This Sunday’s Gospel features the well-known story of the healing of the blind man (Bartimaeus). When listening to any familiar story, we are inclined, upon hearing its opening lines, to think, “Oh, that story,” and just sort of tune out. If we do so, though, we may miss some important details.
The story of Bartimaeus is also our story; we, too, must let the Lord heal our blindness and give us sight. One paradox of this Gospel is that Bartimaeus receives his sight as the result of hearing.
Let’s look at the Gospel in six stages.
I. The Perception of the Problem – The text says, As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, sat by the roadside begging.
Bartimaeus has troubles; he is both blind and poor. He is not spiritually blind, however, for he is aware of his problems. Knowing our troubles, being in touch with our neediness, is an important spiritual insight that many people lack.
We all depend on God for every beat of our hearts, yet some people are unaware of how blind, poor, naked, and pitiable they are before God (cf Rev 3:17). In their pride, those who are spiritually blind lose this insight. They fail to ask for help from the Lord; they fail to ask for grace. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but since you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (John 9:41). In other words, physical blindness is not their problem; it is spiritual blindness. Because they think themselves righteous by their own power, they think they do not need God and do not truly seek Him. Only humility and a true “vision” and experience of our poverty can help us to call out to God as we should.
Bartimaeus knows that he is blind, so he calls for help. His pleas need some direction, though; they need to be properly specified and directed.
So, we begin by noting that although Bartimaeus is blind he has spiritual insight.
Do we have this insight? Do we understand how blind we are? We struggle to see God; we struggle to see and understand ourselves; we struggle to see others with compassion and understanding. Indeed, God is more present to us than is anything in this world. Somehow, we can see all the things of this world yet struggle to see God. Neither do we see our own dignity, or the dignity and the gifts of others, including our enemies. We do not see or understand how things work together, and we struggle to see and find meaning in the events of our day. We are also blind to our sin and seldom fully comprehend the harm our sin does.
Yes, we have a great deal of blindness; we struggle to see. Perhaps our worst blindness is not realizing how blind we are. Like the Pharisees, we think that because we know a few things, we therefore know many things.
Consider Bartimaeus’ humility: he knows he is blind, that he needs help, grace, and mercy. It is this humility that opens the door. The first stage in the journey is perceiving the problem.
II. The Proclamation that is Prescribed – The text says, On being told it was Jesus of Nazareth who was passing by, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus son of David have pity on me.”
Note the subtle but important transition here. Up until this point, Bartimaeus has been calling upon anyone passing by for help. But no mere passerby, nor in fact anyone in this world, can ultimately help him with his real problem.
It is the same with us. Though we may turn to science, medicine, philosophy, economics, or politics, none of these can really help us. At best these can serve to specify what is wrong or to provide us with temporary comfort, but all these solutions will be rooted in this world, which is passing away.
True vision can only be granted by the Lord, who opens for us a vision of glory and who alone can draw us safely to that place where joys will never end, and visions will never cease.
When Bartimaeus is told of Jesus’ presence, he directs his cry to the Lord, who alone can heal him: Jesus, son of David, have pity on me! The world and passersby can give him money or a meal, but only Jesus can give him meaning, the true vision he really needs to see.
Do not miss the fact that his seeing comes, paradoxically, through hearing. Faith comes by hearing, and more specifically, hearing from the Word of God (cf Rom 10:17). Faith is about hearing, not seeing. We sometimes doubt things that we see. Even if we see a marvel, we tend to dismiss it, thinking, “Oh, they have some way of doing that.” No, the eye is never satisfied with seeing (cf Eccl. 1:8). Faith comes by hearing, and faith is obedience to what is heard. We walk by faith, by an inner seeing, not by physical sight.
Bartimaeus hears from others that Jesus is passing by and takes up the proclamation that is prescribed: “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me!”
III. The Perseverance that Produces – The text says, And they rebuked him, telling him to be silent. Yet he kept calling all the more, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man saying to him, “Take courage; get up. Jesus is calling you.”
Those of us who put our trust in the Lord and call on Him will often experience rebuke, hostility, and ridicule from the world. Bartimaeus ignores all of this and so should we. He has heard the Name above all names, who alone in Heaven and earth can save, and calls upon Him.
Jesus does not answer him right away, but the Bartimaeus perseveres, calling out all the more. Eventually, Jesus stops and says, “Call him.”
Why does God delay? While this is a mystery, one of the effects of His delay is to test our faith and strengthen it. In the end, it is not an incantation that saves us, but faith. Simply shouting, “In the name of Jesus!” is not enough. The name of Jesus is not some magical phrase like “Open, Sesame.” Rather, it is an announcement of faith, and faith is more than words. Ultimately, it is not words alone that save us, but the faith that must underlie the words.
IV. The Priority that is Presented – The text says, He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Do not miss this important detail: Bartimaeus’ cloak is probably the most valuable thing he owns. In that arid climate, the temperature drops rapidly after sunset, and it gets quite cool. In fact, so critical was the cloak that Scripture forbade taking one as collateral for a loan: If a man is poor, do not go to sleep with his pledge in your possession. Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it (Deut 24:12-13).
Despite this, Bartimaeus casts aside his cloak and goes to Jesus. He leaves behind perhaps the item most necessary for his survival in this world. Missing a meal might be inconvenient or uncomfortable but it would not kill him. Spending one cold night without his cloak might well cause his death by hypothermia. Yet Bartimaeus leaves it behind and runs to the Lord.
What about us? What are we willing to leave behind in order to find Christ? An old gospel song says, “I’d rather have Jesus than silver and gold.” Another old hymn says, “There’s nothing between my soul and the Savior.” Is that true? Are you willing to leave it behind? Are you free enough to do so?
V. The Permission that is Procured – The text says, Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, Master, I want to see!”
Why does Jesus ask this question? Can He not see what Bartimaeus needs?
Being healed takes courage. Most of us seek mere relief, not healing. Tue healing takes courage because it brings about change and places new demands on us. If Bartimaeus is healed, it will no longer be acceptable for him to sit and beg; more will be expected of him; his life will be irrevocably changed.
Yes, to be healed requires courage. Many of us wonder why the Lord delays in answering our prayers. Perhaps we should think about a question from last week’s Gospel: “Do you have any idea what you are asking?” Often, we do not.
There is a big difference between relief and healing, and the Lord is in the healing business. Do not miss what the Lord is really saying here. In effect, he asks, “Are you sure you really want to be healed?” The Lord respects us and our free will. He wants our consent before going to work. Though many of us think we want healing, we often don’t really know what we are asking.
The Lord waits until our request makes sense. He knows that many times, though we ask, we are not really ready for what He offers. He asks us, and only when our yes becomes definitive does He go to work.
VI. The Path that is Pursued – The text says, Jesus told him, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the way.
True healing brings forth radical change. The man who sat by the road begging now sees, but he is also up and walking about. What is he doing? He is following Jesus. Faith has saved him. Faith not only gives sight but also summons us to obedience, an obedience that has us walk in the path of the Lord.
You see (pardon the pun), faith is more than an offer of relief. True faith instills real change: change in direction and change in the way we walk.
Thus, this Sunday Gospel speaks to us of a man who was blind, but, paradoxically, receives his sight and his faith by hearing. Bartimaeus had heard of Jesus and then called on Him. Yes, his sight came from his hearing, and faith grants vision by hearing. True vision is seeing Christ, and having seen Him by hearing, following Him.
I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light
1. I want to walk as a child of the light;
I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world;
the star of my life is Jesus.
In him there is no darkness at all;
the night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God;
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.
2. I want to see the brightness of God;
I want to look at Jesus.
Clear Sun of righteousness, shine on my path,
and show me the way to the Father.
3. I’m looking for the coming of Christ;
I want to be with Jesus.
When we have run with patience the race,
we shall know the joy of Jesus.