Feast Day: Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Mark 10:46-52
“Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
In our gospel reading this morning Jesus is with his disciples and a large crowd and they are leaving the city of Jericho. There sitting at the edge of the road is a blind man named Bartimaeus and as Jesus was passing by he wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to have his sight restored. Jesus wants you to know that he is passing by this morning so that we might shout out to him and have the eyes of our hearts enlightened.
Bartimaeus is an interesting figure. In Matthew and Luke’s telling of the story the blind man is anonymous but here in Mark he has a name. This is not just some anonymous blind man or beggar but someone—Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Right away this tells us something important. There are no numbers in the kingdom of God. There are people with names and faces. There are individuals, each unique and bestowed with dignity from God himself. Each one worthy of respect and love. Each one with inherent value and beauty to God. Each one with a story that Jesus Christ knows in-and-out.
And Bartimaeus, we are told, is blind. Though Saint John Chrysostom, that great fourth century bishop, asks does not Bartimaeus see better than many? Indeed, Jesus Christ the light of the world has come to restore our spiritual sight, to illumine the eyes of our hearts with the divine light that we might see and know him truly as he is and love and obey him now and always. That is what all of the healings of blind people in the gospel are ultimately signs of.
So there sits blind Bartimaeus begging by the side of the road and when he heard that Jesus was passing by he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” It is unlikely that Bartimaeus knew the full weight of his confession of faith. Yet he had at least a rudimentary understanding of who Jesus is and the ability of Jesus to meet a basic and fundamental need that he had. In this already his spiritual sight was being restored.
Maybe you can identify with Bartimaeus. Maybe you don’t know all the ins-and-outs of theology or of the Scriptures, maybe you can’t articulate your faith winsomely, and yet you sense some deep need or lack within yourself and are drawn towards Jesus Christ in the hope that maybe he can address that. Well this morning Jesus Christ is passing by in the proclamation of the Word and in the Sacrament of Holy Communion and I believe that even now the Holy Spirit is beginning to open the eyes of your heart.
The cry of Bartimaeus is a cry of desperation is it not? Given his position as a beggar we might reasonably assume that Bartimaeus had exhausted all of his resources and was relegated to casting himself entirely on the mercy of others. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth passing by he cried out in total desperation. He was not concerned how he appeared to others. He was simply desperate to be near Christ. When the crowd “sternly ordered” him to quiet down and relax he did not apologize and settle down rather he cried out even louder. Do you long for Jesus Christ with the same desperation as Bartimaeus? Are you so desperate for his mercy that you are willing to even maybe lose some respectability in the sight of others? Jesus is looking for people who are not ashamed to look a little foolish in the eyes of some.
Bartimaeus was so willing but that was because he knew he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” was his cry. Understanding his own need he threw himself entirely on the mercy of Christ. If you’re anything like me then maybe sometimes you have trouble recognizing and owning your own need or sinfulness. After all we are pretty nice. Surely that gets us somewhere with God. Bartimaeus invites us to get off that treadmill of trusting in our own righteousness and entrust ourselves entirely to the mercy of Jesus. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
The cry of Bartimaeus reminds me of the Jesus Prayer. It’s very simple and maybe you know it: Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. It’s an important prayer for Eastern Orthodox Christians who are encouraged to pray it daily. In fact, you can say it quietly in such a way that it matches the rhythm of your breath: [inhale] Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, [exhale] have mercy on me a sinner. The idea is that as you pray this simple prayer throughout the day it reorients your inner disposition towards God and we begin to hunger for his mercy. It is precisely this sort of humility, says Saint Ambrose, by which God lifts us up. Indeed, Jesus is about to lift Bartimaeus up.
I love what happens next in the story. Mark emphasizes the fact that Jesus stopped and stood still. Despite the noise and festivity of the crowd the simple cry of Bartimaeus was not lost to Jesus. He heard it and he stopped. Because Jesus is the good shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go after the 1 that is in need. And Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who sits enthroned in the heavens, who holds the universe in his hands, hears your cry. Hears every cry.
“Call him here,” says Jesus. So the disciples go to Bartimaeus and say, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” This is what disciples do. This is what we are called to do. Simply this: to bring men and women and children into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. There are people in our community right now that Jesus Christ is calling to himself but they might not ever know it unless somebody that is already following Jesus goes and tells them. Jesus is looking for people who are paying attention to what is going on around them and are not afraid to go to their neighbour or their family member or their colleague and say, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
So Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, sprang up and came to Jesus. Because when you get up to follow Jesus you’re going to have to leave something behind. Maybe you think you can have everything and Jesus. But Jesus is saying if you’re going to come after me then you’re going to have to throw that old cloak aside. I don’t know what that old cloak is for you but you probably know yourself and if you don’t ask the Holy Spirit to show you and when he does throw it off. Do not be afraid to leave it behind. It could be a habit, or it could be a relationship, or it could be a mindset or a way of thinking. Throw it off.
Now Bartimaeus is standing there and Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Wow. Imagine that. And here’s the thing. I really believe that Jesus is asking you that same question: “What do you want me to do for you?” What would you say to him this morning? He has stopped, he has stood still, he has called you to himself, and he is listening. “What do you want me to do for you?”
“My teacher, let me see again.” Bartimaeus longs for light. To be made whole. To be restored. To be healed. And Mark tells us that his sight was restored and that he, “followed [Jesus] on the way.” One theologian commenting on this sees here evidence that Bartimaeus’ longing for light was ultimately a longing for something more basic: a longing for the path that leads to God, a path whose direction one must see if they are to embark upon it. Bartimaeus longs for light, for divine light, and when his eyes are opened the first thing he sees is Jesus Christ, the way—and he followed him.
This is my whole prayer for us. That we would know that Jesus Christ has come near, and that knowing this we would cry out for his mercy, and that crying out for his mercy we would see, and that seeing we would love and follow.
 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Light of the World, 247.