October 24, 2021
For our second reading today, we’re going back to chapter 10 of Mark’s gospel. Two weeks ago, Meg read the section where a man runs up to Jesus and asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He has followed the commandments all his life… but… but… Jesus tells him, his wealth is holding him back. “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” And the man goes away shocked and grieving as Jesus teaches his disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Expectations are upended. That encounter isn’t about wealth… it’s about what you truly value most. Soon after, James and John come to Jesus with their request… they want a special place of power and privilege… to be seated at his left and right. Power and privilege are what they still value most… even this deep into Mark’s gospel. Expectations are upended again. Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. Not the answer they were seeking.
You see, up to this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has been traveling around the Sea of Galilee and a crowd has been gathering and growing around him. There have been healings and exorcisms of untold number, the miraculous feeding of thousands… all manner of amazing works. That’s the first part of Mark’s gospel story. Then… Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem and all those expectations being held onto by the crowd… and the disciples… all those expectations are upended. Three times now Jesus has told his disciples that in Jerusalem the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. But no one understands and they are afraid to ask.
Today Jesus comes to Jericho, the last stop before reaching Jerusalem. Listen carefully for the Word of God as it speaks to you now from the gospel according to Mark.
READ Mark 10:46-52
Bartimaeus is the last person Jesus will heal before he is crucified. The last time a blind man was healed in Mark’s gospel, it came right before Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem… right before he told his disciples what was to come… right before Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him for saying such crazy things. In that previous story, an unnamed blind man is brought to Jesus and Jesus puts saliva on the man’s eyes to heal him… but the healing isn’t instantaneous. It doesn’t work first time around. The blind man… well, he could see something… he could see people… but they looked like trees walking around. It’s an odd little story… one that doesn’t fit our expectations of Jesus’ healing power.
Remember though… there is something more to this story… we have to always look beyond the literal surface story if we are going to see… truly see. We have to look past the surface if our eyes are going to be opened.
So the blind man’s vision isn’t fully restored with Jesus’ first attempt. He can only see in part… just as the people who have been following Jesus up to this point in the gospel… following him around the Sea of Galilee… witnessing miracles and other works of great power… can only see in part. They see the miracle worker… the one who sets them free from their disease and from the demons that torment them. They come to Jesus to receive… to get from him what they desire for themselves. They gladly accept his service. It’s very much a consumer model of ministry at this point… and I think that’s something we can understand. The followers in the first part of Mark’s gospel… they are consumer followers. And once they have that which they have sought… they shout praises… they are astounded at what is happening… and they often go off into the neighboring towns and countryside… and proclaim Jesus the miracle healer. However much of a good healing is… and it is good… I don’t want to take away from that… however much of a good healing is… it is not the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. They are only seeing in part.
Think of it this way. What would have happened if… during this time of ministry around the sea of Galilee… what would have happened if Jesus stopped healing and performing these mighty works… and instead told the people what he told the rich man… stop coming to receive and instead take all that you have… big or small… and work together to remake this world according to the vision of the coming Kingdom of God. How many of those would have also turned away… shocked and grieving. How quickly would consumer followers continue to follow if instead of coming to receive, they were told to go and give?
In the story of the unnamed blind man… after not seeing fully the first time… Jesus lays his hands on the man’s eyes again; and the man looks intently… and his sight is restored… and he then sees everything clearly. Now I love that word… intently. To see in full requires that something more… to be more focused and more intentional. The man is no longer passively hoping to regain his sight… he is looking intently… trying now to see what he hadn’t seen before. The wealthy and good man from Meg’s reading two weeks ago… he doesn’t look intently after he is told to sell all he has… give it to the poor… and follow Jesus. He leaves his encounter with Jesus still only seeing in part. And it is not enough vision for him to see the Kingdom of God.
In the stories that immediately follow the healing of the unnamed blind man, we keep encountering those who are following but who only see in part… like Peter who can see that Jesus is the Messiah, but he cannot see what being the Messiah will mean for Jesus or for himself. Like anyone who hears Jesus say what will clearly happen in Jerusalem… but either can’t comprehend or are too afraid to ask because… because it might mean things are going to change. It might mean they are going to have to change.
When we reach blind Bartimaeus sitting outside of Jericho, it’s amazing that he is able to make the same proclamation Peter made earlier. Calling Jesus, “Son of David” as he does, Bartimaeus is clearly saying to all who hear his shouting, “You are the Messiah!” Like Peter, even in his blindness… he sees Jesus for who he is… even if he does not understand fully.
The wording in this story today is wonderful. Jesus stands still and says, “Call him here.” Now normally Mark’s storytelling is always in motion. He uses the words “then” and “suddenly”… language and a style of writing that is brisk and rarely slows down. Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem and is on the move. But here… as Jesus is leaving Jericho, the last city before entering into Jerusalem… as he is just about to step across the line of no return… Jesus stops and stands still. And he calls Bartimaeus to this point where the story can now choose to either move forward toward Jerusalem and the cross… or to move backwards to the Galilean ministry and the satisfaction of the half-blind crowds who had gathered in consumeristic fervor around Jesus’ amazing works of power.
In this story of discipleship… because it is a story more about discipleship than it is about healing… in this story of discipleship blind Bartimaeus is called by Jesus. And Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” This same question was asked just a few verses back in the story we read last week as James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus saying, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” But James and John could only see in part and in their blindness they asked for power and privilege to be granted to them. They may have called Jesus teacher, but they were not looking for the eyes of their mind… or the eyes of their heart… or the eyes of their faith to be opened. They came to Jesus to receive… to get from him what they desire… because they could only see in part. And seeing in part… is still being blind.
Blind Bartimaeus asks to see again. But what happens next is different from the last blind man Jesus healed. This time there is no saliva placed on his eyes. This time there are no hands being placed upon Bartimaeus. This time Jesus doesn’t behave like the miraculous healer, but more like the teacher who opens eyes to the truth… a truth that the crowd could only see in part… the truth of the Christ. The real power here lies in faith. It was faith that made Bartimaeus whole. Faith. Not blind faith. Not blind faith. Faith that could see clearly. Faith that asks to see. Immediately Bartimaeus regains his sight and he becomes a disciple… and then… in a part of the story that can easily get lost… Bartimaeus crosses that line of no return… he takes that step towards Jerusalem… following Jesus on the way, whatever that way may hold for him.
Mark is telling us where real discipleship is to be revealed. Our discipleship cannot take us back to the Sea of Galilee… traveling around and around… perhaps having fame and notoriety and helping lots of people with their immediate needs… but ultimately going nowhere. Discipleship has to go with Jesus to Jerusalem where his cross… and our cross await. At the Sea of Galilee he was the Miracle Worker. In Jerusalem he will be the Messiah. At the Sea of Galilee we will be consumer disciples. In Jerusalem we become the servant church that gives its life with eyes full of the Kingdom of God. Amen.