Today there is a different perspective, because today we get to meet Bartimaeus. We know the story; he is blind, sitting by the side of a busy and dangerous road. He hopes that strangers will be kind and that he will eat and be taken care of on this day. Bartimaeus isn’t just blind; his blindness has affected his entire life. It puts him at the mercy of others for his well being. It makes him an outcast who cannot work or be a contributing member of his community because he is considered unclean. Bartimaeus is the poorest of the poor, one who barely survives on the margins of society. A very different person than the rich young man or even James and John.
Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is approaching. I suspect that his sense of hearing is quite good; he depends on it to keep him alive and safe.
So he hears Jesus approaching, and he calls out to him, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” People try to silence him; normally, no one would pay any attention to a blind beggar, but suddenly, his voice is strong and he is heard; most importantly, he is heard by Jesus. Jesus does the unthinkable and asks for the blind man to be brought to him. Jesus literally calls him in from the margins and calls him into the community, into a new life. And here’s an interesting piece; he throws off his cloak and runs to Jesus. I suspect that cloak is all that Barimaeus owns. It has significant value to him; it keeps him warm at night, it shelters him from the weather, it probably helps him to hide in times of trouble. It’s important; it is all the wealth this man has, and he throws it off in order to encounter Jesus. It is no longer as important to him, he knows something much better awaits him and he gives everything he has in order to receive it… Two weeks ago we heard this; Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” And here we are… Bartimaeus has indeed left all that he had behind him, and now he receives his sight and he begins to follow Jesus on the way… Bartimaeus has received his hundredfold and then some. He has been called from the dark and dangerous margins of society; this outcast, without being able to see, can identify who Jesus is and what it means to follow him, when even the disciples don’t quite get it right. And now that he has his sight, everything is different. Bartimaeus called out to Jesus knowing it was Jesus who could heal him and restore him to his life and community. Before, he was as good as dead; now, he would be able to live life in community, he would be able to contribute, he would be able to keep himself safe; he would follow Jesus.
Bartimaeus literally threw off his old life, his cloak, ready to embrace his new life on the way. It’s a truly beautiful story. He allowed his life to be changed by Jesus, and he left everything that might have held him back. Nothing was as important to him as meeting and actually SEEING Jesus. And now the one who was last, pushed to the margins, is now on the way, restored to right relationship with God and with those around him.
Who do we find ourselves in all of these stories? Are we tired like Peter and the rest, wondering what’s in it for us? Are we like the rich young man who cannot extract himself from his status and wealth? Are we like James and John who want everyone to know that we are disciples and super close to Jesus? I suspect that at different times we find ourselves in different places. I also suspect that we all have those times when our vision of Jesus is obstructed by the life we are living.
It’s time to shed whatever it is that keeps us from Jesus; time to get rid of anything that might slow us down; all of us could loosen the grip we have on those things that give us a false sense of security and stop us from living into the call of discipleship. What is it that keeps us from running to Jesus and to his people? How can we, as disciples, call to those who are on the margins and bring them into relationship with Jesus?
Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us. Help us to shed the false security that we hold so dearly, so that we might truly see you and help us to destroy the barriers that we have put up that separate us from you.