When people draw lines to separate and divide others, Jesus often stands on the other side, inviting the divider to join Him. This phrase, borrowed from a DPC member, anchors this week’s blog from Faith in Real Life. We do not get to decide who is worthy of audience with Jesus or healing. We can only live in love, create space to accept our own imperfections and those in others, and strive to begin a conversation with God that opens the door to a new life.
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
What makes this story noteworthy? Usually, in the course of preparation, a particular emphasis or reaction emerges from the process. This time, I seem to have a group of fragments. Each have something I can imagine developing but none have felt particularly compelling. So here are some thoughts. Perhaps one will engage you to think and feel more deeply.
There are always multiple places that we can enter a biblical story. If we start with the narrative as whole, it is part of Mark’s attempt to unfold Jesus’ life in a way that reveals him as the Christ. Two different blind men are given sight in Mark 8 and Mark 10. In between, Mark exposes the blindness of the disciples on three different occasions. The blind are able to see Jesus in ways that those closest to him could not. So, from that frame, It is a helpful reminder that no matter how diligently we would seek to follow Jesus, some very unlikely people see better than we do.
Also, from a narrative point of view, when Bartimaeus calls out to ‘Jesus, Son of David’ he is the first to see Jesus as part of the royal line and becomes the herald to Jesus’ entry into the royal city. A new chapter in Jesus’ life is beginning. All that he had been telling his disciples was about to become real. Kingship was about to be visually and viscerally redefined. Words had been quite insufficient. Perhaps one of the most important messages of the Gospel is that words are important but are always insufficient when it comes to living a life of love. Whoever is able to see this truth should be listened to.
Another perspective pays more attention to the particular details of the story and how they run parallel to and evoke our own experiences. A blind man of no account creates a sufficient ruckus that many ‘sternly ordered him to be quiet’. Bartimaeus was politically incorrect and was impossible to ignore. He was told to shut up but he persisted. This a pretty common experience in real life. Just this weekend I was at a football game and on the way in, a man with a very tall sign and a loud audio system was warning anyone within earshot of the perils of not following Jesus. He too, was hard to ignore—but I walked by quickly. Or what about the beggar who approaches with flattery. “I know you’re a Christian, could you help a hungry man?” Even closer to home, anyone with a child or a pet knows how it is nearly impossible to ignore them when they want your attention. Our grand daughter uses crying to great effect and our dog’s head in our laps along with her big pleading eyes nearly always gets a response. In each instance, Bartimaeus could represent the insistence that gives voice to the outcast. Such insistence is almost always inconvenient but the squeaky wheel usually gets the grease.
And, whether or not Bartimaeus is politically incorrect and rude, Is he using a con to get Jesus to respond by any means possible? If he was, it doesn’t seem to make the first bit of difference to Jesus. He tells the crowd to bring Bartimaeus to him and then asks what Bartimaeus seeks. In FIRL, we discussed the variety of ways people have raised their voices to make their needs known. Depending entirely upon individual biases, the same actions can be seen as rude, disrespectful intrusions or as faithful and righteous advocacy. What does this suggest about what is appropriate in prayer. Is there any unacceptable way to seek God? Is there anything we can not ask of him? The crowd obviously had rules that Jesus did not share.
In real life, arguments can be as extreme as advocating killing physicians who perform abortions to arguments about respecting our flag. Fierce conflicts easily emerge and it is common to try to silence them. Notice, however, it is Jesus who decides.
Bo King recently posted a comment on facebook that I particularly liked. Whenever human beings draw a line to separate people, you will find Jesus on the other side of that line inviting you to join him. The crowd tried to decide for Jesus what was acceptable and what merited his attention. It certainly seems that if human beings can make a rule that divides people—even in good faith—that Jesus will find a way to break it in the cause of love.
I have come to think lately that our job as Christians with one another is to create room for mistakes. Our faith is not measured by our compliance and obedience. That inevitably leads to division and rankings of goodness. But when we create room for our limitations, failures and sinfulness, we treat each other like we belong as the people we are—both whole and broken.
We can approach Jesus with many agenda’s. Our ideas of proper respect or proper prayer do not seem to matter much to Jesus. What matters is that we earnestly seek him and we offer our deepest selves. (And deepest is highly variable.) We can ask anything of Jesus. We can pray for rain, for healing, or for a million dollars. We can come with a good attitude or bad. We can even try to hustle God or play ‘let’s make a deal’ with him. NONE of this matters. What matters is that we show up. What matters is that we begin the conversation with God. After that, God decides.
Finally, no matter what else happened in this story—and there is more, Bartimaeus was transformed. He begins the story sitting by the roadside and he ends the story following Jesus into an unknown future. He acted like he belonged. He challenged the rules that said he should remain silent and he presented himself to Jesus. I have to believe that is what faith looks like. It is living like we are loved—even when the world and our secret hearts say otherwise—and it is living like love matters— even as we are overwhelmed by the world’s pain.
May God be with you. May our broken selves be whole with him. May we have the courage to love as we have been loved. Let it be so.