Our Gospel reading today is interesting, not because of the story of Jesus healing a blind man, but because of what Jesus says to blind Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus has heard that Jesus has come to town and he knows that Jesus is able to heal him from his blindness. What’s interesting is that as soon as Jesus becomes aware of Bartimaeus calling out to him he asks him a question: What do you want me to do for you?
What I find interesting about this is that this was the very same question that Jesus asked his disciples James and John last week. What do you want me to do for you? Jesus, however, on this occasion honors Bartimaeus’s request when he had previously denied James and John and their request. Jesus didn’t say to Bartimaeus, go on your way, the last shall be first so put up with your suffering. No, Jesus said: Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way.
What was the difference in their requests? The difference was that Bartimaeus was crying out for mercy when James and John were crying out for glory. Look at the difference in their approaches. James and John – Lord, we want you do for us whatever we ask. Not very humble. Bartimaeus, on the other hand approaches Jesus and says: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.
Like James and John we see the response from the people around Bartimaeus anything but humble and caring. James and John didn’t care about the other 10 disciples – they snuck off on their own to try and corner Jesus into granting their request. They didn’t come with humility or ask for mercy. There was nothing humble in the way they asked Jesus – Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask; Compared to Bartimaeus – Lord, have mercy on me. There was nothing humble in what James and John requested – we want to sit at your left and right when you come in glory. Compared to Bartimaeus – His request – Lord, I want to see.
But what is also interesting is the attitude of the people around Bartimaeus.
As Jesus arrives they are aware of his reputation of being able to heal the sick but when one of their own people begins to shout out to Jesus they tell him to be quiet. They lack any sympathy for poor old blind Bartimaeus. 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.” I think something very important appears here that’s easy to miss. Jesus stood still. – he stopped
In our busy lives do we stop and stand still so we can see the needs of others around us or are we so focused on where we are going that we don’t see the needs of others around us. One of the things that really concerns me is the amount of emails and phone calls that I get, as I’m sure you do to, and we delete or ignore them because it’s just another scam – someone asking for money – someone trying to scam us. Or we get bombarded with so many requests that we ignore them all – there’s just too many. I hope and pray that I haven’t ignored or deleted – told them to be quiet – because it was just another of those annoying spam messages. But that’s how we often treat people. It’s easier to walk across the road than be annoyed by that person who is always asking for money. It’s easier to keep walking when you see that person sleeping on the side of the footpath. And once the day has begun and you’re emersed in your work they just fade from our memory. But not so with Jesus. Jesus stops.
Despite his hectic schedule and people pressing in on him he hears the cry of one person asking for mercy.
What our reading reveals here today is that there are 2 types of blindness.
There is the physical blindness that Bartimaeus experiences but there is also the spiritual blindness that the people around him experience that they became blind to the needs of Bartimaeus.
But not so Jesus.
He sees the needs of Bartimaeus and also the spiritual blindness of the crowds. Jesus shows the crowd he is interested in the one who to them was a disturbance.
And our Hebrews reading points out that Jesus is different. In the Old Testament priesthood they would need to offer daily, 3 times a day, burnt offerings for their sins and the sins of the people. But Jesus began a new priesthood – a continuous priesthood where he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. And he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself to die on the cross for our sins. Jesus led the way to self-sacrifice for others. Putting himself last for us which is what he taught his disciples last week – the last shall be first.
The crowd in our gospel saw this blind beggar as an annoyance, disturbing Jesus as he preached God’s kingdom. Bartimaeus was a disturbance, a distraction but Jesus recognizes his humanity and stops and calls him over. Bartimaeus wasn’t blind when it came to knowing Jesus. Bartimaeus had a perfect vision of what it meant to be a loved child of God. Not only did he know that he was a loved child of God but he insisted on being treated as such. Have mercy on me. Not even the crowd could hold him back. In fact when the crowd tried to stop him our reading says – he cried out even more loudly.
It sort of reminds me of when the Pharisees told Jesus to keep his disciples quiet on Palm Sunday crying out Hosanna to our King: Jesus replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out. Or when the disciples rebuked the parents bringing their children to Jesus and Jesus rebuked them saying, let the children come to me. Who are we holding back from receiving the mercy and presence of Jesus because of our attitudes? We might not even know we are doing it like the people in our Gospel reading. They thought they were doing Jesus a favour by holding back the disturbance of Bartimaeus. But Jesus calls him to himself.
Maybe we need to stop for a minute – open our eyes and see the needy around us. We as the church, the body of Jesus Christ have a world calling out for mercy. We can quickly become like the crowd; blind to the needs of those sitting right outside our doors. Like in our gospel we, the crowd, are the ones who often are in need of having our sight restored, and our blindness healed. If we listen hard enough and look long enough we cand see and hear the cries of Bartimaeus still. Jesus, son of David have mercy on us. And we are the body of Jesus. And we need to stop, open our eyes and listen to the cries of the world calling out for mercy. As we sing in that timeless hymn, Amazing Grace –
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.