Jesus cured thousands of people during his public ministry, but of all those He cured I’ve always had a special liking for this blind beggar of Jericho.
In today’s Gospel passage Luke just gives us the basic facts of this miraculous healing by Jesus. Luke then moves his narrative along and goes on to tell the story of Zacchaeus the tax collector. But in Mark’s Gospel this blind beggar has a name: Bartimaeus, the son of Timeous.
I don’t think you and I can imagine what Bartimaeus’ life must have been like. There was no Department of Health and Human Services, no Social Security to provide him with a monthly disability check, no charitable organizations to provide assistance or caregivers. No, Bartimaeus was pretty much on his own. His family probably expected him to pay his way by begging at the city gates, and so there he sat, every day, wrapped up in his cloak, the symbol of his beggary, crying out to people, and begging for alms as they passed by.
But this day he hears something different, a large, animated crowd, and so in his blindness he asks what the commotion’s all about.
“It’s Jesus of Nazareth,” he’s told.
Now, he’d no doubt heard of Jesus – after all, word gets around – yes, he’d heard about this prophet and healer, and so Bartimaeus seizes the opportunity, and cries out, as loudly as he can. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Of course the disciples, who have not yet learned what discipleship is all about, try to shut him up. We can just imagine their words: “Be quiet! This is Jesus. He’s an important man, much too important for you.”
But Bartimaeus will have none of it, and continues to cry out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
As we would expect, Jesus hears him and calls for him. In Mark’s Gospel we’re told that Bartimaeus leaps to his feet, throws off his cloak, and runs straight to Jesus. Yes, Bartimaeus is certain that something wonderful is about to happen to him, and in his excitement he can hardly control himself. “Leaping Bartimaeus” throws aside that old, dirty, moth-eaten cloak. He throws it aside because filled with faith he knows he’ll never again need it. That cloak is the symbol of his old life, a life of darkness, a life of begging, a life of slavery. And Jesus is about to offer him something new.
Moved by the Holy Spirit, in his blindness Bartimaeus runs straight to Jesus, who simply asks him, “What can I do for you?”
And Bartimaeus replies, just as simply, “Lord, please let me see.”
Did you notice how Bartimaeus addressed Jesus? First, he called him by the Messianic title, “Son of David” and then, when he’s there in Jesus’ presence, up close and personal, he called him “Lord.” Oh, yes, Bartimaeus, this man of blind faith, was filled with the Holy Spirit.
Moved by the faith of this holy beggar, Jesus proclaims the Word: “Have sight; your faith has saved you.” When the Word of God speaks, things happen, and Bartimaeus sees. He sees His Lord standing before him. Of course he can do nothing but follow Jesus giving glory to God.
Mark relates a slightly different ending. According to Mark, Jesus said, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” And then Mark adds, “Immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.”
In other words, he became a disciple. And it’s no wonder because he received a kind of triple healing. Jesus cures him of physical and spiritual blindness and then offers him salvation.
It’s interesting to note that in the Gospel those who are healed, those who experience a most intimate presence of Jesus in their lives, come to recognize who Jesus is, almost instantaneously, while the apostles and other disciples plod along cluelessly.
There at the gates of Jericho, the disciples were decidedly un-disciplelike as they attempted to limit those who could come close to Jesus.
You and I, which are we?
Are we like Bartimaeus, aware of our brokenness, but ready to let the Lord heal us? Can we hardly wait to get close to Jesus? Are we so filled with faith, so bursting with the Holy Spirit, that we’re willing to follow Jesus wherever He leads us?
Or are we, like too many of the disciples, kind of “Jesus groupies” who jealously guard Jesus from those who simply don’t measure up? Do we forget how much Jesus loves the sinner, how He calls them to Him? Are we more focused on ourselves than on seeing Jesus in others?
These are good questions to ask ourselves today.