By Jared A. Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
Mark 10:46–52 (NRSV)
The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
(Mt 20:29–34; Lk 18:35–43)
46 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. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 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.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 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.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
This week I had many things on my mind. I am sure many of you did as well. But in truth Saturday was one of the days that was filled with the greatest amount of contemplation. Yesterday was a busy day, it was a day filled with achievement, sadness, and fun. We will begin with fun because that is the easiest. It is hockey season and if you know me and my family you understand. You all are staying up all night watching an 18-inning baseball game and we are making sure we are wearing jackets, so we can sit in a building filled with ice.
The second achievement. Yesterday Albert and I had a test at our martial arts school, and both of us passed. But that is not at all what got me thinking. Many of the students I interact with at the school have grown in many ways while they have attended. Each is there for a different reason and each one is impressive. Many people believe that all martial arts are for is to teach kids to fight and yes that is part of it. But there is much more to it, it also teaches them not to fight, confidence, discipline, and respect. Some of the students began much like I was when I was younger, they would hardly use their voice. Some had anger issues, and many have trouble paying attention and staying on task. We have attended classes for less than a year and I can honestly say that everyone has improved immensely in every area and more. Many of them you would not believe were once quiet and others you would not believe lacked discipline.
The third thing that faced yesterday was sadness. After our martial arts testing right after I had this great sense of pride in the people around me, I take out my phone and read the news. Only to find that someone went into a place of worship with the intent of creating a state of terror. For a person that values and respects human life it saddens me. For a person that attends a class where I learn the skills to fight with the express purpose of learning better ways to control my body, so I will not cause undue harm, it saddens me. I am a person that values life to such a degree even when I am out hunting if I cannot find a bird that I have shot I will stop because life is important even the life of a bird, if that life that was taken is lost without fulfilling the purpose I do not need to take more. It saddens me because life is sacred. All life has the signature of God written within it, and that is most signature and image of God is most fully seen in the lives of humanity. Every person walking the face of this earth bears the image of God and just that one thing gives each one value. My heart is sad because someone went into a place of worship, a place of sanctuary, a place where the value of life should be honored, and they instead dehumanized and disrespected the God I love. Why is the question I asked, and the answer takes the heart that breaks and rips the wound even deeper.
I see joy, achievement and pain in a single day. But I am not without hope.
Today we walk again with Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark, it is difficult to keep track of time because Mark seems to rarely rest. Mark has one event after another. He depicts Jesus and his followers moving over land and sea almost nonstop going from one side to the other. East to west, north to south and in this frenzy, Jesus only sleeps once, and that was during a storm. My son James and I are currently reading through a bible reading plan that encourages only reading one chapter then discussing what is read each day. It began in Mark, and both of us have made comments to the point how can you adequately discuss each chapter in one day when there is so much packed into it. Today is no different Mark sets the scene once again on a road going from one place to another. But in Mark’s fast paced action-packed Gospel we do get glimpses of some very important things.
In a few words Mark will say that Jesus healed a deaf man with impaired speech, and if we stop and think about this we would be able to understand that this miracle that Jesus performed on this man are huge. To have impaired speech would mean that the lack of hearing was something that happened early in life while the language skills were developing. For Jesus to grant a man the ability to hear and then to speak means that Jesus not only healed the man but also rewired the man’s brain to be able to process what is being said. And not only was did he rewire the brain networks, but he installed a speech and vocabulary update that allowed the man to have conversations to the extent that people would never know that there was a previous disability.
Today we see this again. Jesus is walking out of Jericho followed by his disciples and a large crowd. On the road out of Jericho, a blind man was sitting along the side of the road. We are told this man’s name along with the name of his father. It is a man by the name of Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus.
This trip, according to Mark, is the last trip Jesus takes before his passion. He is walking from Jericho and he is going to Jerusalem for the event we know today as Palm Sunday. And this final trip is not one that is without risk. The road between Jericho and Jerusalem was not exactly an interstate highway. It is a narrow path in the mountains. In many places the pathway is barely wide enough for a single person to walk. Not to mention this pathway was filled with bandits. There is a reason the parable Jesus taught about the good Samaritan was so powerful, it was because the people of the day could relate. It was not unlikely that a lone traveler would be robbed, beaten, and left for dead along this path. And when Jesus said that people walked along the other side it does not mean that they just crossed the street, it means that they literally climbed off the path to avoid getting close. Jesus and the disciples were taking this road, followed by a large crowd. The entire path was filled, and as they walk they pass by Bartimaeus.
As we encounter names of people in the Gospels there are often reasons for it. The most common reason is because they are people known within the given community that first received the text. Another reason for the name is because it can tell a story. We know one of the disciples as Peter, but this was not his given name, that was Simon. Jesus gave Simon the name Peter for a reason. Peter means rock, and he gave that name to Peter because it was descriptive of his character. Peter would become the rock of faith in the early church, tradition even names him as being the first pope of Rome. We also know Levi the tax collector who also is known as Matthew, another name from which a story can be told. Levi was the name of the tribe of Israel who did not inherit land, but whose inheritance was the priesthood of God. Yet this man who was named after the priests was a tax collector of Rome, the pagan overlords of Israel. His names tell a story of apostacy and greed, as well as redemption. Names are often mentioned because of the story they tell. So, I investigated the name mentioned here, Bartimaeus.
This name literally means the Son of Timaeus in Aramaic. But the name Timaeus when written in Greek has a similar sound as another name we know as Timothy. The issue is that the two languages are not the same. The sounds that make one word mean something different. If we were to look up Timaeus in a Greek dictionary we would find that the name means highly favored, which is a great name. This is where we must be careful when we study. Bartimaeus is not a Greek name, but Aramaic. The fact that the son has an Aramaic name means we cannot use the Greek definition, but the Aramaic. Timaeus in Aramaic means unclean.
This gives us an interesting picture of what is happening in this story. This blind man is not found in the city, but outside it along the road. He is a beggar attempting to make a living outside the city, this is not exactly an ideal place. Especially when the road he is one is dangerous. And we are given the impression that Bartimaeus does not really know what is going on around him. Remember this is a narrow mountain path, often only wide enough for a single person to walk along it. Jesus is walking along this path and we are told that when Bartimaeus heard it was Jesus, he began to cry out to him. Notice the word used was heard, past tense. Jesus had already walked past the man. Bartimaeus is afraid he had lost his chance and begin to scream out have mercy on me, Son of David!
Jesus had already walked past this man along the narrow pathway, and the crowd is going by the man now as he begins to shout. These people sternly order this man to be quiet. They tell him to shut up. Why would people following Jesus do such a thing? Remember his name, remember where he is. He is outside the city, he is outside the community, his name means son of the unclean. This man by the understanding of the time was cursed. He was blind which they believed was a sign of sin. He was the son of a person named unclean. This man was hopeless, this man was despised by all who knew of him and he was not worth the time of anyone especially a respected rabbi. The visualization of this as it unfolds is profound. He is sitting along the road and he hears a multitude pass, he asks what is going on out of curiosity and possibly fear because it is not exactly the time for the Passover pilgrimage. Someone tells him to be quiet and not to bother Jesus. He hears the name and he begins to recall the stories he had heard, because even the outcasts of society have the pleasure of hearing gossip at times. He knows that Jesus can heal so he cries out to him. And the crowd becomes irritated with him. They see Jesus as their future king, the king that will restore Israel to the glorious era of David, he cannot associate with the likes of this man. A man of no worth, a man cursed by God, a man proven to be a sinner by his disability. Yet the man will not be silenced.
Jesus stops and looks that the man and the crowd and tells them to call Bartimaeus to him. The crowd looks at Bartimaeus in barely veiled displeasure and they say, “take heart; get up, he is calling you.” Imagine the frustration they must feel that Jesus their king is taking the time to associate with the unclean. But the man jumps up and quickly goes to Jesus. We are told that he leaves his cloak behind him, which tells us that he does not even care that his only possession is now lost to him since he cannot see to get it back. He springs up and goes to Jesus. A blind man springing into a crowd…imagine that if you will. You know someone got their toes step one, someone might possibly have gotten knocked over, yet he goes. He bounces off the people as he makes his way to Jesus. And Jesus speaks to him.
Jesus speaks to him; he does not speak of him, or around him, he does not speak to others about him while he is sitting in his presence. Jesus speaks to him and asks this man what he can do for him. And Bartimaeus says, “My teacher, let me see again.”
These are culturally loaded words, because in their culture disability is caused by God as a punishment for sin. This man indicates that he was once able to see and now cannot, in his mind he deserves everything he has endured. He brought this curse upon himself, yet he has hope of redemption. “My teacher,” he says, “let me see again.” What a beautiful statement of humility and confession. This man knows that he is not able to redeem himself for he is a cursed man, the son of an unclean father. He is an outcast with no hope outside of Jesus. But he knows the names of Jesus’ disciples, he knows the stories that former lepers, deaf, lame and mute men have told him as they travel by on the Jericho road. He hopes that one day this teacher that speaks the words of grace and truth will one day pass by and let him see again. He has a hope that the teacher will see beyond the sin to the heart of the man he desires to be. He has hope that he will one day be restored.
This man’s faith brought him healing through Jesus. And the curse he was once known by was cast away Jesus saw him not as the son of the unclean, but as the highly favored. He was once Bartimaeus, but he is now valued.
My heart aches today because we live in a world that does not value life. We see people created in the image of God not as the sons and daughters of great value, but as the sons and daughters of the unclean. My heart aches but like this man I spring to the teacher and am seen by him, my lord and God and he asks what can I do for you. I am seen, and He knows my name and I like Bartimaeus say my teacher, let me see again. I cry let us see again. Let us see each person for who they truly are beloved creatures loved by God, who bear the vary image of our creator. Let us spring forward leaving our cloaks behind, leaving our carefully crafted masks of falsehood and let us repent and see again.