This passage is the second story in 3 chapters of Jesus healing a physically blind person. In Ch 8 Jesus heals a blind man in Bethsaida. From there until healing blind Bartimaeus in Jericho, the disciples are shown to be spiritually blind.
At the beginning of this section in Mark, we are told that Jesus and his disciples are on the way in Mk 8:27. The earliest Christians were called “followers of the way.” They are approaching the end of their travels. It is on the way to Jericho that the disciples try to keep the children from Jesus. It is on the way that James & John ask Jesus to do something crazy for them. They have been busy figuring out where they want to sit when its all said and done. Jesus asks them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” James & John respond: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
Not long after the disciples have been bickering over their places in glory, a blind man by the side of the road, hindered rather than helped by the crowds around him, instantly recognizes Jesus for who he is. Jesus & the disciples are leaving the gates of Jericho. Blind Bartimaeus is crying out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
The exit from Jericho is a curious reference.
The last time anyone shouted near Jericho, the walls came tumbling down. Maybe that’s why the crowd told him to “shut up and be silent”, but Bartimaeus cried out all the more. Nothing will stop him from his heart’s deep desire. He cries out again, his voice gaining strength, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And then he hears it. A man’s voice, up ahead, saying, “Call him here.”
The same people who hush him suddenly tell him to get up and go because Jesus is calling him. “Take heart, Bartimaeus! Get up! Jesus is calling you!” Isn’t that what we want in life. We want Jesus to stop in front of our lives; to notice us. We want Jesus to say to us, “Take heart. Get up. I am calling you.”
Throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Throwing off his cloak … His cloak was his most important possession. his cloak was his blanket, his identity, his life. When he could hear passersby coming, he would quickly unwind it from his shoulders and lay it out in front of him to catch the coins people dropped for him. After the crowd passed, he would bring the corners together to gather up the coins. By throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus leaves his security for the call of Jesus. He is all in. In throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus embraces the new life he knew Jesus could give. He understood that the security, comfort, usefulness of his cloak would be replaced by something much bigger, much better, more permanent.
What does your cloak represent? You call out to Jesus. The response is an invitation, a call. You know instinctively to throw off your cloak and whatever it represents.
Jesus does not immediately cure him of blindness. Rather, Jesus asks the identical question he asked James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?”
God’s presence is not coercive, but works within our own deepest desires.
This is the big question of us as well. How would we respond? Could we, like Bartimaeus, articulate our needs and desires? Would we continue even if people around us tried to shush us into silence?
Bartimaeus stands in stark contrast to The Twelve, who throughout their journey with Jesus have misunderstood much of what Jesus has told them. The Twelve follow him physically down the road, but in many ways they remain spiritually blind to his teaching. Bartimaeus wasn’t asking for elite treatment and a special seat in the kingdom of God. While Bartemaeus was physically blind, James and John were spiritually blind. But when his story was over, Bartimaeus could not only physically see – he also had spiritual vision. Bartimaeus had a vision to not only recognize his physical blindness, but his profound need for God in his life.
Jesus replies, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Bartimaeus doesn’t follow instruct
ions instead he follows Jesus. He wants to follow Jesus ON THE WAY that LEADS to LIFE. He never goes back for his cloak. He never retreats to its familiarity. Just follows.
Have you ever had that level of gratitude? To God? To someone else? The level of gratitude that causes you to change your whole perspective and even leave the place you are, physically or emotionally and spiritually? To be ALL IN?
I see in the story of Bartimaeus three of the most important aspects of our call:
1. To do our part in acting with the same compassion Jesus acted
2. to gain spiritual vision
3. to live a life of gratitude for what God has given to us.
Stewardship is how we respond with gratitude to what God has given us in our lives. We give back to God out of gratitude, and for an opportunity to be ON the WAY with Jesus.
We could interpret this story as a physical restoration of sight, or we can interpret it symbolically as a restoration of spiritual sight. What if it is more a story of someone who openly and willingly sheds his very identity, to receive new vision? I believe vision–the spiritual vision that we receive by asking Jesus to open our eyes–is a necessary component of strong stewardship. For a church to have strong stewardship– a strong investment of time, talent, and financial commitments from its membership–a church must have a strong and compelling shared vision of who God in Christ calls us to be as a church. We just had a Vision Retreat that gave us a vision of who we we are and who we desire to be. Our new Mission Statement to be adopted at our 2016 annual meeting:
United With God, United in Love, United to Serve
Vision: In 2025, United Church in University Place is recognized in the community as a center for faith, community gatherings and social justice. We are working with other community organizations to serve the marginalized and work toward solutions of systemic justice.
The building is a community model for a modern, green, and attractive facility easily identifiable to neighbors and visitors.
We are worshiping in a vital, Christ-centered, diverse and welcoming family. We are strengthening our Spiritual Core through small groups, adult education, and personal meditation space.
Our youth have a strong sense of belonging to a community, with empathy and compassion for others as they grow in their spiritual journey. We eat, pray, love, play and sing together.
As stewards of our church we engage the passions and strength of our diverse membership to participate in and guide our organization and programs. Our communication takes place on multiple levels, reaching our diverse community.
All of this ministry arises from and expresses our shared vision and from our faith as we envision the world Jesus is calling us to create. This ministry represents a set of commitments that are deep and compelling, that evoke from us a strong desire to give our time, talent, and money, and to give it generously.
Let us celebrate the vision of love, justice, and peace to which Christ has opened our eyes. Let us celebrate that spirit of trust that brings us close together and enables us to be an incredibly strong church. Let us celebrate the generosity with which we give. And let us commit ourselves, once again, to being a people who continue to follow Christ on the way.