Seeing is not always believing
A sermon on Job 42:1-6,10-14 & Mark 10:46-52, by Jill Friebel 26 October 2003


Jesus is winding his way towards Jerusalem, with the disciples and a crowd in tow knowing full well where he was heading. He tried telling the disciples how he would handed over to the chief priest and the scribes and condemned to death and would rise three days after. Even though the disciples listened, they couldn’t hear what he was saying. It was too awkward and uncomfortable and unreal. How is it that they could hear something so terrible and not respond appropriately? In fact Mark tells us that James and John later responded by asking Jesus for a favour. They were blind and deaf and one can only imagine the loneliness and frustration that it caused in Jesus. Have you ever tried to tell someone something and it is clear by their response they can’t comprehend what you’re talking about. It’s awful does something to you.

The route to Jerusalem was a well-known track for anyone going on pilgrimage to the holy city. Jericho was the last stop en route to the city of David and the road out of town represented the final, 20 km leg of the pilgrim’s journey. It would have been the standard beat for much of that city’s beggar population and the odds were good that the pilgrims would have the mood and means to give alms. It was there that the disciples and crowd come across Bartimaeus, the destitute blind man, and one among many.

He could have been anywhere from his 20’s to 40’s and he had no land tenancy but was dependent on the mercy of others. The fact that he was identified by his name indicates that he was know in some way to the community Mark was first writing to. The story concludes that he followed Jesus in the way and it could be that Bartimaeus was well know to them for who he had become. “In the way’ was the term used to mean one who followed Jesus before the word Christian was coined. His name in Hebrew can also mean “son of unclean” which was an unbearable burden for anyone in that society and affected people with physical disabilities and illnesses. The implication of being unclean meant that he could not go to the temple to worship God. He could not go to pray, or to give an offering, or even to plead for help. He had a lonely and tough existence isolated and marginalised, spiritually he was cut off from God- hopeless and despairing. He was a non- person.

As Jesus and the disciples passed him by Bartimaeus began to shout out saying “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy. Help me!”

Bartimaeus may not have had any sight, and his situation makes it rather extraordinary that he had some insight into who Jesus was. There are two kinds of poverty and Bartimaeus experienced them both. First he was physically poor which forced him to beg for survival, he had no other means. He was also spiritually poor. His experience and situation opened him up to realise and recognise that he needed to trust God. The temple was out of bounds but he had this one chance of pleading his cause to Jesus walking right past him. Nothing would stop him begging for mercy.

This story is about sight and insight. This is the last healing story in a “blind/deaf” series of healings. Mark has been contrasting the poor and marginalised receiving sight and hearing while the privileged remain blind and deaf to the truth about Jesus. Not even the disciples had grasped the full impact of what Bartimaeus had seen.

What is insight?
It is knowing you don’t know and being ready to receive the truth. It is this sort of spiritual poverty that gives you the capacity to receive hidden truths and it turns you into a spiritual beggar.

Job also came to this place but only after God had finally told him to shut up and listen. It was them that Job responded
“You put me in my place and told me listen;
You hit me with a raft of questions
To show me how little I knew.

In the past I only knew of you second hand;
but now I have met you face to face.
So now I am ashamed of myself.
I’m eating dirt! I won’t go down that track again.”

There is a documentary on at the moment about Dietrich Bonhoffer a German Lutheran Pastor who was the only person in his time that publicly confronted the evil ideology that Hitler and the Germany people believed, including the mainline
Christian churches. The documentary says that Bonhoffer “saw things that no-one else saw, he heard things that no-one else heard.” Bonhoffer read the Scriptures as though God was talking to him now, he knew he was spiritually poor, he knew that he didn’t know and was open to receiving truth from God.

Bartimaeus has this knowing. It gave him courage to go to dangerous extremes and put his own life at risk as well as Jesus. What he shouted was not only truth but something politically dangerous “Jesus, son of David”. This was a royal title with messianic overtones. Jesus would lay claim to this title when he arrived in Jerusalem a few days later on Palm Sunday. But here in Jericho, it could have started an uprising. It took little to start the stone throwing in these crowds. The crowd rebuked him and tried to silence him but he cries out louder. It was crazy but it worked. Jesus had to stop lest a riot begin. Bartimaeus and Job and Bonhoffer met God face to face and they were drawn into a place of begging God for mercy and grace.

Bartimaeus represents the marginalised, the abused, the sick the downcast, anyone who feels like they are nothing, struggling to get by but knowing how much they need God.
You know you don’t understand
And you know you need mercy and grace

Jesus stops the crowd and says “Call him here.”
And they called the blind man, saying to him,

“Take heart – get up.
He can hear you
He is calling.”

Take heart – get up.
He can hear you
He is calling.

Bartimaeus threw off his cloak which he used to spread on the ground to collect alms. It was his tool of trade and he would have no use for it now.

You have to respond, you must do something.

It’s not always easy to leave behind the things which have been your identity, even if they were unpleasant. Sometimes being healed involves a radical change in our lives, real repentance, rethinking, changing, leaving things and people behind. It means planning processes to make sure you don’t go back where you were. Changing behaviour and thinking that that is destroying you, the sort that brings a little death each time? Have courage to get up and choose Jesus and life. Leaving things behind can be hideously difficult. Even when you do decide and you act on it, it is so easy to get sucked back into it again. It is only as we struggle against the internal demons that render us deaf and mute, only if we renounce our thirst for power, or independence, only if we recognise our blindness and seek true vision- then can the discipleship adventure carry on. A Chinese proverb says “There is no growth without resistance.” It is at this point of decision that you are most vulnerable where the struggle begins with shock and loss. By clinging to the present you cut off the wings of the soul. It is a place of needing others to walk with you and support you. This is being the Body of Christ for each other. The spiritual journey is not meant to be walked alone, that’s why we come together to confess and pray and praise and break bread. It may also mean opening yourself up to someone you trust and share the demons and darkness that threaten you. We want to hold the Christ light for you, but you have to ask.

Have courage.

Mark makes a devastating contrast between this beggar’s initiative and the aspirations of the disciples. When James and John had asked a favour of Jesus, he responded with a question “What do you want me to do for you?”
Jesus responds to the pleas of the beggar with exactly the same question. The requests are such a contrast. The disciples wished for status and privilege; the beggar simply for his “sight”.
The first one Jesus cannot grant, the other one he can.

Jesus asks us the same question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
We also have to name what we want.

The healing was short and sharp. The Word of Authority, “See-again, Go.” No fuss, no sermonising, and Jesus gave him the credit for his own healing. Bartimaeus had taken the initiative and his determination was the vital factor in his healing.

“Done! Your faith has paid off, making you whole.” For any early Christian, being made whole carried a wider and deeper meaning than physical healing. The different dimensions of salvation were not sharply distinguished either by Jesus or by the gospel writers. God’s rescue of people from what we think of as physical ailments on the one hand and spiritual peril on the other were thought of as different aspects of the same event. This in not the first time we see that the key to salvation, of whatever kind, is faith. That’s why anyone, even those normally excluded from pure or polite society, can be saved. Faith is open to all; and often it’s the unexpected people who seem to have it most strongly. And faith consists not least in recognising who Jesus is and trusting that he has the power to rescue.

With both his sight and vision healed Bartimaeus trusted and followed in true discipleship. He followed Christ by imitating Him and when you imitate Christ you go on mission. You not only leave the old things behind you take on new and better ways of being and doing. It is deliberate and planned with careful thoughtful prayer followed by a response. Mission doesn’t just happen. Jesus invites us to follow him in the way. Will you heed his invitation and call to wholeness with faith and insight?