Gracious God, free us from the tyranny of sin and death, and by the leading of your Spirit bring us to our promised land, Amen
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are sometimes referred to as people of faith. To have faith means we believe in something, and in terms of the Christian faith, someone, Jesus of Nazareth. According to the dictionary, to have faith has a variety of meanings.
In the context of religious practice: faith refers to a belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion. It is about confidence or trust in someone; for Christians, that is God and Jesus Christ. It can also refer to the commitment to be loyal to a person or to God. One additional meaning outlined is perhaps the most interesting and sometimes ignored: that faith or belief is not something based on proof. As I’ve said before faith in that way is like love, it can’t be proved, it can only be lived, or encountered. And regardless of how much faith we have, we cannot prove for instance that God exists. In the same way, we cannot prove we love our spouse, but we hope and pray they will be persuaded by our actions that this might be the case.
To give a flippant example, I can have faith or otherwise in the Canucks. I can believe or have faith that this season will be better than last season; it likely couldn’t be worse. But I can’t prove my faith in the Canucks; it is either apparent or otherwise. Of course one of the problems I encounter when I want to watch all 82 games in the regular season is that my wife is clear I love the Canucks, she just isn’t sure I love her as much.
In today’s gospel passage we encounter a blind man (named Bartimaeus) sitting by the side of the road begging. He is a man of deep faith even though he has never met Jesus face to face. The narrative contrasts with the gospel passage we heard last Sunday where the disciples, James and John, wanted to enter Jesus’ glory at his right and left. Here Bartimaeus first asks for mercy. It is only when Jesus inquires of Bartimaeus that he asks to have his sight restored. Bartimaeus has the distinction of being one of two people in the whole of Mark’s gospel account who is told by Jesus ‘your faith has made you well’; the other was the woman with the issue of blood. Like Bartimaeus, the woman was not intimidated by the crowd to remain silent; both were determined to seek Jesus’ help and received what they yearned.
Bartimaeus is both persistent and specific in his encounter with Jesus. Here is a man who has been sitting on the main route into or and out of Jericho for years. He seeks to make enough money to eat by begging from those who go past him. Somehow, somewhere, he has heard about Jesus of Nazareth. And so when he hears the crowds speaking about Jesus and realizes he is about to pass by he calls out to him in a loud voice. Some of those present try to shut him down; they think this beggar should leave Jesus alone. Yet Bartimaeus knows this is his moment, perhaps his only chance to make contact with Jesus. So he ignores the do-gooders and shouts even louder: ‘Son of David, have mercy on me’.
When Jesus tells the crowd to let him come forward, the do-gooders immediately change their tune and tell the man that Jesus is asking for him. He doesn’t wait for a second invitation; he throws off his cloak (used to gather coins thrown his way) and leaps up towards Jesus.
Jesus would have been aware that Bartimaeus was blind. The very fact his name is recorded in Mark means that he was well known in Jericho, perhaps because he sat in the same spot each day. But Jesus doesn’t go ahead and heal Bartimaeus at once, rather he says to him: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ This seems a very curious question to ask.
Bartimaeus has had many years to ponder this and he doesn’t hesitate for a second, in the same way, he shouted out to Jesus when he heard him passing by. ‘My teacher’, he says, ‘let me see again’. So this man knew Jesus was so much more than a miracle worker, he recognized him as a teacher, a rabbi, and he wants to receive his sight back. Jesus does nothing other than to speak these words: ‘Go; your faith has made you well’.
Immediately Bartimaeus sees again, but he doesn’t go anywhere, rather he now follows Jesus and becomes a disciple.
The narrative of Bartimaeus is profound, moving and very significant. He is a man who asks for nothing but mercy from Jesus, he doesn’t want to sit on his right or his left in the kingdom; he isn’t a rich person wondering how to enter heaven. Here is someone who sees who Jesus is even though he is blind. Here is a person who knows his need for Jesus and will follow him always. Here is a man who is blind but who sees so much more clearly than sighted people who really don’t get Jesus, who are living in a fog, who are blind to the gospel.
The question Jesus poses to Bartimaeus is more insightful than perhaps it seems. Jesus is asking if Bartimaeus wants to change his life. He could carry on begging or he could begin a new life, which would mean working for a living. The man grabs his chance with both hands. Jesus is taken by his enthusiasm and his faith.
Again Bartimaeus stands in contrast to the disciples who failed to understand what Jesus was saying to them. He is a shining example of a person of faith. He knows that Jesus can help him and immediately leaves this place to become a disciple, a follower of Jesus. Bartimaeus demonstrates that faith consists in not only recognizing who Jesus is but also having the trust that Jesus can save people. Bartimaeus had both.
In our lives, we seek the way of Jesus and follow the example of Bartimaeus. For our call is first to recognize who Jesus is, and then put our trust in him that he can save us. When we ask God to do things for us, we have to be persistent, we have to be open to the possibilities, and we have to have faith and trust. Like Bartimaeus our faith needs to be deep, pondered over, and adaptable to the changes and chances of life. Like him, we have to be willing to open our eyes to see the difference Jesus of Nazareth makes in our lives. Like him we have to everything lay aside everything else, and follow him who is our way, our truth and our life.