Christ Healing the Blind Man, Eustache Le Sueur, 1652
(…continued) Mark 10:46-52 tells the story of Jesus healing a blind man. The man’s name is Bartimaeus, and in that society being blind also meant being poor, forced to live by begging, as it says in verse 46. But Bartimaeus knew enough about Jesus to cry out for him when he heard he was passing by. Verse 47 says that he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”
In that one plea, Bartimaeus is already saying a great deal. In the previous chapters Jesus has been meeting all kinds of people and getting all kinds of responses. He is listened to, questioned, challenged, and criticized. He is followed by some, rejected by others, and no doubt ignored by many. But here is a blind man who immediately SEES; he sees Jesus for who he is, the Son of David, the King, and sees his need of him, pleading “Have mercy on me.”
Bartimaeus is not afraid to publicly proclaim his faith. We might not be as eager to talk about our faith in public. People might take it wrong, they might be offended, they might think you are being self-righteous. Religion is a good topic to avoid in polite conversation. You might be criticized or look down on if you get into it too much, and this man was. Verse 48 says, “many people rebuked him and told him to be quiet.” But this man is desperate. He doesn’t care what the crowd says to him or about him. The verse goes on to say that he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”
Jesus hears Bartimaeus and asks that he be brought forward. Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus replied simply, “Rabbi, I want to see.” And then Jesus says, “Go, your faith has healed you,” and immediately, says verse 52, the man received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Of all the many people around Jesus that day, it is the blind man who ‘sees’ most clearly. In fact, it is because of his blindness that he is more aware of his desperation than many of the others who met Jesus. Others had seen Jesus do miracles, but they wanted to debate Jesus on where his power came from and by whose authority he did such things and whether or not he should heal on the Sabbath and so on, trying so hard to see everything that they missed what was most important. Bartimaeus was not interested in any of that. He was desperate, and all he wanted to do was make his plea to Jesus and cling to him. His desperation became his strength, and he was praised for his faith. He, like the believers in Pastor Manuel’s church in yesterday’s meditation, knew he needed God.
We can be thankful that we are not in desperate economic circumstances like those in Pastor Manuel’s church. And if we have our eyesight, we can also be thankful. We do not want to live our lives in desperation, and if have been blessed enough to be able to make ourselves secure and comfortable, that is something to be thankful for. Tough times come and go for everyone, but we do what we can to build in stability and peace as much as we can. We want that, but at the same time we have to realize the danger to our soul and spirit that comes along with safety and security and well-being. One of the devil’s oldest and most effective tricks is to use God’s own blessings to lead us away from God. The more God blesses us, the more we can be tempted to feel secure enough to not need God; and this can become an even worse blindness than the physical blindness which afflicted Bartimaeus. Jesus once asked, “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” To put it another way, it would be far better to endure for a few years the grinding poverty of Pastor Manuel’s people and keep your faith alive unto death, than to gain the whole world for a few years and lose your eternal hope. There is no long term security for anyone except in God. Desperation reminds us of that in ways that we might forget when times are good.
Why did church attendance increase all over the country after the 9/11 attack on America? Because people were reminded that life is short and uncertain, and this world is a dangerous place. Why did church attendance then decrease again after a few weeks? Because people soon forgot that. Church attendance is of course not the only measure of a people’s faith and spirit, but it is an important indicator, and, it is a weekly reminder of our eternal soul and that we need God.
One more important thing. It has been the experience of many people that when they most desperately need God, God seems far away. We can see this even in the Bible; most certainly in the Psalms, and also in the Prophets and in the Epistle’s, and even in Jesus himself. In becoming a man, Jesus emptied himself of all divine power, says Philippians chapter 2. So, in times of need he had to pray to God for help and support. And when did he need such help more than when he was on the cross? And his heavenly Father did not then seem very close to Jesus, for some of his last words from the cross were, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” That is how it can feel for a believer, even when he or she most desperately needs God. But then one must simply continue to cry out, like Bartimaeus; even when the Savior cannot be seen, even when all looks hopeless, even when, for a time, it seems like there will not be a response.
Yet in our crying out to God we are closer to God than we are when we are comfortable and our every need is meet and we are not looking to God at all.
Mark 10:46-52 — Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
for I put my trust in you.