Good morning, friends. Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Heavenly Father and from our Lord and blessed Savior, Jesus the Christ.
I'm Pastor Wally Mees, again joining you on this Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost. Our Gospel lesson is the story of one of Jesus' miracles: the restoration of sight to a man named Bartimaeus. Being blind, Bartimaeus had no way to support himself but to sit on the side of the Jericho Road and beg for alms.
As we dig into this story of the restoration of his sight, we'll look at three characteristics of Bartimaeus that can teach us a thing or two. They are faith, gratitude and loyalty, and cultivating them all will serve every Christian well in our relationship with our Lord Jesus. Let's review the story from Mark 10:46-52:
46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
The first thing we must notice about Bartimaeus is his Faith, which can be seen in his persistence, in his recognition of Jesus as "Son of David," and in his trust that Jesus would heal him. As soon as Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was the reason for the crowd he could hear coming toward him, he began making a fuss and calling out in order to get Jesus' attention. When people tried to shush him, perhaps because he was keeping them from hearing what Jesus was teaching, he shouted all the louder, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
He was not going to be shushed; instead, he continued to seek Jesus' attention. Whatever he had heard about Jesus, it had led him to two convictions: he believed Jesus was the Son of David, and he believed Jesus could give him back his sight.
And you know what? He was healed! What's that saying? The squeaky wheel gets the grease? Well in Bartimaeus' case, it certainly did. Soon, Jesus stopped his forward progress and said to someone near him in the crowd, "Call him." Someone did just that, relaying the message, saying, "Take heart, get up; he is calling you." Bartimaeus was so excited that he threw off his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Before we go on, let's look again at that cloak. What is the significance of a blind man's cloak? Some commentators write that the cloak was the all-purpose garment of the poor in Jesus' time. It was shelter from sun or rain in a climate much like here in Central California. It was also both bed and covering each night for one who may have had, as Jesus described himself, nowhere to lay his head. It would be something to hang onto, especially for someone who was blind. How would he ever find it again if he tossed it away? Yet Bartimaeus is described as throwing off this necessary and all-purpose garment in his rush to respond to Jesus' invitation to come to him.
Another writer suggests that the fact that Bartimaeus threw off his cloak rather than keeping it with him shows just how confident he was that Jesus would heal him. He could let go of the cloak, because once his sight was restored, he'd be able to look for and find it again. This shows his optimistic trust in Jesus; another sign of his faith in Jesus. But there's more.
Jesus, of course, does heal Bartimaeus, quite easily with just a word, and apparently quite instantly. Then Jesus says, "Go your way. Your faith has made you well." But look what happens next: Bartimaeus does not go away. The Gospels are quite clear that Jesus healed hundreds of people during his ministry, and about 40 of those healings are described in detail. According to another author, of the 40 miracles so described, only Bartimaeus "...followed him on the way."
Well, not to take anything away from Bartimaeus, but let's not forget Mary Magdalene, who certainly followed Jesus and supported his ministry after he delivered her from demon possession. It is true that her deliverance is not described in detail but only mentioned, but in any case, Bartimaeus is so grateful that he becomes a follower of Jesus.
Moved by gratitude, Bartimaeus does not go his way, but follows Jesus and, for all we know, becomes one of the additional followers who make up the five hundred who saw Jesus after his Resurrection, as Paul recounts in I Corinthians 15:6. Another reason for thinking that Bartimaeus became a loyal follower of Jesus is that he is named. Among the few others who are named are Jairus' daughter and Mary and Martha's brother Lazarus. Can you think of anyone else?
What can we learn from this story? Well, we've identified a number of characteristics of Bartimaeus that we might want to cultivate in our own lives. He began with an amazing faith. Whatever he had heard about Jesus had led him to faith that this man, this rabbi, this Jesus could restore his sight. He knew he needed Jesus to help him, and he believed Jesus could do so if only they could meet.
Jesus said to him, "your faith has made you well," and many people miss an unstated truth in what Jesus says. Faith, or faith in faith, as so many people seem to believe, is not what made Bartimaeus well. What made him well was his faith in Jesus. Who made him well was Jesus himself. We must remember to place our faith in the only One who has the power to help us: Jesus our Lord.
In addition to faith, many people claim to believe in prayer. I do not believe in prayer. I believe in the One - Jesus - to whom I pray. Faith in Jesus, prayer to Jesus; trust in Jesus - those are the marks of Christians, among whom we may count Bartimaeus. But he responded to Jesus' healing him with a wonderful response: Gratitude. Much as he believed Jesus could heal him, he clearly did not believe he was entitled to a miracle. We know that because of his gratitude.
Bartimaeus' gratitude is a wonderful example for us to follow. Most people want to be happy, and I bet you are no different, nor am I. And the surest key to happiness is gratitude. For some reason, people ask me if I am proud to be an American. Have you ever been asked that? When I have been asked, I quietly answer no. I did nothing to become an American. I was simply born here.
When asked if I am proud, I reply that rather than proud, I am grateful. I am grateful to be an American. I am grateful for my parents. I am grateful for my wife of 47 plus years, our wonderful son and daughter-in-law and the many great friends and family members with whom I am blessed. I am grateful for so very many blessings, particularly for the blessing of having Jesus as my Savior and Lord, but I don't think I'm entitled to them nor am I proud of them.
Gratitude seems to be in short supply these days, and along with the drop in gratitude is the growth of entitlement. People seem to believe they are entitled to an ever-growing list of rights. "I have a right to this; I have a right to that." And when entitlement replaces gratitude, joy and happiness are the casualties.
This ever-increasing list of rights - you can even find a long United Nations-sponsored list of "human rights" - is in sharp contrast to the three rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. Those three - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - are conspicuous in not including equality or this strange new use of the word equity. What did our founders know that we do not and why have so many of our contemporaries forgotten what the founders knew?
At any rate, may we in the days and weeks to come make Bartimaeus our example, renewing our own resolve to follow Jesus just like he did. Bartimaeus had faith in Jesus. He was truly grateful, and rather than go about his life as if nothing had happened, he celebrated his blessing of restored sight by loyally following Jesus on the way. May we do the same. Amen