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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.

Mark 10: 46-52, NRSV

Preached Sunday, February 4, 2018 at Westfield Church by the Rev. Chuck  Ericson

I understand that you are engaged in an ongoing study of the Gospel of Mark, and so I am sure you are aware that healing figures prominently in this Biblical book.  In the very first chapter, instead of a nativity story about Mary and Joseph and angels and shepherds and magi – we immediately encounter an adult Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan, calling the disciples, preaching and teaching, and healing: Simon Peter’s mother-in-law…people tormented by demons…and a man afflicted by leprosy.  In the chapters that follow leading up to today’s lesson, the healings continue: a man with a withered hand…a woman with a persistent hemorrhage…a person with a hearing impairment…a boy suffering from convulsions…to name just a few.

And now this morning, we have heard the story of Bartimaeus, another in a long line of people who have heard about Jesus’ remarkable gift of healing and desperately hope that he can summon up this power to change their lives. 

Just another healing. 

Or is it?  Is there something that makes Bartimaeus stand out from the rest?

When I approach any passage from the scriptures, especially one that is very familiar, I start looking for something different…unique…something I haven’t noticed before…something that will make the passage come alive in a new and inspiring way.

I try to take a fresh look at words and images I may have taken for granted in prior readings of the passage.  I look for what may be missing from the text.  I compare the verses to similar stories or passages elsewhere in the same book, or in other books.  You see, I believe that one of the great wonders of our sacred scriptures is that they never get old or worn-out or obsolete.  There is always something new to discover, something that will nourish our souls like never before even after a hundred readings – if we only take time to look.

This worked for me as I read, and re-read, and pored over each word of this account of the healing of Bartimaeus – which I had surely read dozens of times before.  Something new emerged, something that I believe speaks directly to us as we gather here as God’s holy people today.

And it begins with the man’s name: Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus.  The specificity of his identity leapt off the page.  Rarely is a person asking to be healed named so boldly.  Other subjects of healing stories are anonymous: “randos” as one of my children would say, abbreviating the designation “random person in the crowd”.  A boy with convulsions, a man who could not hear, an outcast possessed with tormenting demons.  Even Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and Jairus’ daughter are not named directly, only through their relationship with someone else (surely Jesus and the evangelist Mark would have known the first name of Simon Peter’s spouse’s mother!). 

But the subject of today’s lesson from Mark is identified both by his relationship to someone else – “son of Timaeus” – as well as by his own given name: Bartimaeus.  This stands out.  This is worthy of consideration.

Why is Bartimaeus described in this way?  What makes him different from nearly all the others who have desired healing from Jesus?  What makes him stand out?

I have come up with three possible reasons:

First, Bartimaeus personally calls out to Jesus as Jesus is leaving Jericho accompanied by the disciples and surrounded by a large crowd of others.  From the place where he is sitting by the roadside…the place where presumably he sat begging for hours on end every day…a place below eye level and easily overlooked…Bartimaeus shouts out: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”  Not everyone who was in need of Jesus’ healing power called out so assertively and so insistently.  Some got Jesus’ attention because another person had sought out Jesus on their behalf.  Some were simply noticed by Jesus or the disciples as they traveled along from one town to another. 

But not Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus was not going to rely on a chance encounter or “hope upon hope” for a friend to intervene.  Bartimaeus shouted out: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”  He was ordered by the crowd to desist, but he cried out even more loudly, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus would preach “ask and it will be given you (youwill receive)”.  Perhaps Bartimaeus had been there and heard it first hand, or maybe someone had told him this teaching.  Maybe Bartimaeus just sensed that this kind, loving miracle-worker passing by on the road would give him what he needed if he asked.  In any event, it worked.  Jesus stopped the procession, and said, “Call him here.”

But it was more than merely calling out that I think merited Bartimaeus’ unusual notoriety among all the healing stories. 

There is a second feature that also stands out prominently.  In the instant Bartimaeus regains his sight, Jesus instructs him: “Go, your faith has made you well.”  Bartimaeus has faith, and Jesus has affirmed his faith.    

Curiously, faith is not always a factor when Jesus heals.  Some people in need are simply desperate and will go after any source of possible relief, conventional or not.  Others, such as people thought to be possessed by demons, are clearly not in touch with any sort of faith of belief system.  Then again, there are the ones who receive healing at the request of a friend or family member, not necessarily grounded in faith themselves. 

Bartimaeus, though, has faith.  His faith directs him to call out “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”  And his faith is confirmed by Jesus himself at the moment his sight is restored.

A third feature which distinguishes Bartimaeus is his response after the healing takes effect.    Mark writes in the final verse of today’s passage:

“Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”

In other instances of healing, the ones who receive healing run off to tell everyone about the miracle they have experienced (even when specifically instructed by Jesus not to tell anyone yet).  Some apparently returned the their daily routines, and for still others there is no information given as to what direction their lives took once they had been healed.

Bartimaeus, though, responded by following Jesus.  Immediately he regained his sight, and immediately he followed Jesus…and the disciples…and the large crowd…on the way. 

This may be the most compelling reason of all why we know more of Bartimaeus’s biography than most other recipients of divine healing: he followed them on the way.  Jesus and the disciples and folks in the crowd got to know him.  This was a person of faith, a person not too timid to call out for help, a person who is decisive and responsive.  This is Bartimaeus.  His father is Timaeus.  He has become one of us.

So there it is!  A fresh look at a well-known passage from Mark’s Gospel.  A careful and thoughtful exploration beyond the obvious…the familiar.  Consideration of what is there in the text that has been glossed over in past readings, and of what is not there that calls for attention. 

There’s one more question to ask, though:  What does all this mean for us?

For one thing, the story of Bartimaeus provides us with a model of how each of us should seek healing when we need it.  And we all do need healing, not one of us is exempt from moments in our lives when healing is required.  It may not necessarily be physical healing as in the case of Bartimaeus.  It could be healing from emotional anguish…healing from a crushing personal loss…it may be healing of a relationship that has become conflicted…it may be healing from a failure, an addiction, a struggle of the soul.

Whatever the nature of the situation which requires healing, following the example of Bartimaeus is the way to go.  Call out…shout out…cry out if you must.   Summon up all the faith you have deep within your soul.  Prepare yourself to be healed and make plans to respond in some decisive way after the healing happens.  Then, let the living, ever-present, unconditionally-loving, merciful, grace-filled spirit of Jesus Christ enter your life and commence the healing.  The result may not be exactly what you expected or wanted – remember, not all circumstances – especially those that are physical in origin – can be permanently reversed.  But believe that healing in some form will take place.

Jesus will see you.  Jesus will hear you.  Jesus will come to you. 

Think again of Bartimaeus.  A sightless man sitting on the side of the road, below eye level, inconspicuous and easily unnoticed…on the dusty periphery of a noisy crowd.  Yet amidst all of that commotion and utter invisibility, Jesus hears the call of   

Bartimaeus, and stops…and sets aside everything else that is on his mind as he is trying to hurriedly depart from Jericho…and goes to Bartimaeus.

Jesus sees you the same way he saw Bartimaeus.  Especially if you ever feel like you are off on the side of the road where no on will notice and no one will care, and you are not part of the crowd.   

Jesus will see you there.  Jesus will notice.  Jesus will come when you call.  Jesus will affirm the faith that fills your soul.  Jesus will make a place for you to follow in the crowd when the healing has happened.

Never forget Bartimaeus.  Call him to mind when you need healing and affirmation.

Say to yourself: “I am Bartimaeus.  Jesus will always see me.  Jesus will always hear me when I call.  Jesus will always come to me and heal me.  Jesus will always make a place for me to join the crowd and follow him.”

AMEN.

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