They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, 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!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way
Your Faith Has Made You Well
By this point in Mark, we've read a lot of miracle stories together. The Holy Spirit has spoken to crowds, sick and demon- possessed people have been healed, dead children have been raised, and thousands of people have been fed by just a few loaves and fish. We have also read many call stories, including Jesus’ own at his baptism, where he first began his journey towards resurrection, as well as the stories of the 12 disciples, the first ones who Jesus invited on this journey towards greater justice and compassion. One scholar, Mark Vitalis Hoffman pointed out that it is not often, however, that we have read an account that so clearly blends these two kinds of stories together, where the one being healed also very clearly becomes a follower of Christ. Bartimaeus is special. He has a great gift, and this gift allows him to come closer to Jesus than many people could have imagined. Thank goodness that he realized he had such a gift, or he might never have approached Jesus and he might never have been healed. And, what is Bartimaeus’ great gift? His faith. As you may remember, Jesus said that it was his faith that made him well. And, we can all learn an important lesson from Bartimaeus about how to use the gifts that we have to follow Jesus.
I think some people would have had a hard time imagining that Bartimaeus had many gifts. Given his blindness and the lack of services in the culture in which he lived, Bartimaeus would have likely been quite impoverished. Notice that he was begging for handouts when he encountered Jesus. His health would have likely been poor and, given that he has resorted to begging, it seems as though he is completely disconnected from his family, the people that we would naturally assume would be supporting him. If we were just to look at him and see only the challenges that he had, it could be easy to overlook the gifts he had. Shoot, it could be easy to overlook his very humanity, as some of Jesus’ followers did when they hear him cry out for Jesus. They told him to be quiet… to leave Jesus alone… he had more important things to do than deal with the likes of him.
Luckily, faith isn’t Bartimaeus’ only gift. He had gumption, too. He wouldn’t be shushed when salvation was so close. So, he kept yelling. He had insight, too. He knew that Jesus was Messiah, a statement he affirmed when he called Jesus the Son of David. Few others realized so quickly who Jesus was. When Jesus heard Bartimaeus cry out, he heard this gumption, insight, and faith. Jesus called him forward. Jesus' followers said to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
Now, let's compare Bartimaeus to some others who have approached Jesus in recent weeks. Unlike the rich young man, Bartimaeus was willing to give up all he had to heed Jesus’ call. When Jesus called him, Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, likely his only possession, and came quickly. Then, Jesus asked Bartimaeus the same question that he had asked his squabbling disciples last week. He said, “What do you want me to do for you?” Rather than ask for a place of honor, as James and John did, Bartimaeus, the one of great insight, ask to be able to see. While we’re not sure if he’s seeing for the first time or if he’s asking for his sight to be restored, that doesn’t seem to matter. Jesus simply says, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately, Bartimaeus could see again. Rather than run off to go celebrate, he chose to follow Jesus, joining the ranks of the ones who would witness his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his humiliating execution at the hands of the state, and, hopefully, learn the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.
You know, I think our church can be like Bartimaeus. I think that we can use the gifts we have to help us follow Jesus. Bartimaeus used his faith to ask Jesus for healing. What gifts do we have as a community that can bring Christ’s healing to our church and to the communities we serve? After last week’s exercise… well, before last week’s exercise, but confirmed by it, I think one of our gifts is a sense of empathy and compassion for our neighbors who struggle to have the basic necessities for life. I think we also have a gift of being flexible and being willing to try to new things. I’ve tried several different things in worship over the last year, and you all have been game for it. Now, like we did last week, I want you to turn towards your neighbors, and talk about the gifts you think this church has, the things that you think Jesus would say help us follow him better. Let’s take 8-10 minutes together…
(The slideshow above is pictures of the gift lists that each group created.)
See, these will be the gifts that allow us to serve God and serve our neighbors more fully. These are the gifts that continue to bring us to Jesus, over and over again, and allow us to follow him into Jerusalem. These are the gifts that Jesus will use to help build God’s reign of love and compassion through our faithful service. Like Bartimaeus, our faith will make us well, as will our compassion, our flexibility, our hard-working spirit, and our good humor. Each of these attributes is a tool that we can use to serve the Gospel. Let’s make sure to use our tools well.
Resources Pastor Chrissy consulted when writing this sermon:
Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman's commentary: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2642
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.