Scripture passage: Mark 10:46-52
Naomi Nye has written a poem called “I feel sorry for Jesus.” It begins like this: I feel sorry for Jesus People won’t leave Him alone. I know He said, “Wherever two or more are gathered in my name…” but I’ll bet some days He regrets it.
Naomi’s wager is not that Jesus regrets having people around, but that he must get frustrated at how easily people misunderstand him, twist his words, don’t get the point, and represent him in ways that are actually completely contrary to his purpose. She may have been thinking, among other examples, of this crowd of admirer’s and disciples who so sternly and insistently tell the blind man to shut up. “Jesus doesn’t have time for you,” they apparently think and are bent on conveying. “You’re a beggar in the street. Be quiet. He’s an important man on his way to Jerusalem. Don’t bother him. Don’t disturb him. Our job is to protect him, so don’t disturb us either. Stop making a nuisance of yourself.”
(This is the poem again…) Cozily they tell you what He wants And doesn’t want as if they just got an e-mail. Remember “Telephone,” that pass-it-on
Where the message changed dramatically by the time It rounded the circle? Well. People blame terrible pieties on Jesus.
They try to feel like His Special Pet. Jesus deserves better. I think He’s been exhausted for a very long time.
I suppose we could try to give the disciples and the crowd the benefit of the doubt, and imagine that they, too, thought Jesus must be exhausted, and were trying to protect his time and energy. But the story indicates that blind Bartimaeus, the noisy man by the side of the road, understood a lot more of the truth than anybody else who was walking with Jesus that day. Bartimaeus was actually the first to call Jesus “Son of David.” Later, as Jesus enters Jerusalem, the whole crowd will take up the chant, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David,” but Bartimaeus was the first to call it out. Bartimaeus was also the first to throw his cloak in the road, as he jumped up and ran eagerly to respond to Jesus’ summons. Physically blind though he was, Bartimaeus saw clearly who Jesus was and understood his purpose. His gesture was later repeated by the throngs, so that the road was lined with cloaks and leafy branches. Bartimaeus was the first. At a time when everyone else was confused, Bartimaeus seemed to know how much Jesus was capable of, and to sense where things were heading.
In response to the loud cry for mercy, Jesus has some remarkable words of his own for Bartimaeus. “Go. Your faith has made you well,” Jesus tells him, just as he told the woman who had been bleeding for so many years and then finally had the chance to draw near to Jesus and touch his garment when she thought he wasn’t looking. “Your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed.” (Mark 5:34) Not only are the words amazing, so is the result. Bartimaeus immediately regains his ability to see, and he chooses, in freedom, to follow along with Jesus. “Go, your faith has made you well.”
What is this thing “faith” that accomplishes such dramatic transformations? Well, if we take our cue from Bartimaeus, faith appears to consist of shouting, persisting, ignoring the crowd, refusing to shut up, leaping with enthusiasm, asking for what you want, and believing that God, through Jesus, can accomplish it. Faith includes believing that we are worthy of God’s love and attention, even when others try to tell us that God is too busy, that our troubles are not important, or that we don’t deserve any help.
Studying Bartimaeus, we must also conclude that faith encompasses a willingness to have everything change. Based on the descriptions of those who, in more recent times, have gained sight through medical and surgical interventions, once his sight is restored, Bartimaeus will have a lot to re-learn and he will be leaving behind old coping mechanisms to spend his time in totally new ways. Seeing is not as simple as it sounds. Acquiring sight actually involves learning to distinguish shape, color, distance, motion; the brain has to learn how to interpret what the eye takes in. New vision can be overwhelming and uncomfortable at first. Yet Bartimaeus does not hesitate to ask Jesus to make such a major change for him. He reaches for the gift of sight, even if it will throw his life into turmoil.
Faith, summarizes one student of the Bible, is three things working together: Faith is part persistence; it continues on in spite of resistance. Faith is part courage, willing to go against the crowd; willing to ask for transformation. And faith is part trust; holding on to the assurance that God can and will grant the healing, the help, or the restoration we seek. Faith equals persistence, courage, and hope. Faith is expressed in seeking the gifts of God, and following the One whom God sent.
“My faith looks up to thee, thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine!” begins an old, favorite hymn. The song goes on to speak of faith as the basis of prayer, forgiveness, encouragement, determination, dedication, guidance, comfort, and hope. A much newer hymn adds and elaborates that faith is patience, waiting, and never giving up. Faith is steadfast will to live, and trusting in one we can’t explain. Faith, according to this song, is a great gift.
Bartimaeus embraced the gift, and it made him into sort of a “faith dynamo” – as well as an exemplary disciple. Not everyone, however, is able to be so welcoming of things not easily explained. Dr. Rachel Remen tells the story of a young man who was diagnosed with a devastating form of bone cancer. Against the advice of several doctors and the wishes of his parents, the young man refused the recommended leg amputation and any other medical treatment. At the age of 19, he simply left the city and went home to his parents’ farm to live out what remained of his life.
Not surprisingly in this small town, the family’s pastor asked if he could put the young man on the prayer list. Those who wished were invited to pray for him every evening at 7 p.m. They did so for two years. Over time, the tumor on the young man’s thighbone gradually disappeared. Twenty years later, he was still alive and well.
Dr. Remen was asked by a third party if she could contact the man’s long-ago doctor and confirm the original diagnosis. The doctor was still in practice and remembered the case quite well. “It was such a tragedy,” he said, “are you contacting me on behalf of the family?” “Actually,” replied Dr. Remen, “your former patient is still alive.” “Well thank God,” exclaimed the oncologist. “Where did he have the surgery?” “He did not have surgery,” explained Dr. Remen. There was a long pause.
“Then what happened?” asked the other doctor, now w with an edge in his voice. Dr. Remen told the story. Without saying another word, the doctor who had made the original diagnosis hung up the phone. Although Dr Remen tried to contact him again several times after that, he would not accept or return her calls.
When we are confronted with the complexity, and the mystery, and the wonder if life, when we are challenged to broaden our understanding of what God can and will do, do we look up, or do we hang up? Look up in amazement and joy, or hang up on possibility because we are paralyzed by confusion and fear?
Faith looks up. Faith looks up to receive healing when healing is offered, whether through the miracles of modern medicine, or the power of prayer, or both. Faith looks up equally steadily when it seems as though there is no cure. Faith looks up to receive comfort, encouragement, and peace when problems, trials, and suffering persist. Faith looks up to await God’s action, and respond to God’s invitation. Faith doesn’t always need answers or explanations; it just wants a chance to honor God and walk with God. Watch Bartimaeus: faith does not hang up; faith looks up, leaps up, speaks up, and follows up!
Faith moves people to faithful living. It sees the truth. It provokes us to do what we can and must. In Baritmaeus, faith provokes a need to shout for mercy and to follow Jesus. In Naomi Nye, the poet, faith prompts a suggestion that sometimes listening would be more appropriate than talking as if we “know it all.” Faith causes her to want to represent Jesus accurately.
Jesus went INTO THE DESERT, friends (she writes) He didn’t go into the pomp. He didn’t go into the golden chandeliers
And say, the truth tastes better here. See? I’m talking like I know. It’s dangerous talking for Jesus. You get carried away almost immediately.
I stood in the spot where He was born. I closed my eyes where He died and didn’t die. Every twist of the Via Dolorosa was written on my skin.
And that made me feel like being silent, you know? A secret pouch of listening. You won’t hear me talk about this again.
We won’t hear specifically about Bartimeaus again, either, anywhere in the rest of Mark’s gospel. Hopefully, however, we’ve heard and seen enough of him to know already that his choice is filled with excitement, joy, and life. Hopefully, when Jesus asks each of us, “What do you want me to do for you?” we will be eager and able to answer with Bartimaeus, “Let my life, O Lord, praise you.”