Can you hear Bartimaeus 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 those times, 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?”
“Rabbouni, I want to see.” Rabbi. Rabbouni. Master. He uses the same word that will be used at the tomb by Mary as she recognizes Jesus.
“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.
Remember the story about the rich young man who wanted eternal life? When Jesus invited him to sell all he had and follow him, the 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 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.
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 to follow Jesus?
Bartimaeus will have very little time to be with Jesus as in just a few days Jesus will die 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 loudly demands mercy. He does not pray with cautious words, he isn’t murmuring into his clenched hands. I find myself praying lately, like Bartimaeus: “Lord, have mercy on us.” I read about the horrific slaughter in a house of worship and the only prayer I can find is: “Lord, have mercy on us.” When it feels as if every single day, the anger and hatred around us escalates, the only prayer I can find is: “Lord, have mercy on us.” I think, like Bartimaeus, I need to start shouting my cries for mercy.
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 God and wrestled so hard that Jacob’s hip was thrown out of joint and he walked with a limp all the rest of his life. 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, like Jacob and Bartimaeus, with all our hearts and souls to God. God will hear us and God WILL answer our prayers.
Now, please join me in praying for the people killed in the synagogue in Pittsburgh:
Today we sing the Song of Ruth: Your people will be my people and your God my God.
Today we pray for those celebrating the Shabat in God's sanctuary, and for those who will now mourn there.
Today, and tomorrow, we are Confessing condemnation of acts in direct opposition to the Commandments of Yahweh as well as the Commandment of Jesus Christ to love our neighbors. Here we stand.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.