Saturday, October 24, 2015

From darkness into light - a story, part three

(part one here and part two here)

Jesus of Nazareth! Bartimaeus' heart began to pound within him. The man who worked miracles was here, right before him. The man he believed was the Messiah sent by God. Had his mother's prayers been answered? Would the man who had made so many others see give him back his sight also? Without even thinking, he began to cry out:

'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ He heard the footsteps of those nearest him in the crowd stop suddenly.
'Who dares say such a thing?' called out a voice. It was rich and deep, the voice of one used to speaking in public, used to being heard and obeyed. A scribe or a Pharisee, he thought. They didn't like Jesus, didn't think he was the Messiah, but followed him about, trying to catch him out, and trick him into saying something against the Romans or the Jewish law so they could arrest him. Everyone knew they did; but so far they had failed. 'Stop that,' continued the voice. 'It is near blasphemy for anyone to call this wandering teacher the Messiah, the Son of God, the Saviour of us all.'
But Bartimaeus paid him no heed. He cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ All the crowd stopped. It was as if whatever was at the heart of it had stopped and so all around must stop also. Jesus, thought Bartimaeus. He must be right there in front of me. From the centre of the crowd someone called out:
Call him here.’ The voice was low and clear. Bartimaeus knew it must be the Son of David himself who was calling him. He couldn't bring himself to move. This was such an important moment. It had been so long since he had had the use of his eyes; and the one who had made so many others who were blind see was waiting for him to draw near. Someone standing nearby said to him:
'Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’
Suddenly, Bartimaeus could move again. He flung off his cloak onto the ground – his cloak which was blanket and coat to him, irreplaceable, normally something he would never let be out of his reach in case it was lost – and sprang to his feet. His stick was in his hand, but he let it fall. He heard it land across his cloak. He began to walk slowly toward where the low voice that called him had come from. He felt the crowd parting before him. He kept walking until he sensed that it parted no more and knew he must be standing in front of Jesus of Nazareth. The clear voice spoke again.
What do you want me to do for you?’
Bartimaeus knew at once what to say.
'My teacher, let me see again.’
Go; your faith has made you well,’ was the reply. He could hear the smile in the voice. All at once his eyes were filled with pain. He fell to his knees gasping. For a moment he didn't know what was happening. The teacher had said his faith had made him well; what then was this pain? And then he recognised it. It was something he had felt in his childhood, when he could see. It was the pain that came when one came suddenly from a place of great darkness to one of bright light, like the time he had once crawled out of a dark old cellar into brilliant sunshine. The pain faded as his eyes adjusted and in a few moments he was able to open his eyes. He found himself looking at a pair of sandled feet. Great, he thought. So many years blind and the first thing I get to see when my sight is restored is a pair of dusty feet. Then he realised they must be those of the teacher, the Son of David himself, and he looked up. A smiling, bearded face looked down at him. And then without a word he walked on, continuing his journey to Jerusalem. The crowd moved on with him.
A burly man who smelled slightly of fish helped him to his feet. A fisherman, thought Bartimaeus, but one who has not been to sea for a long time.
'Well, boy,' he said. His voice was deep and friendly. 'What now?'
With hardly a thought, Bartimaeus said:
'I must follow him.'
He snatched up his cloak and threw it over his shoulders. Then he took up his stick and bowl. Thrusting the latter into his satchel he began to walk after the teacher.
'What's your name, boy?' asked the fisherman, walking alongside him.
'Mine's Peter. Simon really but everyone calls me Peter. Bartimaeus? That means 'son of Timaeus.' Timaeus is a Greek name, isn't it?'
'My father was Greek, a tailor. He was a God-fearer who came to this land to learn more about the faith he loved. He died not long ago.' Suddenly Bartimaeus stopped.
'What is it, lad?' said Peter.
'I can't go with you. Not today, anyway.'
Peter nodded.
'I understand.'
'You do?'
'Of course. You're only a boy. You can't just head off without so much as a word to your mother. And you said she was a widow; and there you were begging on the side of the road. She relies on you for support, doesn't she?'
Bartimaeus nodded.
'And I have younger brothers and sisters as well.'
'Hungry little mouths to feed,' said Peter with a chuckle. 'Well, you can't leave them to starve, can you? Go to them. They need you.'
'But the teacher gave me back my sight,' said Bartimaeus staring down the road after the crowd. 'And I know that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. How can I not follow him?'
'Indeed you must follow him,' said Peter. 'But not on the road. Not today. Follow him in your heart for now. Go home, find work, provide for your family. Your time to follow the master will come soon enough.'
'I will follow him,' said Bartimaeus. 'I'll study his teachings and live them. I'll teach them to others. And I will come and find you all again one day. I promise.'
'Good man,' said Peter, clapping him on the shoulder. 'Now go home. Surprise your mother with your great and glorious good news – you were blind, and now you see!' And with that he walked away and followed after his master.
Bartimaeus watched after him and then turned and began to walk slowly back towards the city. The sun was hot on the back of his neck and he threw his cloak over his head to keep it off. He could hardly begin to understand what had happened to him. He had met Jesus. And now he could see. And surely there was no doubt at all that he was the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.
So deep was he in his thoughts that at first he didn't notice the two men walking along the road towards him. They stopped suddenly a long way off. The shorter of the two pointed at him and then put his finger to his lips, silently telling the larger to keep quiet. He had an evil grin on his face. Their behaviour puzzled Bartimaeus. Then he studied them further. The short man was had a withered hand; the larger was fat and and lame in one leg, using a crutch to walk. It was the two beggars.

He realised he had been wrong about their staying clear of the road to Jerusalem. They had spotted him coming along and, not knowing he could now see, planned to wait on the road in silence until he drew near and then jump on him. They were going to get a big surprise, he thought with a smile. He continued to walk towards them, as if he didn't know they were there. With the sun behind him and his cloak over his head they couldn't see his face. As he got near, the big man balled his hand into a huge fist and drew it back. What fools, thought Bartimaeus; even if I were still blind, I can hear their breathing, and smell the reek of sweat and old wine off them. I'd know it was them from yards off and turn their surprise attack back on them.
As soon as he was within reach, the man with the crutch swung a massive blow at him. Bartimaeus simply moved his head out of the way and the man, totally off balance, went crashing to the ground. The short one plunged his one good hand into the folds of his cloak and came out with a short, wicked looking knife with a curved blade. With a snap of his stick Bartimaeus knocked it out of his grip. The man howled in pain and cradled his hand to his chest.
'Careful boys,' said Bartimaeus. 'I can see now. Your advantage is gone. Now its one fit young man against a titchy guy with one hand, and a fat bloke with one leg. I don't know about you, but I like those odds.'
'I don't understand,' said the big man, struggling to sit up. Bartimaeus planted his stick firmly on the ground.
'Well hear is what there is to understand. Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God. He proves who he is by signs and wonders. He makes the blind to see and the lame to walk. And he has given me back my sight. And learn this also; have faith in him and you also might be healed. He is on the road to Jerusalem. Go to him; believe in him; fall at his feet and worship him. Beg his mercy and cry out to be made whole. Perhaps you will be healed; perhaps you will not. But whatever happens, believe in him; believe in his Good News and be saved.'

And with that he walked past them and continued on the road to Jericho. He wondered what his mother would say to see him healed. She would be overjoyed. But even better, he thought, was that now she would surely also believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

(c) Rev Patrick G Burke 2015

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