Sermon; 23 Pentecost/Proper 25B; Mark 10:46-52
Mark is a Passion narrative with an extended prologue, and almost everything in Mark points us to the cross. Some, like last week, are overt and obvious. Some, like today, are less so. Today that pointing to the cross has more to do with timing and location than anything else.
If you remember from the last couple of weeks, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and Holy Week is fast approaching. To put a time stamp on it, today is the last pre-Holy Week passage. So a few things about today's passage.
First, taken in isolation this is a lovely little story about Jesus healing the blind beggar Bartimaeus. He wasn't born blind, but had lost his sight at a point when he could remember what it was like to see. This loss of vision crippled him and he also lost his ability to be productive, relying on the generosity and handouts of others to survive.
Do you remember the Arch Books? When I was a little kid living in Beaverton, OR, I attended a neighborhood bible study thing or something that one of the neighbors held in her house. To be honest, I don't remember a lot about it. But when we moved away from there, the woman gave me this Arch Book about Blind Bart called, “The Beggar's Greatest Wish.” To this day it's one of my most sentimental valuables. And in isolation, it's a great story about a blind man who would not be silenced as Jesus passed by and who was granted his greatest wish to see again.
But if we pull this story out of isolation and look at it in context, it becomes something much more.
While Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and his Passion, he passes through Jericho. Depending on your interpretation, this is the last miracle he performs before he is crucified. This is certainly the last time he heals anyone. From here on out, Jesus is singularly focused on the Passion.
That focus begins to take shape with this healing story. First, notice that Jesus is addressed as “son of David.” This is the first time Mark uses that royal title. As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, as the king comes closer to the holy city, Mark now feels allowed . . . free . . . safe . . . compelled . . . to use the imagery of Hebrew scripture in announcing the arrival of the king.
Second, and tied to the first, is that Jesus does not stop Bart from telling others about the healing. More often than not Jesus instructs those healed to not tell anyone about it. The one exception is when Jesus heals the demoniac in Gentile territory and explicitly commands him to tell his people about it. But when in Jewish territory, people are ordered not to tell. That is, until today when his command for silence goes unsaid.
This story is leading us into the Passion. There's the recognition that Jesus is the promised Messianic king in the line of David. There's the lifting of the command for silence. And there is the large crowd following Jesus which alludes to the coming Palm Sunday procession that will also identify him as being of David's line.
In isolation we have a wonderful healing story and the basis for an Arch Book of sentimental value. In context we have a story that closes out the ministry of Jesus and opens up the Passion narrative. But there is another aspect of this story I want to address, and that is the issue of timing.
As I've said, this story is the bridge between ministry and Passion. His greatest wish was to see again, and Jesus grants that wish. But the timing is interesting.
Bart exhibits great faith in Jesus, even to the point of calling out his name in the midst of a crowd that tries to keep him quiet. This faith results in the restoration of vision. This faith compels him to jump up, leave his possessions behind, and follow Christ.
We never hear about Blind Bart again, but I would like to believe this encounter changed him both physically and spiritually. I would like to believe that that change led to a lifetime of discipleship. And while that's a wonderful thing, look at when this happened.
Bart's eyes were opened in time to see the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and witness people proclaiming him king. Bart's eyes were opened in time to see Jesus betrayed and arrested. They were opened in time to see him mocked, spit upon, and beaten. They were opened in time to see him crucified. They were opened in time to watch him die. I hope they were opened in time to witness Resurrection.
I think Bartimaeus can be an example to us of what discipleship entails. First and foremost, we need to have a faith which believes in the power of Christ to bring new life. We need to have a faith that compels us to proclaim the name of Jesus even when others are trying to silence us.
Second, we need to go into this discipleship thing with eyes wide open. Just because we have faith doesn't mean all our problems disappear. If we follow Christ, then we will surely experience pain and suffering and even death. This is not something we can gloss over, nor is it something we can turn a blind eye to. But having our eyes opened, we must know that following Christ is not always a rose-colored window.
Today we are once again reminded of that as we hard the news of yet another mass shooting, this one at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, as well as the disciple of another stripe mailing pipe bombs to people he dislikes.
I pray that we will finally have our eyes opened to see the pain and brutality of the world. I pray that we will witness Resurrection, live over death, love over hate. I pray that we will, like Blind Bartimaeus, have the courage to proclaim the message of the Gospel, even when the world tries to shout us down and keep us silent.
Because if we can't do that, then we might as well sit blindly by the side of the road.