Sunday, October 25, 2015

Blind Bartimaeus

Almighty, eternal, and merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we pray that as we meditate upon your Word you will lead us deeper into all truth that we may better know and do your will and grow in holiness day by day. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today tells us the story of Blind Bartimaeus. And I think it must be said that there is none who sees so clearly on the road that day as he, even though he is the one who is without sight. For consider what it is that he cries out when he hears that Jesus of Nazareth draws near: it is 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!' He addresses the Lord by a royal title, for he recognises that he is the Messiah. How is it that he, a blind man, knows this, someone who because of his disability can not move about the country freely and is forced to survive by sitting on the side of the road and calling out to others to help him?

Well, it seems certain that he has heard the stories about Jesus, the signs and wonders he has done, how the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and – most importantly for him – the blind see. And perhaps he may even have heard some of the teaching, for there is an echo, is there not, of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in what he calls out to Jesus? In the parable the publican, the who goes away justified, prays 'Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner' and the blind man says 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.' A remarkable similarity, which may well indicate that he has heard some of Jesus teaching; and more, pondered it deeply in his heart.

I think that likely; for he has come to the conclusion that the man who walks down the road before him, the man who has performed great deeds of power and offered the world teaching teaching so wondrous it can only have its source in heaven, is indeed the Messiah. And so he cries out, according him that Messianic title. Not all nearby are pleased. They tell him to stop. Perhaps they are scribes and Pharisees, following Jesus not because they believe, but because they seek a chance to condemn him. And just as the religious authorities in Jerusalem during our Lord's triumphal entry, when the crowd is calling him the Son of David, try to silence them, so too do these men try to silence Bartimaeus that day.

But he will not be silent. Instead he calls out all the louder for the Son of David to have mercy on him. And the Lord hears him and calls him to him. And note well the way Bartimaeus responds. St Mark provides us with a very telling detail of that moment. He tells us that he throws off his cloak and springs up. And to understand the importance of that, we must first understand how important his cloak would have been to him. For a poor man, his cloak was both his blanket at night and his coat during the day, the most expensive item of clothing he would have had, something almost irreplaceable for a blind beggar; not something he would normally let out of his reach. And yet in that moment he casts it aside, with no heed as to how or if he will be able to find it again. His trust in Jesus is total.

Note also the beautiful simplicity of his prayer to Christ. He does not plead or bargain, does not boast of previous good deeds that make him worthy to receive what he asks; instead he simply asks 'My teacher, let me see again.' Even the way he addresses Christ is beautiful – my teacher, acknowledging both the authority of Jesus as teacher and the personal relationship that exists between them; for to call someone 'my teacher' is to recognise also that you are their pupil, student, follower, disciple. And thus it also demonstrates humility, for the student knows he is not equal with his master.

There is much for us to learn from the example of Bartimaeus, and I pray that all here will learn it, to see with the same clarity and insight that the blind man saw: that you may have the spiritual awareness to know who Jesus is, and the willingness to proclaim it openly, even before the hostility of the world; the same total faith and trust in the Lord, no matter what the risk, or what it may cost; and the faith like his that you may throw yourself upon God's mercy, bringing before him your needs, humbly and reverently, knowing you are a sinner in need of that mercy. And, of course, that you will, like him, follow Christ.

To the Almighty and Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to him be all honour and glory, now and unto the ages of ages: Amen.

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