Bartimaeus is praying today. He isn’t saying his prayers like a child, next to his bed at night. He isn’t in a church, kneeling on a soft pew, quietly whispering to God. He isn’t murmuring “Thy will be done, Lord.” Bartimaeus is praying and it isn’t namby pamby praying! Here, with his dirty cloak on the side of the road, being pushed aside by the crowd, here is how he prays: “Son of David, Mercy! Have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus is yelling and screaming. He isn’t asking for mercy, he is demanding mercy.
How does the crowd react? Well, remember that in their eyes, Bartimaeus is blind because he is being punished by God. He is a blind beggar because he has sinned. There weren’t white canes and schools for the blind and seeing eye dogs in those days. Blindness, along with poverty, barrenness, illness, and leprosy, was a deserved curse. There just wasn’t a lot of empathy for the impaired.
So the crowd doesn’t say, “Oh dear, let’s make way for this poor, blind man. Let’s help him come nearer to Jesus.” Nope. They shunted him aside and told him to hush up!
What does Bartimaeus do? He yells louder! (Aren’t you liking him more and more?) “Son of David, Mercy! Have mercy on me!”
Jesus stands still. Jesus stops in the middle of the road, in the middle of the crowd, Jesus stops. “Call him here.” The crowd turns to Bartimaeus. “Hey - it is your lucky day! Come on, Jesus wants to talk to you.”
So now, now, they are kind to the blind beggar. Maybe now they want Jesus to see their compassion for the less fortunate. Bartimaeus has only one possession; a cloak he spread over his knees to catch whatever coins were thrown at him. His cloak is the tool of his trade. He throws it away as he gropes, hands held out, to meet Jesus.
Jesus asks him politely, “What can I do for you?”
“Rabbuni, I want to see.” He uses the same word that will be used a few days from now at the tomb by Mary as she recognizes Jesus. Rabbuni. Rabbi. Master.
“On your way.” says Jesus. “Your faith has saved and healed you.” Jesus rewards Bartimaeus’ blind faith. Note that Jesus doesn’t say, “Follow me.” He tells the beggar to go.
In that very instant, Bartimaeus recovers his sight. He looks down, sees his dirty bare feet, then slowly looks up into the face of Jesus. Their eyes lock and Bartimaeus will never be the same. He turns and follows Jesus down the road.
Just two weeks ago, I preached about the rich young man who wanted eternal life. When Jesus invited him to sell all he had and follow him, the poor young man said, “I just can’t do it.” He may have had his sight but he couldn’t see Jesus.
How many times do the disciples not see Jesus? They seem to miss his message over and over and over, as they did last week when they were arguing over who is greatest. They are not seeing the whole idea of ‘the last shall be first.’
But this blind man ‘sees’ Jesus. It seems that he sees Jesus even before he is healed because he calls out to him, demanding mercy. He sees Jesus with his heart.
I wonder how a blind man could know that it was Jesus approaching. Did he feel some powerful aura? Did he sense the nearby presence of God? Actually, I think he probably heard the crowd murmuring, “Jesus, Jesus. Jesus is coming this way.”
Let’s stop for a minute and wonder about something. Put yourself into this scene and imagine that you, like Bartimaeus, like the young rich man, like Zacchaeus, like Mary Magdalene; imagine that you come face to face with Jesus. Everything stops as you look deep into his eyes. Jesus asks you politely, “What can I do for you?” What would you say? What would you say to Jesus? Would you ask for healing? Would you ask Jesus to help someone else? I know, with certainty, that I would cry because that is what I always do. I would waste my time with Jesus, unable to talk through my tears. But, maybe Jesus wouldn’t mind.
The more important question is not what we would ask of Jesus but what he would ask of us. When Jesus asks us to follow him, how do we react? Are we the rich young man who just can’t change his life or are we Bartimaeus who immediately steps up behind Jesus?
Bartimaeus will have very little time to be with Jesus as in just a few days he will be on the cross. That seems like a tremendous tragedy but the good news is that our previously blind beggar will really have all the rest of his life with Jesus, just as we do.
How does Bartimaeus pray? He yells and demands. He does not pray with cautious words, he isn’t murmuring into his clenched hands. A few nights a go I awoke feeling awful. I was worried and depressed and just a bit crazy ... for no good reason. It was just a middle of the night, dark time for my soul. Because I’ve been living with Bartimaeus this week, I found myself praying very differently. I complained to God, I yelled at God (in my head), I told God everything and I didn’t use careful language. I didn’t hedge my prayer with phrases like ‘your will be done.’ I felt so much better and I hope God didn’t mind.
Think of the story of Jacob wrestling with God in the Old Testament. Here is how Jacob prayed to God: He got on the floor with him and wrestled so hard that Jacob’s hip was thrown out of joint. This is not quiet, pious prayer. This is muscular, full body praying!
God is big. God is strong. God is powerful. God can take our prayers, our cries, our heartfelt yells. God can handle our full throated prayers. So let us pray with all our hearts and souls to God.