Sunday, October 24, 2021
By: David H. May, Rector
These brief few verses from the gospel reading this morning occupy a ‘place of honor’ in Mark’s telling of the story of Jesus. This small story of the restoration of sight to a blind man is the last thing we hear of Jesus before he enters Jerusalem for what will be his very the last time. Mark wants this story to be in our minds on our way to the cross with Jesus. So I want to try to take us inside this little story and hear why Mark might’ve given it such a place of prominence.
We begin on the west side of Jericho along the road leading to Jerusalem, where beggars line the streets. It is a golden time of the year, because today the road is teeming with religious pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover—it’s like Christmas time with a Salvation Army kettle and bell clanging on every corner. This time of the year, people with their hearts turned towards the things of God may be easier pickings than at other times of the year.
Lining the road are clusters and knots of people who this world sees as good for nothing other than begging. Sorry to say that, but that’s just the way it is. Blind men, blind women. People with missing limbs. Paralyzed. Drunks. And mixed in, thieves and robbers preying on the beggars or gullible travelers. It’s a dangerous place. Jesus knew that well enough, and chose this stretch of road for the setting of his famous story about the Good Samaritan.
A gaggle of beggars are squatted on the dusty roadside like a pack of crows. Legs crossed, dark cloaks wrapped around creating a fabric alms plate in their laps to catch tossed coins. They might as well be crows for all anybody notices that they have human faces.
In among the crowing beggars is a man with a name we know now. Probably no one there did. No one there is too concerned about names. They are beggars, not real people. But now we know, this man was old Timaeus’ son. Bar-Timaeus, the son of his father. A father’s son. Maybe, long ago, his father walked home from the fields with his small son’s hand in his hand after a days work. But that’s long ago. A faded memory. Who knows where the father is now. Dead, or just dead to the son. Bartimeus, now spends his days crowing like a grackle, his small hands replaced by claws scrabbling for left-overs.
But for Bartimaeus, he’s a happy grackle today. Flocks of people passing by. Whether it’s guilt or real religious conviction that sends a coin flying into his lap—who cares. Today, at least, he’ll eat something filling and drink something strong. That is if he’s not beaten and robbed. But maybe the man he’s offered a cut of his take will keep the bandits off this time. Nothing right about that, either, but that’s just the way the world is…and who said it’s supposed to be a perfect world.
Maybe it should be, but it’s not. Who has time to worry about that anyway? That would be a luxury. All Bartimaeus has time to worry about is survival.
Somewhere in among the gaggle of beggars Bartimaeus flops his hands out, like wings that will never lift him off the ground. “Alms for the poor! Alms for the poor!” he croaks out half-heartedly.
But then back down the road toward Jericho, a ripple of something breaks the monotonous droning of the day. It’s like that first hint of a cool breeze on one of those hot humid motionless summer days.
“It’s him,” Bartimaeus hears from somewhere nearby. “It’s him, the great rabbi,” the voice continues, “off to Jerusalem, I guess. Maybe he’ll open up a few purses for us.”
And before he knows it, before he has time to push it away, the gulf between the way the world is and the way it should be, opens up in Bartimaeus’ soul. He feels it like a knife, the sharp pain of it awakening something far away inside of him.
The problem for Bartimaeus is that he once could see. He does remember how it all should be. Usually, he can ignore it. Usually he can coax that part of himself, like a child, back into bed, tucking it into a peaceful sleep. But every now and then, if he lets down his guard, he remembers it. He remembers a day of sun shine, remembers being lifted from the ground as a boy held in his father’s two strong hands. He remembers flying up above his father at the end of his arms, and he can hear his father’s voice singing to him: “Be a bird, my little bird! See, you’re flying, fly!” He remembers how his father’s face looked up at him beaming like the sun.
And in a split second, before he even thinks about what he is doing, his croaking for alms gives way to that part of himself that is awake now, and that he can’t keep silent any longer. And he begins to scream, like a child screaming for his parent in the darkness. He screams, “Son of David, have pity on me!” the veins in his neck bulging, his sightless eyes wide open in terror. “Son of David, have pity on me!”
The other croaking beggars nearby recognize that his cawing for alms has given way to a human voice, and they flap at him, telling him to shut up. Pilgrims passing by on the road take up their shouts and tell the trouble maker to remember his place, to shut up and sit down.
But he is too much awake now to worry about keeping his place. His darkened eyes are filled with the brightness of an inner vision, of flying above his father: of the time when he could see.
But then a voice breaks through the chorus shouting him down and telling him to remember his place—a voice ringing out clear as a bell, calling: “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
Bartimaeus stands, flinging himself out from under his cloak and stumbles out of the flapping beggars around him. He stumbles and flings himself forward. Nobody takes him by the elbow to lead him. This last stretch of darkness he must make on his own. He is coming to Jesus and this last stretch is always a groping in the dark. No one can lead him this last stretch. Besides, that sheer gnawing hunger for goodness, for human kindness, for his life the way it is supposed to be, for sight, is like a strong current pushing him forward.
And does…till stumbles to a stop. And he realizes that everything becomes still and silent. And in front of him he hears a voice that he realizes in a flash is like one he has always known. It is just like the sound of that voice he has tried to tuck away into peaceful sleep inside himself all these long dark years. He hears this voice, and it is just like the voice of a parent coming in the dark beside a child asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”
What do I want? “My teacher,” he says, “let me see again.”
And with the ease and ordinariness with which you turn on the lamplight beside a frightened child’s bed at night, the darkness is disbursed, and the world, Bartimaeus’ world the way it is supposed to be appears before his very eyes.
You and I, we know how the world is. And we know how it is supposed to be. We know, because we have seen it too. We have had sight before. We have seen it. Here and there, the Kingdom that will come has flashed out a beacon of light, and we too have felt a sure wind that has navigated us of its own, carrying a moment and our lives with it into the uplifted hands of God. We have seen him beam like the sun.
Sometimes it is easier to forget. Sometimes when the contrast is too stark it’s easier to tuck that remembrance safely into sleep. But with the tender mercies of God’s grace, we will have courage to remember the world the way it is supposed to be: God’s world. Sometimes that remembrance does cut as sharply as a knife. This is what it means to bear the Cross of Christ.
But we are called to bear it with good words. Words to proclaim, that the way it is in this world is giving way to the world as God will have it. They are words of good news for a world that sometimes is waking from a nightmare. We too can proclaim: Take heart, get up, he is calling you.
Jesus asks, “what do you want me to do for you?” O Lord, let us see again.
Who said it’s supposed to be a perfect world? Why, the one who made it, of course. Amen