52.

So Jesus and his disciples, along with a large crowd of people, are on their way out of Jerusalem. And on the side of the road is a beggar, a blind man, named Bartimaeus. And when Bartimaeus hears that its Jesus of Nazareth passing by, he stands and shouts, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

And the people in the crowd are a little ticked off. They’re trying to listen to Jesus, and he’s over here making a big scene. They tell him to be quiet. They say, “C’mon man, sit down.”

But Bartimaeus won’t have it. He keeps hollering, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He knows that there is something more for him, if he can just call out so that Jesus might hear. His call to Jesus is the most basic form of prayer there is: “Jesus, have mercy on me….” When you are out of tears and out of words and out of answers, here is a prayer that saves. But be careful with that prayer. When you find the strength to pray it, like Bartimaeus, you should expect transformation.

Finally, all this noise he’s making reaches Jesus and Jesus says, “Bring him here.” Some people in the crowd pass the word to Bartimaeus. They tell him, “Good news, Jesus has heard your cry, and he is calling you.” When Bartimaeus hears he jumps up and he throws off his cloak and he starts pushing through the crowd to the front.

When he finally gets there Jesus says, “What do you want?” And Bartimaeus says, “Teacher, let me see again.” Bartimaeus wants restoration. He wants restoration of his sight, but story isn’t just about his eyes. He wants restoration to the community, so that he’s no longer an object of pity. He wants restoration of his agency, so he is no longer bound by his weakness but living into the fullness of life.

And Jesus’ response is short. He just says, “Go, your faith has made you well.” It’s funny how this works in the story. Jesus is trying to tell his disciples that he is the Messiah, and that he will be betrayed, killed, and rise again in three days. And they don’t see, and they don’t see, and they don’t see, and then they pass by this blind man, all he knows is rumor, he didn’t get the private instruction that the disciples got, but right away, he does see. He shows faith where the disciples have only shown cowardice, pride, and selfishness.

When Jesus says those words, immediately, Bartimaeus’ sight is returned to him. Now with his sight, Bartimaeus is free. He can go anywhere he wants, and do anything he wants. Note what Jesus says, “Go, your faith has made you well.” Do what you want. Bartimaeus knows that having experienced this fullness, this restoration, he can’t go back to Jericho. He leaves his cloak behind and follows Jesus.

Paul Achtemeier says this isn’t a miracle story, or a healing story, it is a call story[1]. The point of the story isn’t to tell us how Jesus healed another blind man, but how Jesus called Bartimaeus. It’s not like the story of the hemorrhaging woman or Jairus’s daughter so much as it’s like the story of the burning bush, or Ezekiel eating the scroll. Bartimaeus has experienced something that changed his life. So I want us to think about this story not as another healing that proves that Jesus can do miracles, but a story about how Jesus calls his disciples, and consider what it means for how Jesus calls us today.

I want us to focus on a few key moments in this story. The first is Bartimaeus’ decision to call out to Jesus for healing. I don’t think we realize how much of a risk this is for him. There’s an old story about two blind men. Since they can’t work, they have to go from town to town and beg for money and food. And one day they come upon a famous surgeon. He sees that they are blind and he says “You know, I might be able to restore your sight if you want to try.” They say, “Yeah, of course! Make it happen!”

He takes one of them into his operating room and operates. After the operation the man takes the bandages off of his eyes and he says, “Oh, I can see! How wonderful this is! I can see!” Then he has this realization. He says, “Doc, I can see. I can’t beg anymore. What am I going to do?” The doctor explains that he will have to live by his labor, and learn a trade and work for his living the way other people do, isn’t that better? And he says, “Yes, it is much better.”

The doctor invites the other man into the operating room, but the other man says, “Doctor, if it’s all right with you, I’d rather not have the operation.” He’s afraid of being healed. The very act of asking for healing is a great act of courage. Even when our lives are miserable, we can be afraid to change them. That fear of change can hold us back, it can keep us from reaching out for something better.  Is there something in your life that you’re afraid to ask for? Is there a change for the better that you’re afraid to make? Don’t hold yourself back because you’ve become used to your problems. Believe that there is something better out there for you, and don’t be afraid to ask for it.

The second thing I want to point out is the way Bartimaeus interacts with the crowd. When Bartimaeus stands up and calls out to Jesus to heal him, some people in the crowd are upset. The change that Bartimaeus seeks threatens them. Bartimaeus is saying, “Come, Jesus, take my life, and make me something new. Proclaim the kingdom through me!” And the folks around him are saying, “Please, man, we are afraid of what might happen to us if Jesus comes to you.” Have you ever had this happen to you? You have an experience with God, a faith-defining moment, maybe on a retreat somewhere or maybe on your back porch, and you’re so excited, and you’re telling a friend about this, and they look at you and say, “You’re not gonna get all crazy are you?” The subtext of that is of course, “You’re not going to do something with your faith that makes me uncomfortable, are you?” Let me tell you these folks in Jericho would have been a lot more comfortable if Bartimaeus would just sit back down on the side of the road and go back to begging for handouts.

But let’s not forget that there are others in the crowd who hear Jesus’ words to Bartimaeus, and hold on to them, and pass them on to him, to make sure that Jesus’ call doesn’t get lost. This too is worth noticing. It’s like when we lose a loved one, and our faith shatters, and we can’t hear God’s promise of resurrection, we can’t even bring ourselves to hear God. And our friends, and our family don’t condemn us or turn their backs, they hold those promises in trust for us, until we are ready to hear them. In the same way we pass on God’s promises to our kids, over and over again to make sure they hear them, so that Jesus’ offer of healing to them does not get lost in the crowd.

The third moment I would like to focus on is what happens when Bartimaeus learns that Jesus has called him forward. He immediately throws off his cloak, and comes forward. Jesus tells us that if you have an old cloak you don’t try to patch it with new, unshrunk cloth (Mk 2:21). If you do, it will tear and your cloak will be even worse off than before. Another time Jesus tells them that when the time comes, if you’ve left it behind, you should not try to go back and get it (Mk 13:16).

When Bartimaeus jumps up, he leaves his old cloak behind, and with it he leaves his old life. When you come to follow Jesus, you have to leave your old life behind. Simon and Andrew leave their nets behind. James and John leave their father standing in the boat. Many people try to follow Jesus, but can’t seem to let go of their cloaks. The rich young man wants to follow Jesus, but he can’t let go of his wealth. Another man wants to follow, but insists on taking care of his dead father before he goes. We have to make sure that we don’t become so tied up in carrying our dead with us that we don’t follow Jesus when he calls, or become so used to creature comforts that we are not ready to suffer for Christ.

Over and over again we sit on the side of the road and let Jesus pass us by. Sometimes we are too afraid of leaving our comfortable infirmity to cry out, “Have mercy on me, Jesus.” Other times we cry out, but the people around us tell us the changes we’re making are too strange, we’re upsetting people with our faith, making a scene. And so we sit back down. Other times we want to go so badly, but we are not ready to leave behind the things that tie us down and hold us back. But what we learn from the story today is that it begins with a simple, but courageous act: asking for help. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” That act is enough.

The book of Hebrews tells us that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen.” Bartimaeus has faith. He has the courage to speak up, the willingness to ask for something more.[2] If you open your heart and ask Jesus to come into it your life will be transformed. It opens our eyes to good news, and it restores us to freedom from weakness and dependence. It isn’t easy, the people around you will try to push you back down and fit us back into the slots that they’ve made for you. And you’ll have to let go of some of the things you’ve been hanging on to for a long time. But what we learn today is that wherever there is someone willing to cry out for help, wherever there is faith, wherever Jesus Christ is Lord of all, there is new power and new possibility.

Let us pray: Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on us. Give us the faith to call out to you for something more. Embolden us to let you in to our lives and let your love change us from the inside out, no matter what others might say. And make us disciples, that having experienced your restoration and your grace, we might leave our cloaks behind and live new lives, following you, eyes open to the power of your word. Amen.

[1] Achtemeier, Paul. “And He Followed Him: Miracles and Discipleship in Mark 10:46-52” Semeia no. 11 1978. p. 115

[2] Walter Brueggemann says that “Faith is the courage to speak, to announce for oneself a new possibility.” Brueggemann, Walter. “Theological Education: Healing the Blind Beggar” The Christian Century vol 103 no. 5 F 5-12, 1986. p. 115.


About Drew

I'm the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Pitman, NJ. I love camping, rhetorical criticism, and classic movies. I'm passionate about God's love, and the messy, beautiful ways it shows itself in our communities every day.
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