Sermons That Work

Amidst the Headlong Welter…, Proper 25 (B) – 2000

October 29, 2000

Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Mark10:51 (NRSV)

Amidst the headlong welter of events in Mark’s Gospel, the healing of Bartimaeus at the end of Jesus’ amazing tour southward through Galilee gets our attention in a startling and refreshing way. This is the second blind man healed by Jesus in as many chapters. Immediately before that, he has unstopped the ears of a deaf man; and, before coming to Jericho, he’s cured an epileptic boy brought before him by his disciples. Jesus has had a full schedule, to say the least. He seems to be moving “straightaway” from destined moment to destined moment. As Mark’s readers and hearers, our agility and endurance are put to the test. Then comes the redoubled cry of a blind beggar named Bartimaeus: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The NRSV translation of Mark 10:49 states that “Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.”

Well, there has to be something inside of us that’s relieved, finally, to have Jesus stop and allow us to catch up with him, to glimpse a moment of stillness after so much movement and upheaval. Although contrary to the wishes of the crowds (we sense they knew Timaeus’s son as something of a public nuisance, undeserving of their Teacher’s attention), Jesus very deliberately stops. And we stop with him. And we wait for Bartimaeus to stand and deliver, to state his case before this fast-moving rabbi, this Jesus of Nazareth.

This is not just another anonymous, handicapped person who has stopped Jesus dead in his tracks. This man has a name. He is “Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, a blind beggar.” Unlike the blind man in Mark 8:22 who “some people brought to [Jesus],” Bartimaeus petitions Jesus very directly, even volubly, entirely on his own behalf. “What do you want me do for you?” Jesus asks him. Bartimeaus wastes no time replying, “My teacher, let me see again.” Likewise, there is a “straightaway” quality to Bartimaeus’s recovery. There’s no pulling him aside, no waiting around, no spitting on those blinded eyes. “Immediately,” the last verse tells us, “he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” His sight restored, Bartimeaus follows. He abandons his roadside begging and becomes a disciple. There is nothing cautious about the healing. Jesus doesn’t adjure him to “tell no one.” Bartimeaus simply follows him, heedlessly, one thinks, ecstatically, to Jerusalem. And once again Jesus and the Twelve, their numbers increasing, are “on their way.”

In the very next frame, not letting any grass grow under their feet, Jesus and his crowd will be nearing Jerusalem at Bethpage, searching for a tethered colt upon which their Teacher will ride. Jesus has tried to enlighten his followers, telling them that he must first be delivered over to suffering and death. Yet, he can’t seem to remedy their blindness. They, the followers, are riding the wave of this tremendous healing power; they’re caught up in it without caring where it will lead them. There’s really no room in this picture for a simple, suffering soul like Bartimeaus, whose cries for help are an annoyance, a slowdown to all the grand bustle.

“And Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.'” Jesus can spend some time, especially with the least among us – the blind, the deaf, the halt. The majority’s agenda can be sidelined. Jesus makes a space where he can encounter the blind (and, in Bartimeaus’s case, one who must beg for a livelihood, one who is encompassed in abject need). He begs, not for a handout this time, not merely for solace but for wholeness, for restoration of his sight.

In the third verse of the Psalm appointed for today, Psalm 13, we join our voices with the Psalmist and cry out:

Look upon me and answer me, O Lord my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death…

We come together in worship, to stop with Jesus and Bartimeaus along the way. Bartimeaus, Mark’s Gospel tells us, “sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Jesus, the Son of God, is bound for Jerusalem, there’s really no time to spare in such a full itinerary; but he stops and hears. Hear us, we pray, Lord Jesus. We ask you for wholeness such as we know is possible only in you.

Light up [our] eyes with your presence;
Let [us] feel your love in [our] bones.

Psalm 13:3 (translated by Stephen Mitchell, A Book of Psalms)


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Christopher Sikkema


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