Homily October 24, 2021, Ordinary 30B (Mark 10:46-52) Preached at the Sunday Assembly of Holy Wisdom Monastery, Middleton, WI on Stewardship Sunday
Thomas Merton once wrote: “It has never been either practical or useful to leave all things and follow Christ. And yet it is spiritually prudent.”
This week I have been wondering if this wasn’t precisely the situation the blind beggar Bartimaeus found himself in that day in Jericho when Jesus called him out on the road. But more on that a bit later.
The Bartimaeus story is the last example of Jesus’ healing ministry recorded in Mark, so I can’t help but speculate that Mark placed this story precisely at this point for a purpose. If I can make a bit of a pun of it, Mark seems to see much more in this healing story than the mere restoration of vision in a blind man.
To this point, Mark’s other story about the healing of a blind man is recorded just prior to Peter’s eyes-wide-open affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah made just before the Transfiguration. The Bartimaeus incident also involves an affirmation of Jesus’ Messiahship, and it is located immediately before the great events of Holy Week and Easter.
I think this story reads like an eyewitness account. Bartimaeus, a blind man reduced to begging, was sitting per usual by the roadside in Jericho, a city on Jesus’ route to Jerusalem.
When word reached Bartimaeus that this Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he shouted out an appeal for help: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Most of the crowd watching Jesus rebuked Bartimaeus, telling him to shut up. Perhaps they were afraid that the occupying Romans might come down even harder on Jericho if such a politically charged title as “Son of David” got bantered about like some revolutionary slogan.
But Bartimaeus was undeterred and cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Hearing him shout, Jesus stopped in his tracks and said, “Call him here.” And the very ones who just a moment before were hushing him up, now called the blind man, saying, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” And Mark says that he threw off his cloak, perhaps one of his few worldly possessions, and jumped up and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replied, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus quickly responded, “Go, your faith has made you well.”
Immediately, a word which Mark uses often in his fast-paced method of storytelling, immediately, the blind beggar man Bartimaeus regained his sight. End of story. Perhaps….or perhaps not.
It’s true that this story about a poor, blind man living on the edges of society in ancient Jericho is the final healing story which Mark tells as Jesus makes his final journey to Jerusalem. Interestingly, it is also a story told by all three Synoptic Gospel writers. But I think this story has another truth and a larger meaning which moves it from being yet another healing story about one individual to a story that addresses all of us.
Sure, the Bartimaeus story has all the usual healing story elements –an identifiable ailment, a frustrated sufferer looking for a solution, and Jesus providing the cure. But there is something more going on here. You see, when Jesus stopped and commanded that Bartimaeus be called, this story ceased to be just another healing miracle, and became a story of a call, or to quote Timothy Adkins-Jones of Union Seminary, this story became about “a disciple accepting an assignment.” And as Adkins-Jones further suggests, all this business of a call began before Bartimaeus is even given his sight back. Yes, even before he is healed, Bartimaeus seems to perceive Jesus more clearly than almost anyone else Jesus has encountered in Mark’s Gospel up to this point, more clearly than even Peter and the inner circle of disciples.
Bartimaeus could see Jesus with the eyes of faith, and so he ran to Jesus. I think it was St. Benedict who told us to run to Christ. In her 1997 book LIVING WITH CONTRADICTIONS, Esther De Waal says that “run” is one of her favorite words in the Rule [of Saint Benedict]. She goes on: “If I stop for a moment and consider what is being asked of me here, and what is involved in the art of running, I think of how when I run I place first one foot and then the other on the ground, that I let go of my balance for a second and then immediately recover it again. It is risky, this matter of running. By daring to lose my balance I keep it.”
This is why the story of Bartimaeus is more than just a story about vision restored. It is also a parable of discipleship; it is about running to Christ and following after Christ. After recovering his sight, Bartimaeus was set free by Jesus to go his way, to go home and be restored to a place of wholeness in society, but instead of going about his business, he followed Christ on the way to Calvary. He ran to Jesus and then he ran after Jesus, figuratively and quite literally. And he does so with almost reckless abandon.
Bartimaeus is not just restored. He is transformed. His story is a parable for all of us blind disciples: through Jesus’ power true understanding and true discipleship are possible. As it did for Bartimaeus, so it is for us – following the Jesus way leads to a cross.
British theologian Donald English has written: “We are not called only to observe the cross of Jesus: we are to carry our own. Our discipleship is not simply honoring him for giving his life: it is to offer ours. We are not only to be grateful for his self-denial: we are to deny ourselves.” As Mother Teresa said, “Anyone who imitates Jesus to the full must also share his passion. We must have the courage to pray to have the courage to accept.”
Oh, that we would see Jesus the way Bartimaeus does, expecting to be transformed, but also willing to throw off our own cloaks, and go into this relationship with God not with one hand in and one hand out but fully committed to follow and to serve.
On this Stewardship Sunday, let us be open to the possibility that the power of God’s goodness present in Jesus can open our eyes and enable us to respond to Jesus’ call to deny ourselves and follow him all the way to the cross.
I am confidant Jesus calls us just as he called Bartimaeus. We have a decision to make as well, and it includes our full commitment – our time, our talents, and our treasure – all that we have and are. It is a good thing, a very good thing, to be grateful for God’s loving, healing graciousness. But if when blessed, when healed, when delivered, when restored, we just settle in, well then we’ve missed the whole point.
Bartimaeus reminds us that a disciple always follows and that the way to life is always running to keep up with Christ. This business of running to and after Christ is risky business. But only by daring to lose our balance can we ever hope to keep it. Or as Merton said, “It has never been either practical or useful to leave all things and follow Christ. And yet it is spiritually prudent.”