What the Blind Man Saw

A sermon based on: Mark 10:46-52
given at Mount Vernon, OH October 25, 2015 *
by Rev. Scott Elliott

A pastor and a barber were walking through a very poor part of town. The barber turned to the pastor and said, “This is why I can’t believe in a God of love. If God was love and all powerful, He would not permit all this poverty, despair and suffering. I can’t believe in a God who permits such things.” The pastor was silent until they got back to the barber’s neighborhood and walked past a couple of men who were especially unkempt–with scraggly hair and stubble.

The pastor turned the barber and said “You cannot be a very good barber or you wouldn’t permit men to continue living in your neighborhood without a haircut or a shave.” Indignantly the barber answered: “Why blame me, I can’t help it that they are like that. They’ve never come in my shop.”

“Well, God has long called humanity to help the poor and eliminate oppression. So don’t blame God for humanity’s refusal to see this problem and heed God’s call to fix it. People, not God turn a blind eye toward poverty and oppression.”
Today’s Lectionary reading has Jesus healing a blind man. This is the last healing story in Mark. It can be heard as simply a story about Jesus’ supernatural miracle work.

A blind beggar tenaciously overcomes those who try to stop him. And he gets Jesus’ attention with the only means available to him– his voice. Jesus hears Bartimaeus. He calls him forward, and only then do others finally help him. Jesus doesn’t touch to heal Bartimaeus, instead he speaks his Word “Go your faith has made you well,” he says. Upon the Word Bartimaeus regains his sight and follows Jesus. It’s a wonderful story. Jesus helps a person see, a person others would rather just shut up. One man’s tenaciousness got him to Jesus. A literal miracle occurs.

If we open our eyes a little, the story can be seen to also have layers of symbolic meaning and metaphor. The story begins with Jesus and the disciples coming to Jericho. Jericho is on the way to Jerusalem from Galilee. It is a place of transition for Jesus as he leaves behind his rural ministry and to go Jerusalem for a short ministry where he endures hardship and death.

Up to this point in Mark Jesus’ followers, in a manner of speaking, have been blind to what, and who, Jesus is. They refuse to see Jesus’ hardship and death are on the horizon. They refuse to see that the Messiah is not a super hero who’s going to come to the rescue with violent BOFFS! and POWS! as a way to peace. Everyone at this point thinks the Messiah is “Superman-like” and they want to depend on him for a rescue operation that ousts Rome and reestablishes a mighty Jewish King and kingdom. They think this despite Jesus telling them otherwise.

Earlier in Mark (9:31-32) Jesus said:

“The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

The disciples have been turning a blind eye to the reality Jesus has been preaching . . .but a blind beggar sees it. His name is Bartimaeus a name that means “son of honor,” and as we heard he calls “Jesus, Son of David.”

One metaphor we can see in the story if we look for it, is that anyone with faith– even the physically blind– even a nobody outcast, can see and who Jesus really is.

Names mean a lot in this story. This is the first time in Mark that Jesus is connected to David. And it is no coincidence that it happens while Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to become the “king”of the Jews and Messiah. King and Messiah are linked to David, so is Jesus. But no one sees it until a blind beggar with faith sees it. The “son of honor” honors Jesus with the faithful title, “son of David.”

Jesus is also, of course, called Jesus. The name Jesus is interesting. We know Jesus as Jesus but I’ve mentioned before that he would never have known that name in his lifetime. If his mom had called out “Jesus time for dinner” he would not have come. Jesus is a Latin version of the Greek word for the Hebrew-Aramaic name that Jesus really had. It was actually Yeshua.”Yeshua time for dinner” would’ve worked. Oddly enough we otherwise translate Yeshua in English as “Joshua.”
And literally Yeshua, Joshua, means “Yahweh saves.” The first Joshua (Jesus’ namesake) of course, is that guy in the Old Testament who takes over as leader of the Hebrews after Moses dies and miraculously leads the people of God over the Jordan River and into the promised land.

Most of us remember Joshua from that song. “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho. Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down.” That’s how the song goes. Remember that story? Joshua has God’s people march around the walls of Jericho for six days and then on the 7th day while priests blow horns the people shout out and walls come tumbling down allowing the Hebrews to obtain victory. By the time Joshua leaves Jericho every inhabitant in the town is killed – except Rahab who had earlier helped the Hebrews. Joshua was a super hero like guy who came to the rescue with violence and he did BOFF! and POW! his way to “peace.”

Our lesson takes place in that historic city, Jericho. And people are expecting Jesus to be Joshua-like, Superman-like. They are depending on that, despite what he has been telling them. But unlike Joshua, Jesus comes through Jericho in non-violent peace and he leaves in non-violent peace. The physical walls do not fall. No one is killed . . .

Yet someone does shout out and walls do come down, walls to love, and walls preventing sight of Jesus’ Way. And Jesus – Yeshua, the new Joshua– is proclaimed son of David, an even greater hero than Joshua. This proclamation is not made by the disciples or the throngs with sight who follow him. It’s shouted out by Bartimaeus, the lowly nobody blind beggar. This societal cast-off who is both poor and disabled, that blind fellow, is the only one who sees Jesus for who He is.

It’s meant, on one hand, as supreme irony that the blind man others would wall off from Jesus, is the one who has the faith to see, the one who shouts out in Jericho and brings figurative walls down. Is meant to show that it does not matter where we are on life’s journey, what natural ailments or societal impediments are in the way, with a faith-full shout out – something available to all– anyone can come to Jesus. And when we get there Jesus will hear us above the din of those who would deny us access. When we get to Jesus and honor him our faith in turn will be honored and it will serve to heal us and the world . . . Our faith heals.

“Faith” some think means belief in the unbelievable. It can also mean conviction in something, a set of values and beliefs; the way to live and be and interact with God and others and the world. Faith at it’s heart in the Bible can be seen as how we commit to be in relationship to God, to God in others and creation – the God that is transcendent (out there) and the God than is immanent (here). Faith is, in a word . . . trust. It is for us trust in Christ– Son of David, Jesus.

Jesus, in our lesson, knows that he will not be physically with his followers forever. We are told He knows he’s to be killed. He is going to leave and he has been trying to hammer home that His followers can do His ministry when he’s gone. What they need is faith, trust. For the impediments, the walls, to that ministry to fall.

And it is up to his followers – which includes us– to use faith to bring the walls down and heal blindness to wrong ways. With the sight, trust in Jesus, we will see that we are to relate with God above and God within and God all around with love.
In the story Jesus’ ministry outside of Jerusalem is complete and he’s trying to pass the ministry on to his followers. Bartimaeus is the first to see . . . to understand. His faith healed blindness and he was able to follow Jesus. Like the people of God of yore, Bartimaeus shouts outside the walls of Jericho. The walls of Jericho don’t come tumbling down. But bigger walls come down. What kept Bartimaeus from God through Christ Jesus falls, and the walls that keep him and us from seeing tumbled down.

Faith–trust– can heal whatever blindness keeps us from getting up, leaving our stuff behind and following Jesus. So another metaphor in the story is that tenacious efforts to get to Jesus pay off. With faith, trust in Christ, even the blind– that’s all of us– can see.

And it is no small thing that Bartimaeus leaves behind everything. He gives up being blind and a beggar, but also his one worldly possession of any worth, his cloak. We are told that when Jesus called Bartimaeus he sprang up, threw off his cloak without hesitation and went to Jesus, was then healed by the Word of God because he had faith. And once he saw, he followed Jesus without hesitation. This is the end of Mark 10. At the start of Mark 10 (17-22) there is another man who came to Jesus, a man with a wealth of possessions–whom we discussed two Sundays ago. Remember? Jesus is setting out on a journey in that story as well when “a man ran up to him and asked him “Good teacher what must I do to inherit the eternal life?” When the rich young man indicated he’d followed the commandments all his life, Jesus said, “‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give your money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come follow me.’” But “[w]hen the fellow heard this he was shocked and went away grieving for he had many possessions.” Bartimaeus the man without sight sees Jesus for what he is the son of David. He had but one real possession a cloak and without even being asked leaves it behind. He’s the quintessential disciple.

Jesus is going about first century Palestine giving away love in a culture where love was ignored, undernourished and devalued. Wealth and power are what is valued. Love is not. It takes a lot of faith to trust that love is what we should value, most everything in Jesus’ culture, and our culture today, claims wealth and power are what matter. Jesus’s ministry flips the value system upside down. Wealth and might are devalued . . .and Love is to be valued above all else. Jesus figures out that once you value love, love abounds. Unlike gold and might, there is an unlimited supply of love and anyone can access it and the more you access it the more of it there is. Jesus has bags and bags and bags of love and like Johnny Appleseed he runs around the country-side planting love seeds.

Jesus gives love to everyone. The rich the poor, the acceptable, the outcast, the sighted, the blind. You don’t have to have what the world values to follow Jesus; not riches, not power, not a job, not cultural esteem, not what the world thinks is an unblemished body, or soul, or life. You can be a beggar, blind, lame, sinful, criminal, adulterer, leper, enemy, oppressed, even demon possessed and follow Jesus.

You basically only need two things to see Jesus’ Way: faith, and a willingness to act on that faith. Bishop Spong puts it like this: “we prepare for eternity not by being religious and keeping the rules, but by living fully, loving wastefully, and daring now to be all that each of us has the capacity to be.” (Why Christianity Must Change or Die, p. 218.). Bartimaeus trusted Jesus and was unreservedly willing to live fully, love wastefully and dare to be all that he had the capacity to be. That is what faith in Christ and willing to act on that faith causes to happen. It opens our eyes to heavenly riches, which is not gold and power but love.

The good news is we can all shout out to Jesus and have the walls to access his Way come tumbling down . . . and blindness to love healed.

May we all see that! AMEN


* This sermon is based in part on a sermon I wrote in 2009