The Reverend Kathleen Killian
This morning we find ourselves in the town of Jericho, along with Jesus and his disciples. Because of its close proximity to Jerusalem and the Temple many of the faithful passed through it on the way to the holy city. And so it was not uncommon for the road through Jericho to be lined with townsfolk looking on the passersby, as well as listening in to the rabbis, prophets and healers who discoursed along the way.
A blind beggar named Bartimaeus was among those gathered. Eager, curious, hopeful, but also wary even suspicious, no-one was quite sure what to expect of this teacher from Galilee who had been causing quite a stir. Waiting, watching, chatting, arguing, jostling for a better view, the anticipation was palpable. He’s coming! someone alerts the crowd. Bartimaeus looks but cannot see: my eyes are no use for seeing him, he laments. But no matter, he can see us!—content to be seen as part of the crowd, never presuming to be singled out, not he, a poor blind beggar. Suddenly though, he hears himself shouting—Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!—his heart in his mouth.
It’s not that Bartimaeus fully understood who Jesus was, anymore than would a learned theologian, but that the response of the human heart to the presence of God’s merciful love is enough. God is constantly drawing us to the Divine Self, that the response of the heart is enough.
Perhaps because he is a beggar or because Jesus is already thronged, many in the crowd try to silence Bartimaeus. Yet he persists; though blind, he recognizes something of Jesus and cries out to him again: Son of David, have mercy on me!
Jesus stands still; the hush of a prescient moment falls over the gathered congregation; for in the gospel of the Mark, Jesus is always on the move and most everything happens quickly or immediately. Yet here in Jericho, on the road to Jerusalem and the Cross, he pauses. He stands still on the threshold of his passion, and for a second, it’s as if the world stops spinning and the heart stops beating.
I think too that Jesus stands still so that Bartimaeus can get to him through the press and push of the masses, and the tangle of arms and legs and hungry souls.
In Mark’s gospel, Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, is the only person Jesus heals who is named. The others are anonymous. This naming of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, is a turning point, born of stillness, that reveals God’s work and salvation through the particulars. God works and saves in, with, and through specific persons and situations. Jesus is calling you, and you, and you, and you—have courage!—the saints and the disciples cheer on! And so, throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus springs up and comes to Jesus.
This fleeting if not inconsequential action of throwing off his cloak is anything but; for a cloak is a beggar’s most treasured if only possession. It would have kept Bartimaeus warm at night, providing a bit of shelter from the elements, a bit of bedding for sleep. In the morning, he would have spread his cloak on the ground in which to collect coins and food from passerby, gathering up his meager earnings and provisions into it at the end of the day. When Bartimaeus throws off his cloak to get to Jesus, he all but sheds his identity as a beggar and leaves his former life behind.
But too, his cloak might well have hindered him, tripping him up as clambered through the crowd. Jesus’ call, and the call of the gospel is to change, sometimes sudden, and to renunciation, sometimes pronounced, of our proverbial cloak. What encumbers our faith? Are we weighed down or tripped up by passions, possessions, the past, our conscience, or attitudes and thoughts?
Perhaps we hesitate when Jesus calls and the Spirit prods, saying: not right now, later . . . wrapping tight our cloak, too busy, too distracted, too unsure . . .that particular moment to vanish, never to appear again. Though we have as many chances to turn towards Gods as we have breaths, each moment, each call, is a unique invitation and unrepeated occasion of grace.
But like Bartimaeus, even if we spring into action and arrive at the feet of Jesus, we have more to answer: What do you want me to do for you? Jesus asks. What would you say? It might seem obvious, like with Bartimaeus who was blind and asked to see again. But do you really know what you want Jesus to do for you? Do you want peace? Abundance? Love? Healing? But of what? A broken body part? a broken heart? A disquieted soul? So often our yearning for Jesus is as vague as are our desires. So to answer Jesus’s question—what do you want me to do for you?—requires honest, discerning, and evolving self-examination.
The Holy One indeed knows our needs but we must also be able to articulate and names them, like Bartimaeus who said to Jesus, I want to see again. Immediately he regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus gained not only his physical sight but spiritual insight, a trust so freely given it enabled him to cast aside his cloak, that which was most familiar, in exchange for a new but uncertain life. Go; your faith has made you well. The newly sighted Bartimaeus immediately follows Jesus to Jerusalem and into the darkness of Christ’s passion and death. The way of Jesus, the way of the Cross, the way of Love, is now his way. Is it ours?
God seeks restoration of all that is spiritually dead and blind. As did Bartimaeus, in our Old Testament reading, Job declares to the Lord: I had heard of you by the hearing of the ears, But now my eye sees you (Job 42:5). Restoration.
Our psalmist sings: Look upon him and be radiant, and let not your faces be ashamed (Psalm 34:5). Restoration.
From our Epistle, Hebrews: In his priesthood, Christ continues forever; he always lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7: 24-25). Jesus is forever at the service of humanity and the world, and God’s mercy and forgiveness are always present and always available. Restoration.
Of Jesus’ numerous miracles, some thirty plus, healing the blind is the one he most often performed, marking the significance of seeing, and like Bartimaeus, with eyes of the heart. But learning to see with insight, and turning our hearts daily to Jesus is an unfolding revelation of restoration and redemption. This is not to say that the way we see now is false or wrong but that there is a deeper reality beyond what we see with our physical eyes. To open our eyes to that which underlies all appearance, we must faithfully and courageously ask:
What do I want? What does God want?
Deep down the heart of things is the truth of an answer that is one and the same.