SEEING AND BELIEVING
A sermon on Mark 10:46-52
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
October 28, 2018
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Elizabeth Kϋbler-Ross was a 20th Century Swiss-American psychiatrist whose pioneering work in near-death studies is still relevant decades after her death. Her 1969 book On Death and Dying was a groundbreaking work on the topic in discussing how people deal with death and grief. The book was unusual in that it transcended its target audience of the medical community. Improbably her book went on to become a bestseller. And it generated thoughtful discussion in the news media and outside in the wider society as well for years after it was published. No small feat for a scholarly scientific work…
Concerning lessons in life, Ms. Kϋbler-Ross wrote, “Learning lessons is a little like reaching maturity. You are not suddenly more happy, wealthy or powerful, but you understand the world around you better, and you are more at peace with yourself. Learning life’s lessons is not about making your life perfect, but about seeing life as it was meant to be.” For our purposes this morning, I want us to consider that last statement as a jumping off point for the sermon—“Learning life’s lessons is not about making your life perfect, but about seeing life as it was meant to be…”
This morning’s text from Mark 10 is an exciting story. Over the course of his three years of ministry, Jesus healed lots of people. And he healed them of all types of maladies and diseases. In fact, we really do not know how many people that Jesus healed. In some instances, we read of stories involving individuals, but just as often, the gospels relate that when our Lord would enter a town, the townspeople would bring all their sick to him and that he healed “many” or “all” of them. No telling how many were involved in those instances…
But the healing of the blind man Bartimaeus is different from other healings in a number of ways. Let us take a few moments to examine it…
Mark tells us that Jesus and his disciples were on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. That tells us that they were about 15 miles away from his final destination when this healing took place. It is noteworthy that this is the last healing that Jesus performed before entering Jerusalem for the final time. Within a week’s time, Jesus would be celebrated by the crowd on Palm Sunday, and then arrested, tried, tortured, condemned to death, and crucified on the cross.
In verse 46, we read that Jesus, his disciples, and a large crowd encountered a blind beggar named Bartimaeus sitting by the side of the road. That one sentence is filled with meanings that are not apparent at the first reading. The old cliché is that “The devil is in the details,” right? Well, maybe this morning, perhaps there is some spiritual insight in the details as well…
The first thing to note is that this man is given a name. Of all the people that Jesus healed in the gospels, this is the only one who is actually given a name. He is called “Bartimaeus,” which Mark is careful to let us know that it means “son of Timaeus.” Why is that important? Why would Mark bother to give us his name and then to explain what the name means—well, he does kind of anyway. Mark’s explanation does not clear up very much for us, does it?…
The name “Timaeus” is derived from a Chaldean word. The Chaldeans were a group of semi-nomadic people who lived in the southern part of the Babylonian Empire. They were influential at the height of their power and even ruled the Babylonian empire during the 7th Century BC. The name “Timaeus” literally means “unclean.” So as Bartimaeus, he is known as the “son of the unclean.” This tells us a couple of things…
First is that it tells us that he is a Gentile and not a Jew. No good self-respecting Jewish man would have wanted to be known by a foreign Chaldean name. It just wasn’t done. It wasn’t fitting. So his very name declared that he was unclean by all of the good religious people of the day.
But that’s not all. Mark also lets us know that Bartimaeus was a blind beggar. We do not know the circumstances surrounding his affliction. We are not told if he had been blind for a long time or if it had been a recent development. We do not know if he had become blind through illness or an accident. How he became blind is not so important. What is important about his condition is that his blindness made him a religious outsider in the community.
The Old Testament law was clear that people who were blind were not allowed to approach the Lord in the Temple. Leviticus 21:18-20 says, “For no one who has a blemish shall draw near [to God in the Tent of Meeting], one who is blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or one who has a broken foot or a broken hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf, or a man with a blemish in his eyes or an itching disease or scabs…” So Bartimaeus already had two strikes against him as Jesus approached—one, he was not a Jew…and two, his blindness made him religiously unclean.
No matter. Bartimaeus was not going to be denied his chance to meet Jesus. In verse 47, Mark tells us that he learned that “Jesus of Nazareth” was close by. “Jesus of Nazareth”—this is how most of Jesus’ contemporaries referred to our Lord during his lifetime. This title included his given name and where he was from. But notice what Bartimaeus does. He does not call out, “Jesus of Nazareth, have mercy on me!” NO. Instead, he shouts out something different. He calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
This is a significant difference. This is the first time in Mark that anyone refers to Jesus as the “Son of David.” Not even the disciples. The “Son of David” is a messianic title—one that would indicate that Jesus was God’s Son—God’s chosen One—the one through whom the Lord would bring salvation to the people. Those who should have been able to recognize Jesus for who he was—the Jewish priests and the teachers of the law—did not call him “Son of David.” Nor was it the Pharisees, the ones who were proud of how they scrupulously served God. They missed it as well. It was not even the disciples who had travelled with Jesus for three years, watching him work miracles and teaching the people about the Kingdom of God. They missed the boat too. Do not miss the dramatic irony here. It is only this blind beggar—outsider thought he was—who first sees Jesus as the long prophesied “Son of David” in the gospel of Mark. It is the one who is physically blind who is the only one there able to spiritually see…
The crowd tries to shut up this obnoxious blind beggar. After all, why would Jesus want to have anything to do with him? He is on his way to Jerusalem. He certainly has more important things on his mind. But Bartimaeus will not hush up. And his persistence eventually pays off. He keeps calling out until he finally catches Jesus’ attention.
Mark says that Jesus stood still and asked that the man be brought to him. Those around Jesus took note and told Bartimaeus that Jesus was calling for him. Notice what Mark says in verse 49, “They called the blind man, saying, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’” The Greek word used to describe what the people in the crowd are doing is the word phōneō. This means they were loudly calling out to him. I do not know, but my guess is that no one wanted to get too close to this blind beggar in case his blindness or his uncleaness might be contagious. None of them wanted to risk THAT. But to their credit, they dutifully let Bartimaeus know that Jesus wanted to see him—from a distance, mind you—since Jesus had asked.
Mark says that Bartimaeus jumped up and wasted no time in coming to Jesus. Notice that Mark includes one little curious detail about Bartimaeus’ actions. He says in verse 50 that Bartimaeus threw his cloak off. Why might that be important? Why did Mark include that?
This is what I think. Instead of using a hat or a cup or a bowl, many beggars often used their cloaks to collect the money that passersby might give them. This detail might indicate just how impoverished and desperate that Bartimaeus really was—in that he could not even afford those things. He was totally destitute. By casting off his cloak and leaving it by the side of the road, maybe Bartimaeus sensed that his life was going to dramatically change once he met Jesus. Perhaps he guessed that once he met Jesus, things were going to be very different. He would no longer need to be a beggar by the side of the road. Jesus was calling him to something different—something better—something with a promise of a real, genuine life that contrasted with his current situation. He was going to be able to see life as it was me4ant to be. So he jumped at his chance to meet Jesus.
When he presents himself to Jesus, our Lord asks him a curious question. Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”
That’s really odd, don’t you think? You would think that the answer would be pretty obvious to most anyone. This man was a blind beggar by the side of the road. He lived off of whatever people might drop into his cloak out of the goodness of their hearts. What else could he possibly want more than having his sight restored?
I am not sure as to why Jesus asked that question, but this is my hunch. I think that Jesus was looking for a faith response from Bartimaeus. When Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus responded by saying, “My teacher, let me see again.” Bartimaeus had already indicated that he had faith in Jesus by referring to him earlier in the story as “the Son of David.” That certainly was a good beginning. But perhaps Jesus wanted to know just how far Bartimaeus was willing to go with him in his faith journey. Had he really meant what he had said earlier? How deep was his commitment? Maybe that was the reason for the question.
Bartimaeus made a response that obviously pleased our Lord when he said, “My teacher, let me see again.” Interestingly, lots of people in the gospels referred to Jesus as “teacher” (or “rabbi”). Lots of folks. That list included people in the crowd and the disciples. Even some of Jesus’ harshest critics would call him “teacher” on those occasions when they wanted to try to trap him in saying something they could use against him. But as best as I can tell, this is the only place in the gospels where anyone addresses Jesus as “MY teacher.”
That is significant. It is important because it is no longer merely a recognition of Jesus’ wisdom as One who talks about the kingdom of God. With Bartimaeus, things have changed. It has now become personal. For him, Jesus is not just “The Teacher.” Instead, he has become “MY teacher.” It is an indication that Bartimaeus is not simply in agreement with what Jesus says or teaches. Such belief does not call for any life-altering investment on his part. By only calling Jesus “Teacher,” you can keep him at arm’s length. But now for Bartimaeus, Jesus is my teacher. That means Jesus becomes a mentor—a guide—one whom he is willing to invest his life in more deeply. It means that he is willing to follow Jesus whatever he teaches and wherever he leads. In fact, Mark concludes this passage by telling us that, once Bartimaeus had regained his sight, he followed Jesus on the way.
As the sermon draws to a close this morning, the question that our Lord asked of Bartimaeus is the question now that Jesus poses to you: “What do you want me to do for you?” Just like Bartimaeus, perhaps you think that the answer is pretty obvious in your life. And maybe it is. But maybe it is not.
“What do you want me to do for you?” What kind of healing do you need? Is it a broken relationship that has hurt you that you cannot seem to move beyond? Is it your own feelings of inadequacy that dog your steps and hold you back from being the person that you know you can be? Is it a grudge that you are carrying…is it some feelings of bitterness that you are hanging on to…is it fears of death or fears for the future that plague your heart and mind…is it a spiritual illness that saps your energy and sucks the joy out of your life? What kind of healing do YOU need?
Whatever it is, Jesus asks you this morning, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus is asking that question of each one of us here today. He is waiting to hear how we will respond.
To God alone be the glory! Amen.
 The last condition mentioned in this passage is “crushed testicles.” Emphasis mine.