The Wonderful Thing About Bartimaeus
October 24, 2021 Rev. Drew Stockstill
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
When the Apostle Paul was in a lot of pain, he prayed to God to remove the pain from him. Three times he asked God to take it away when finally, he said God responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."
Let us pray: God, as we receive your word, give us new eyes to see our own weaknesses and struggles as pathways to strength. And may the words of my mouth and meditations of our hearts be acceptable and pleasing to you, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Bartimaeus, I love this guy. This is one of my all-time favorite stories in the gospel. Here’s a guy who by all accounts was known for what he did not have, namely, his sight. We know him by his vulnerability. Probably the way everyone described him in his own time was: Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, sitting by the side of the road. We know him by his vulnerabilities. He’s not Bartimaeus, the guy with great hair. Not Bartimaeus, with the beautiful voice. Maybe Bartimaeus happened to be really into song birds and knew all about their migrations and what they ate, and their unique personalities. You’ll never meet someone who can tell you more about Palestine’s birds, but when someone was trying to describe Bartimaeus, they never said, “The guy who knows all about the song birds. And have you ever heard him sing? Great voice, and by the way, great hair.” No, he was Bartimaeus, the blind beggar who sits by the side of the road. “Oh yeah, we know him. The guy who can’t see, can’t get a job, can’t afford to buy his own food, doesn’t have any family willing to help him stay off the streets.” We meet Bartimaeus and the first thing we learn about him is how vulnerable he is.
"Lord, That I Might See!" -- Matyas Church, Budapest, Hungary
Who are the people who we know by their vulnerabilities? The people from Afghanistan—refugees. How long will it take them to become more than that? The veteran I passed on my way to church this morning, standing by the side of the road with a sign asking for money? The women near the church caught in human trafficking. Who are the people we know by their vulnerabilities, by what they lack, what they endure to survive? Bartimaeus – the gospel makes sure we at least know his name.
Bartimaeus means, “Son of Timaeus,” in Aramaic. Bar means “son of.” His dad was Timaeus and he was Bar-Timaeus. Ironically, Timaeus means, “I value” or “I honor.” I’ve got so many questions, then about Timaeus, Bartimaeus’ dad. Like, where is he, the honoring one? Is he alive? If he is alive, what in the world happened that he and his family are not helping support his blind son? It’s important enough that Mark not only wants us to remember Bartimaeus, but also to remember who his father was. Why? Maybe because it’s another reminder of what Bartimaeus had but lost. He was somebody’s son, but now, well, now he’s a blind beggar sitting by the side of the road. What happened?
We meet Bartimaeus and the first things we know about him is all he doesn’t have: a family to keep him off the streets, he doesn’t have his sight, he doesn’t have money. But the wonderful thing about Bartimaeus is that he clearly sees way more than what people see in him. Bartimaeus, like most of us, didn’t wake up one day and say, “I sure hope I have to face some great struggle in life so that I can discover my strengths.” But he lost his sight, he lost his family, he lost the means to work for a living. But he did not lose his dignity, and through all that adversity, he honed his strengths. And we all get to see it that day Jesus came to Jericho. Everything we learn about Bartimaeus makes us aware of his vulnerability, but everything Bartimaeus does demonstrates his strength, his courage, his power. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
First, though he could not see, and though there was a huge crowd coming down the road, Bartimaeus heard Jesus. He had no idea what he looked like, but he knew what hope sounds like, and he heard Jesus, heard him among the crowd, the noise, the commotion. He had the power to hear Jesus.
Next, Bartimaeus began to shout. He couldn’t see where Jesus was, but he knew he was there and he used the power of his voice. He shouted out into the chaos, into the crowd.
Then Bartimaeus demonstrated his most incredible strength: his faith. He believed Jesus was more than just some nice guy who did miracles. Bartimaeus shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Others had to see Jesus to believe, but such was the strength of Bartimaeus, he only needed to hear to know hope had arrived. And not just hope for a few bucks, but hope for mercy, a soul level hope. Bartimaeus is the only person in the gospel to call Jesus, Son of David, which was the name given to the one long awaited, the one who would come to save his people. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus not as a beggar, but as a believer. Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, calls to Jesus, Son of David. From one vulnerable son to another, deep calls out to deep, Bartimaeus knows in his heart his kinship with Jesus, and it is that this man isn’t just a healer, he’s a savior.
My favorite thing about Bartimaeus is his hard headed, open hearted, determination. Mark takes the time to expand the story of the blind beggar, because Bartimaeus is so much more than that. He has a name, he was somebody’s son. He could hear what others had to see to believe. He had a voice and he used it to call out for what he needed. “He began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!” And because he refused to follow directions, he refused to keep quiet, to know his place, to be polite, because he cried out even more loudly for mercy, Jesus stopped, stock-still in his tracks. “Call him here,” ordered our Lord. Jesus was moved by more than pity, more than compassion. No one had ever called him that before, “Son of David.” No one had ever called him by his kingly name because no one had ever seen that it was he, no one except blind Bartimaeus.
What if weakness isn’t something to be overcome? God helps us through our vulnerabilities discover a pathway to strength, to hope, to faith, to power? Bartimaeus didn’t have sight, but perhaps that led him to have a greater ability to listen, perhaps not being able to depend on what he could see he developed a greater strength in trusting what he could not see. It has been said, “There is no need for sight when you have a vision.” Bartimaeus showed faith where even Jesus’ closest followers struggled.
I like what scholar Brené Brown says about vulnerability. She wrote,
“[vulnerability is] having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness;
it is our greatest measure of courage.” Bartimaeus leaned into his vulnerability, exuding courage in the face of people literally trying to shut him down. He showed up, and demanded to be seen having no control over the outcome. We know him as blind Bartimaeus because blindness was his vulnerability, but Jesus saw him as courageous, and faithful, and it was his courageous truth-telling that stopped Jesus in his tracks.
Today we conclude our sermon series, “Speaking of Heaven.” When Jesus talks about heaven, it can be surprising because the characteristics of the kingdom of God are so much different than what we’ve been conditioned to value. We value power and we are ashamed of weakness, but Jesus shows us that someone like Bartimaeus is not weak, but strong and courageous, the picture of faithfulness. Jesus teaches us and shows us that in the kingdom of God, our weaknesses are not to be feared, and in the hands of God weakness becomes strength, adversity fuels toughness and determination. Jesus showed his power, not in the strength of an army or great wealth, but in his suffering on the cross. His humanity was his greatest vulnerability, but through his death he showed us God’s power, power to conquer death and opened the way for all of us to eternal life.
Lex Gillete is an Olympic long jumper. Lex will take off running as fast as he can and then leap 22 feet through the air. 22 feet! That’s incredible. But you know what else is incredible about Lex Gillete, in addition to his amazing name, and his 22 feet long jump? Lex is completely blind. He lost his sight when he was a child. And then he discovered the long jump, and now he is an Olympian. I want you to imagine what Lex does. He runs as fast as he can in complete darkness, and then he leaps through the air; flies in the dark. Imagine running as fast as you can with your eyes closed and then jumping. When Lex is doing the long jump, his coach stands at the end of the course and claps and yells and Lex runs at toward the sound. Right before Lex reaches the point of take-off, the coach steps aside and Lex launches himself through the air. His blindness could be his weakness, but it’s not. He runs as fast as he can toward his greatest vulnerability and shows incredible courage, strength, and power. It was Lex who said, “There is no need for sight when you have a vision.” He said that relates to everyone. “It’s not our sight that determines our success,” says Lex, “it’s that ability to see a vision and do everything in your power to bring it to fruition.” And God is right there with us, calling that power forth from within us.
What Lex has is inside of each of us, and what his coach does, standing right in front of him, calling and clapping, well, that’s what Jesus does for all of us, inviting us to run through the darkness, to lean into our fear and vulnerability and lunge toward his love. And in so doing we discover our greatest vulnerabilities are pathways to faith, strength, and power.
Like Lex’s coach, at the sound of Bartimaeus shouting, “Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ “ So Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, he sprang up, and ran through the dark to Jesus.