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Bartimaeus is outta here

October 23, 2015

Mark 10:46-52golden blind man

Today I want to tell you about a guy who became a follower of Jesus. That’s what really moves me about this story. Not so much that he regained his sight. Everybody has their own abilities and disabilities. There are different ways to live. Bartimaeus moved from the blind world to the seeing world… you might say… its certainly a very contemporary way of thinking about it…. But the thing that’s really exciting here is not that he left his blind world, but that he left all kinds of possible-Jericho-worlds in order to take to the road. In order to live again as a follower of Jesus. That… is very cool.

 

Let’s look more closely at the story. It’s a famous location… Jericho. The last time someone shouted in Jericho the walls fell down. They entered the town and were on their way out the other side when they met Bartimaeus. And he starts shouting. He starts shouting until someone notices him.

 

He has heard the news. People around are saying that “Jesus of Nazareth” is coming through. He knows that Nazareth is the kind of place you don’t want to come from. So instead he calls out “Son of David, have mercy on me. Son of David, have mercy on me”. David is a name associated with destiny and hope. It kinda means ‘Messiah’. Bartimaeus is raising the stakes here.

 

It’s not clear whether people are annoyed because he is making too much noise, or because of the name he is using…. Stirring up trouble with talk of ‘Son of David’ can be dangerous when people from Nazareth and passing by.

 

Names are interesting in this story. Mark reminds us that Bartimaeus literally means Son of Timaeus. Timaeus is ambiguous. It might come from a word that means ‘the honoured one’ or it could come from a word that means ‘the impure one’. So he is either son of fame… or he’s son of shame.

 

Bartimaeus is a beggar. The response of the gathered crowd and the disciples is to shut him up to ‘sternly order him’ to be quiet. At least at this point in the story he is a Son of Shame.

 

This week I was listening to a radio programme about the homeless and beggars in Auckland. There are increasing numbers of folk sleeping rough in NZ and the radio man was interviewing a guy who had mastered the art of begging. He had a history of family tragedy and mental health problems and now he couldn’t work and was falling through gaps in the social welfare. I’m not sure whether he was sleeping rough at the time and was about to get accommodation or had accommodation and was struggling with Auckland rent (sometimes its hard to get details when your listening to the radio in the car). Whatever the case he was very conscious that all it needed was a series of unfortunate incidents and a lack of social-capital and any of us could be on the street too. He had developed a technique that worked for him. He wrote a sign, which he would rewrite each month explaining his situation. He stood silently. Didn’t shake a cup. Didn’t call out. Just waited for people to come to him. He was quite deliberate about the marketing of his way of living.

 I wonder what it feels like in our world, to beg on the street. I think there are still sons and daughters of shame out there. One comment that the beggar on the radio made was that they like to call it ‘busking’ rather than ‘begging’.

Bartimaeus was a stroppy beggar. The more they told him to shut up the louder he shouted. The walls of Jericho didn’t literally fall down. But Jesus heard the guy who needed a ‘Son of David’.

 

So he tells the people who are shutting him down to call him up instead. He calls his disciples to pay attention to the voice of the Son of Shame.

 

Remember these disciples include James and John, the two in our last Sunday reading, one preacher (Kim Fabricius) likes to call them “Dumb and Dumber”. These are the ones who want to be at Jesus left-hand and right-hand. They want to steal a march on positions of power come the revolution. They get all the other disciples annoyed. Because, just like Dumb and Dumber, the rest of the disciples also have an eye for power.

 

Little quiz aside about Mark’s Gospel: Who does Jesus end up having on his left-hand and right-hand in his moment of glory? Two thieves.

 

Of course Dumb and Dumber, like the rest of the disciples, have no idea that the way to the kingdom is through suffering and death… even though Jesus tells them this repeatedly. Jesus tells them they must be the servant of all. They want to be the bosses of all.

 

Notice Bartimaeus’s response this call up: He throws off his cloak – the key tool of his trade, the cloak he puts out in front of himself everyday for folks to throw coins or food in, the protection from the cold at night. He abandons his protection. He abandons his livelihood to go to the Son of David.

 

Notice Jesus question. He asks him the same question he asked Dumb and Dumber when they wanted their favour at his left and right hand. He asks him ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ Bartimaeus’s response is immediate and simple. ‘I want to see, again.’ It’s a simple response which contrasts sharply with Dumb and Dumber’s request. He wants his life back again. He wants to participate with everyone else. He doesn’t want power over others, but then neither does he want to sit on the sidelines. He wants to contribute. And of course, for Mark’s gospel and John’s gospel, blindness and sight are metaphors for spiritual realities. At the same time Bartimaeus is saying ‘I want to see, spiritually… I want to see the truth about myself and God’s coming kingdom.’

 

How badly do you want to see?

 

Do you feel that in our society you are left on the sidelines?

 

Are you prepared to throw off you coat, your security and break out of your routine?

 

Notice that Bartimaeus doesn’t abandon his place on the sidelines to become a productive member of the same society that had sidelined him. He doesn’t run off to get a job and buy an apartment and settle down. His first response, his really inspiring moment… is really a continuation of his bold move to throw off his cloak… his response is to find a place in the new movement of those who are following Jesus. He is more interested in the kingdom of God and the destiny associated with this strange ‘Son of David’ than he is in settling down.

 

He regains his physical sight… and it serves his spiritual sight. His life has a direction. He hits the road with Jesus.

The good news is you don’t have to settle down… and neither do you have to sit passively and powerlessly on the sidelines without hope and feeling like shouting all the time.

 

Do you ever feel like shouting?

 

Do you want to see… enough to participate in the kingdom of God?

 

Have you prayed for sight? Now is a good time. Now is a good time to lose some old habits and join in the living witness, the embodiment of the kingdom in this community. This is today’s invitation.

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