There is something that has always puzzled me about the story of Bartimaeus. Think back on other gospel stories where Jesus is traveling with a “sizeable crowd.” Those scenes are full of people trying to get Jesus’ attention. We have the story of the “woman with the hemorrhage” who touched the hem of his garment. We have the five thousand whom Jesus felt pity for and fed them with two loaves. We have the story where the crowd was pressing in on him so he got in a boat to escape them. In my mind those scenes give me an image of chaos, noise and people clamoring to get his attention. But today we have Jesus traveling once again with a sizeable crowd and one voice cries out.
The response of the many surrounding Jesus that day was to tell that voice to be silent. Hey you yelling to Jesus shut up and do not bother him. I cannot believe that it was the only voice with needs that day. I cannot believe that other voices were not just as desperate for help. Why were they not trying to reach and touch Jesus? Why were they insisting on silence? Why were they not crying out “have mercy on me?” Yet the scene gives us a picture that Bartimaeus’ voice was the only one who was crying out.
Bartimaeus, a blind beggar must have heard about the wondrous things Jesus was doing in every town and village he traveled through. He may or may not have known he was the Messiah promised by the prophets. But he did know that he could give him what he most desired at that moment. He knew that what Jesus was doing was something no other person could do. That knowledge allowed him to call out “Jesus Son of David” have pity on me.
This phrase, “Son of David” tells us that Bartimaeus at least knows about the promise that the Messiah was to come from the lineage of David. But there is another thing in his crying out that tells us something about our own journey of faith. Bartimaeus cries out “have pity on me.” He knows enough to believe that Jesus is in possession of all he needs. His needs were immediate not like those individuals in the gospel story we heard last week or the week before. In those stories their needs were in the future and dealing with their place after death. But Bartimaeus needed something now and he knew Jesus had the answer to that need.
Bartimaeus understood enough about Jesus to believe that he had the power to restore him. Restore his sight, restore him to his family, restore him to the community and restore his own image of his own self-worth. If Jesus would just respond to his cries then he believed that he was considered worthy in the sight of God.
Bartimaeus believed and because he believed his sight was restored. Jesus says to Bartimaeus that it was his faith that saved him. His faith motivated him to action and that is why his faith saved him. It was his throwing caution to the wind that gave him the ability to act in the face of opposition. Belief alone is not enough even though Jesus tells us “if you believe you will have eternal life” (Jn.3:15). Our faith in Jesus must compel us to action in the face of opposition and uncertainty. How much do we believe in God’s power to be at work in the world today? Do we dare cry out for ourselves for those who need God’s healing touch?
If Bartimaeus had kept silent Jesus would have continued walking by, or would his knowing the intentions of our hearts compelled him to stop and restore his sight. We can only speculate on what would have happened if he had not cried out. But we do not have to speculate on the lessons this story has for us. It is a message for us that goes beyond being persistent in prayer, a message that goes beyond praying without ceasing. It is the voice of God crying out to us that Jesus is still a miracle worker. It is a message that challenges our faith also because Jesus is always there waiting for us to acknowledge him. Do we dare let him fulfill our need and touch us?
God is speaking to us in this story about our own need and our own faith. The thing God wishes most from us is for us to know who Jesus is and why Jesus obediently embraced the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. God desires us to know the depth of his love for us and the mercy that awaits us as soon as we cry out to him.
At the invitation of Jesus Bartimaeus leaps up and blindly gropes to find his way into the embrace of Jesus. We, you and I have the scriptures, the wisdom of thousands of years of learning and still we are blind to the reality of what Jesus offers us. Let us like Bartimaeus cry out “Lord that we might see.”