46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside.47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.”50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.”52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
The famous story of blind Bartimeaus’ encounter with Jesus on the road from Jericho has, I’m sure, been used to make many important points for Christians: the importance of persistent, demanding prayer; the power of faith; Jesus’ willingness to drop everything to care for a relative nobody.
But I want to consider the episode in the context of Mark’s account. With Mark, context reveals a great deal.
Just before encountering Bartimaeus, Jesus had asked two of his chief disciples, James and John, the same question he now poses to Bartimeaus “What do you want me to do for you?”
James and John, like all of the disciples, have spent the past three years trying to figure out what Jesus has been talking about. Is He the long awaited Messiah? Is Jesus ushering in the long-awaited Kingdom of God, the Age to Come? Is this the end of the Present Evil Age? Will this journey to Jerusalem see the slaughter of the Roman oppressors, the tearing down of the pagan shrines, and the re-establishment of the rule of the House of David in place of the rule of King Herod? Is the exile and oppression of God’s people about to end in a great revolution with cleansed land and a rebuilt Jerusalem?
Jesus has been saying that His Kingdom is not your normal political realm, not what the 1st century Jews had been expecting. According to Jesus, the Kingdom of God “though here – would not re-establish the glory days of Kings David and Solomon“ right now. The Jews historic enemies were not about to get theirs. Not yet. Rather than going to Jerusalem to be crowned King, Jesus has said he was going to Jerusalem to die.
The disciples have been dumbfounded. They assumed Jesus was just using hyperbole again to let them know their victory wouldn’t be a walk in the park
But in answer to Jesus final- exam-like question “What do you want me to do for you?” – the disciples requested a preview of which of them would be Jesus chief deputy or Secretary of State in His new administration after the victorious overthrow of the Romans and the figure-head king Herod.
Jesus’ answer baffled them yet again. He told them that in His Kingdom the €œfirst would be last” and that, rather than deputy regents or vice-presidents, they should expect to be slaves in His Kingdom rule. Not what they had expected.
In contrast, we have Bartimaeus’ answer to the same question €œWhat do you want me to do for you? Given by Bartimeaus, a blind man, who has not been privy to three years of training by Jesus, the answer should logically show that he understands or “sees” even less that the disciples.
But he calls Jesus “the Son of David”. Clearly he “sees” that Jesus is indeed the long awaited Messiah. Bartimaeus’ answer suggests that he may understand the nature of the Kingdom Jesus is bringing – at least as well – as Jesus’ top students.
Bartimaeus has – no doubt – heard of the signs and wonders Jesus has been performing all over the region. It’s been the number one topic among the thousands of pilgrims heading to the annual Passover celebration in Jerusalem. He knows that Jesus’ Kingdom offers the divine blessings €“ available only in the Age to Come.
Bartimeaus, on the side of a dusty road, seems to intuitively know what the disciple John will not “see” until John is an old man exiled on the isle of Patmos: that the Kingdom of God will be characterized:
by God dwelling once again in intimacy with mankind; by God wiping away every tear from their eyes; by death being no more; neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore,
because Jesus, the man just across the street has come to sweep these things away. Bartmaeus knows Jesus has come to do war on an enemy greater than the Romans. Jesus has come to defeat the strong man, Satan himself! Jesus’ battle is not for a political victory; Jesus seeks the final cosmic triumph of God over evil itself.
So what does Bartimaeus ask for? Unlike the disciples, Bartimaeus
asks for the Kingdom itself to break into his life with power. He asks: €œLet me recover my sight”. He doesn’t care about Caesar or Herod; he wants Jesus to overthrow the bondage Satan has on his life. He wants to see God. Despite being physically blind, Bartimaeus can see – that in Jesus – the future has invaded the present. He sees the blessings of the Kingdom of God within arms reach! And Bartimaeus knows the secret which has alluded Jesus’ chief students that, though not here in its final power and final glory,
the Kingdom of God has indeed come in full power and full glory, and in a secret and hidden form, in the person of Jesus, to work among and within whomever will accept it.
Because of Bartimaeus’ insight and faith, Jesus grants his petition. He is healed. He is saved. (The Hebrew word for one, is the Hebrew word for the other.) The power of the Age to Come immediately invades the present body of this man standing beside the road! He can see! Again.
Overjoyed and now under the rule and reign of God, Bartimeaus abandons his begging cloak, all he possesses, for the sake of following Jesus. Bartimaeus does what the rich young man could not do earlier in Mark’s tale “ leave everything behind and follow the King. If we look ahead in Mark’s story, we can appreciate the Bartimaeous’ pericope even more. As Jesus nears Jerusalem, more and more people call to him, as Bartimaeus had done, until a throng is calling €œHosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
But unlike Bartimaeus, these people are expecting a political king and a political revolution. Whereas Bartimaeus knew Satan had to be defeated, these people believe that Caesar and his empire are the source of their pain. When Jesus fails to live up to their political expectations, their cheers and calls turn to – Crucify him”.
So what does this tale of blind Bartimaeus mean to us in the 21st century? In Lewiston, Maine? At Bates College? For those of us who profess to be followers of Christ, it asks us to take an eye examination:
Do we have the eyes of Bartimaeus? Have we really seen” what Jesus’ kingdom is all about? Or do we have the vision of the disciples and crowd down the road? Do we see Jesus calling us to join his political action committee? Do we, like the disciples, see the Kingdom of God being made out there in Jerusalem, in Augusta, in Washington DC, or at the UN?
Do we, like Bartimaeus, see the Kingdom of God right here, at hand, along the side of our road, College Street, Campus Avenue, in our dorm, in our classroom, in our office? Do we see as Bartimaeus does that the Kingdom of God is inviting us right now, that we can have new sight only after we accept a new Lord?
Does the Kingdom of God come about by throwing the rascals out of office or by stopping to meet the person crying out with need right beside you? If you haven’t thrown your lot in with Jesus, and started on a journey with him, If you are standing on the side road, like Bartimaeus, not able to see your way out of the pain and troubles of the world, If you can’t see any way out of a physical problem, or see any way out of a work problem, or imagine the day when a relationship will ever be mended, or visualize anything that could fill the big hole aching inside of you?
Then Bartimaeus’ story offers hope: In the musical, Annie sings, “The sun will come out tomorrow”. Bartimaeus sees tomorrow, standing in front of him, today. Today can be the day when you, like Bartimaeus – are transformed, restored, and healed. Today you can answer Jesus’ question “What do you want me to do for you?” Tomorrow has already begun in Jesus. In His Kingdom we can taste the life, and the powers, and the blessings of The Age to Come. Today. Right now.
Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem. Will we go with him? Jesus makes only one demand: That we decide. In Jesus, the Kingdom of God is here, within arms reach, and asking “What do you want me to do for you?”
The life of the Age to Come stands before us. The one who will one day judge all history has come into our history, into our personal life and is asking:
Do you believe?
Will you accept what I am offering?
Will you accept healing?
Will you let me save you?
Will you accept the offer to see God?
Will you accept all of the joy He has for you?
Will you turn from what you are now doing?
Will you start your journey to Jerusalem with him?
Will you accept His crown,
and follow Him,
to the cross?