The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark
Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 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.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)
There is a real irony in today’s Gospel. If you remember from past Sundays, the disciples had been told by Jesus that he was the Messiah, and that he would have to suffer and die, and he had to tell them three times, because they were just too blind to see.
Bartimeaus calls out for healing from “Jesus, Son of David,” – he knows Jesus is Messiah, and he has enough faith to ask Jesus to restore his sight.
Symbolically, he has cast off his cloak – the same cloak he would lay on the ground to collect the pennies people might throw on to it, showing he grabs onto of the new life that comes from following Jesus.
Here was a blind man who could see better than the sighted disciples.
It’s not just a story of a physical healing, though is it?
It’s much more than that. It had a resonance for the disciples and it has for us too.
I’ll tell you what I mean.
There is a sad story of a young man, Jerry, brought up in a dissolute family. His father and mother were both alcoholics. He learned nothing about morals or about God, or even such simple things as table manners.
At school, he was rejected by most of his peers, and so he gravitated to the only people who would have anything to do with him, the local hoods.
He learned to shoplift at the early age of eleven. He was into stealing cars by the time he was sixteen. He didn’t care whose property he stole. He didn’t care what laws he broke. In fact, here was a young man living in total darkness, you might say. And past redemption.
The time came when he would graduate from car theft to burglary. He and a fellow scoundrel took to breaking into big houses when their owners were away, stealing whatever they could find and fencing it for a fraction of its value, but a sum that was still free money to them.
Inevitably, in entering one home they surprised the resident, and there was a violent encounter and the homeowner was injured.
Jerry and his cohort were on the run. It was kind of thrilling at first. Like TV. They split up, and hid out wherever they could. But soon, Jerry ran out of people who would take the risk of hiding him.
He slept on the streets a few nights, and one Sunday evening, looking for somewhere to shelter, he got caught in a rainfall. He pulled up his collar, and hunched his shoulders against the rain, but soon he was soaked and seeing a large building with lights on he went inside.
It was a church. The first time he had ever been in one.
He slunk into a vacant seat at the back and tried to sleep.
But the music kept him awake. To his surprise he quite liked it. And the minister read the gospel story told by our Lord about the shepherd with ninety-nine safe sheep and one that was lost. And how the shepherd left the ninety nine and went to find the lost little lamb.
The preacher spoke eloquently about how God searches for, and wants his lost ones back in the fold. How God will forgive anyone who sincerely repents and wants to live a new life.
When the service ended, people filed out, shaking the hand of the preacher, and finally the place was empty except for a couple of men picking up hymn books and generally tidying up.
The minister began to walk down the aisle towards the front of the church when he spotted a figure in the back row, slumped over the pew in front.
A bit alarmed, he went over, saw that it was a young shabbily dressed man, and touched his shoulder.
The young man, Jerry, lifted his face and looked at the minister. His face was wet with tears.
“What is it?” the minister asked.
“ I never knew,” he said. “I never knew about God. Is it true that he loves everybody?”
The minister nodded.
The minister nodded again. “Come down to the kitchen and I will make you some coffee and find you something to eat, “ he said.
They sat over coffee for a while, and the young man babbled on about his past life, about being on the run, and about how during the service, he had seen clearly for the first time, who and what, he was.
“I must have been blind,” he said.
The minister persuaded Jerry that he should surrender to the police, and next morning they went together to do that.
On every one of the three days that the trial lasted, the minister was there, and after the young man was sentenced – a relatively light sentence since the judge took into account that he had turned himself in and confessed readily – his friend the minister accompanied him down to the cell where he would await transportation to prison.
Jerry thanked the minister for supporting him, and said, “ They might be locking me up, but I am freer now than I have ever been. Thanks to you, and to Jesus.”
This was a modern-day miracle of someone being given their sight, because during that service, Jerry had come to see things clearly for the first time.
The miracle that Mark relates, of Jesus giving sight to Bartimeaus, contrasts Bartimeaus insights about Jesus with the self centredness of the disciples.
Mark shows us that Jesus came into the world to give sight to the inly blind as it were, and to show us the way to holiness and to salvation.
Mark shows us that even someone on the fringes, someone pushed away by so-called normal people, is just the sort of lost sheep that Jesus came to bring home to the Father.
Those like Jerry existing on the fringes of our modern society, never knowing peace and happiness, can, even after a lifetime in the darkness, find peace, and love, and vision, through Jesus.
Jesus asked Bartimeaus, ‘What can I do for you?” He asked the same question of the disciples when they came to him.
The blind man wanted to be able to see. The disciples wanted to sit in places of honour.
He just wanted to be with his shepherd.