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On Monday we heard from Penny Body the story of the rich young man. He wanted to enter eternal life and follow Jesus, but given the chance he couldn’t do it. It seems he didn’t quite want to enough and he couldn’t let go of all he had. Today we approach from a different angle with the story of the blind beggar Bartimaeus, a man at the other end of the wealth spectrum. Let’s see what happens.
Mark 10:46-end (NRSV)
The Healing of Blind Bartimaeus
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. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 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.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 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.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
We have probably all witnessed a person who has asked for help. Solutions are offered, but none are quite right – there, you see, I knew you couldn’t help me! Frustration all around, but actually the person didn’t want to be helped. They wanted to remain a perpetual victim.
The first question Jesus puts to Bartimaeus is, ‘What do you want me to do for you? – Do you want to give up begging? Do you want to live a different life? Do you want to stop sitting around at the roadside, blaming your troubles on all who pass by? In other words, do you want to be helped?
Bartimaeus does indeed want to change – let me see again, he says. Jesus acknowledges his faith – he knows that Bartimaeus has recognised him and called out for mercy. Bartimaeus knows that Jesus can help him, his faith is the key to his healing and at once he follows Jesus on the way – the way was the early Christian’s word for what we would understand as ‘Christianity’.
The contrast with the story of the rich young man is stark – I hadn’t before considered these two stories together. Of course, it is easier for someone who has nothing to give up everything, but that is not the point. What has to be given up is what gets in the way. The young man’s riches were his stumbling block. The blindness of Bartimaeus was what was keeping him on the roadside berating passers-by.
What is your stumbling block? And are you prepared to give it up?
O Lord, from whom all good things come:
grant to us your humble servants,
that by your holy inspiration
we may think those things that are good,
and by your merciful guiding may perform the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen