It was pouring with rain. I was just leaving Bank station. People were rushing to get home and I was rushing to get to a reception in the City; and I almost stepped on her…..
She was sitting curled up on the steps looking down but holding up an empty cardboard cup; trying to avoid being trodden upon by everyone rushing by: commuters in the rain rushing by to get home; rushing by with other priorities.
Have you noticed how on the whole beggars don’t shout out as we walk by…
Now I don’t mean someone like the guy who sells the Big Issue in Winchester (who is not a beggar) who lets his bass voice give full range to his eccentric, extrovert character. People who sell the Issue are on some kind of journey, perhaps back to normal life…..
I mean those who are broken, who have nothing to sell.
On the whole, they are silent with perhaps a little plea written on a torn piece of cardboard.
Perhaps, it was the same in Jesus time perhaps, it wasn’t really on for beggars to recognise passers by and shout out to them.
Imagine the scene: Jesus and his disciples are leaving Jericho on the road to Jerusalem; a marathon of 21 miles away, perhaps 8 hours walk. It could be any time of day, but the triumphal entry to Jerusalem is going to happen next, so if that happened on the same day, perhaps it is early morning, in Jericho.
The gates have been opened, and people are trying to come into the city from the surrounding area to sell their wares. There is lots of noise. Animals being dragged to market; soldiers pushing their way through, ‘move along, move along’; dignitaries getting to their palaces.
Jesus’ party is on the way out…the disciples are there, leading Jesus through the crowd, pushing their way through ‘excuse me, mind your backs the Rabbi is coming through…’
Then above the scuffle and bustle they hear a voice shouting out: ‘Jesus Son of David have mercy on me’. It’s the blind man begging by the side of the road. The disciples leading Jesus through the melee…. tell him sternly, ‘be quiet’. But he shouts even more ‘Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me’.
Jesus. Stops. Still….
Jesus tells them to fetch him….and Verse 50: Bartimaeus ‘throws off his cloak’ and springs up (do you notice that enthusiasm) and comes before him.
What is it about the cloak? Why did Mark put in this little detail? Painstakingly copied by monks for generations….‘he throws off his cloak…’
I have a theory about the cloak….Bartimaeus is, of course, blind and begging by the side of the road. The coat is over his crossed legs and on to the ground: to collect the coins that passers by; throw to him.
Casting off his cloak, is like abandoning his livelihood….it is a step of faith that Jesus will do for him what he desperately wants…
And the cash which has accumulated that morning – is presumably scattered on the ground: denarii rolling off into the dirt….as he gets up, enthusiastically.
Jesus says to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
Jesus always asks us; never assumes…..He says ‘Rabbouni, let me see again’. Jesus replies. Jesus says ‘Go Your faith has healed you’. And his sight is immediately restored
And he follows Jesus down the road rejoicing……
Which one are we in this story?
Are we one of the disciples making way for Jesus through the crowd, like so many body guards and groupies, pushing through the crowd of fans and journos for an important celebrity, thinking ‘we are on the inside’ ‘we know Jesus as our friend and mentor’, he is very important and he needs to travel to Jerusalem so move out of the way…?’
And yet who don’t know him well enough to know how he would, of course, respond to the beggar’s insistent cries. Is there an element of surprise in the disciples voices as they say to Bartimaeus? Verse 49, “take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
Or are we like the members of the crowd, intrigued by what is going on…..having heard about the miracle working rabbi and looking for a spectacle, lukewarm, the don’t knows….we could go either way on this one, depending upon what Jesus says…. depending upon what Jesus does…..
Or are we like Bartimaeus, the blind man, who won’t give up shouting even more; until Jesus acknowledges him; until Jesus calls him…..
It struck me the other day that we people in 21st century England are in one respect in the same situation as Bartimaeus….We haven’t seen any of Jesus miracles first hand. We have heard about them; we have read about them in the Bible, but not seen them.
So how is it that he has the confidence to shout out to Jesus, calling him by his name, identifying him as the messiah? To do so was to connive in: blasphemy, for the Jews and treason, for the gentiles. Indeed this is the first occasion in Mark that Jesus publicly allows himself to be identified in this way…..on his journey to death in Jerusalem….
How does Bartimaeus have the confidence to shout out?
It is clear to me after all the years I have been on my own journey of faith that the only way to come to know Jesus is to be: open or broken. The light can only come in if you are open or broken.
Which is Bartimaeus?
Which are you and I?
Or are we like the crowds, waiting to see what will happen? The don’t knows….the can’t decides…who never will know him unless they take a step of faith…Jesus will just pass by on the road and our opportunity will be lost….
I think Bartimaeus is open rather than broken. True, he is a blind beggar but he has his life sorted out…he has his way of getting through life….his place by the gate; his cloak to catch the coins.
He isn’t like the beggar at Bank station looking down, crushed against the wall, holding up the cardboard cup: just broken by life.
Bartimaeus won’t listen to those around Jesus telling him to be quiet. He shouts even more: ‘Jesus Son of David have mercy on me!’
We need to be like that. We need to be even more people. People who want Jesus so much….that we are desperate, not to miss the opportunity of him passing by that we are willing to shout and shout. People who are not put off by others saying ‘Be quiet’; not put off….by their cynicism; by their criticism; by their doubt; by their atheism; by their don’t knows.
We need to be people who are never going to give up, but push forward for the prize of following Jesus. We need to take responsibility for our own salvation.
You know, it’s not my responsibility to persuade you of the truth of all this. Its your responsibility before God to be open to him. We mustn’t just be in receive mode, like the crowd, who could go one way or the other; shouting ‘hosanna’ one day and ‘crucify’ the next. We need to take personal responsibility for this journey and we will one day have to account to God the Father for what we decided to do.
Someone said to me the other day, someone who came on Alpha when we did it a few years ago ‘I have started reading the Bible’ one hour a day. That’s someone taking personal responsibility for this journey. Someone opening themselves up to the Lord.
Its not my responsibility to travel your journey for you; to cajole and persuade; to be your intermediary before God. We each must grasp the invitation that we have from Jesus ourselves, regardless of what others think or say: regardless of what our husband or wife says; regardless of what our friends and relations say; regardless of what our colleagues say; we need to push forward in this; regardless of the difficulties.
We need to be ‘even more’ people, pushing forward to engage with Jesus and not letting others tell us to be quiet..so that as we are more and more persistent he saves us, just as he saved, Bartimaeus so that we can follow him down the road that he is leading with joy….
46 They 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. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 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.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 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.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
With thanks to Revd. Archie Coates of St Peter’s Brighton for this idea of ‘even more’ people in his talk at HTB Focus 2018