Rejected by the worshipping community, blind Bartimaeus has true insight into Christ and is commended for his faith. (Listen.)
He was slumped outside the city gates: because he wasn’t allowed inside anymore. He used to be there. But for his blindness or diffability or autism or trauma or gayness or questions or outspokenness or doubt or some other issue, he was criticized, then judged, then driven away, then erased. He was ordered not to mingle with the inside folk: and they were warned. Hanging out with him would taint them, might even lead to them being thrown out, too: so they carefully avoided him; they never returned his calls.
He had tried to be faithful; he had thought God was love: but now he wasn’t sure. He had served faithfully, given generously, and reflected on scripture daily. He had begged and prayed to be different, but this one thing never seemed to change. And so, despite all the serving and giving and reflecting and praying, despite his great love for God, because of one thing, one taboo, he had been kicked out of the worshipping community and rejected by his friends. The light which had been shining within him, the light which lit up his life, seemed to dim. Faith made no sense anymore.
He felt blindsided. He felt blind. And so there he sat, on the roadside, on the outside, in the darkness, waiting for crumbs from the table. But lest we be in darkness, too, let’s leave him there for a moment, waiting, as we tell two other stories.
For the story of Bartimaeus follows two related stories. First, the story of the rich man who met Jesus on the road, and asked how he could get more life. When he asked, Jesus looked with love into his heart. Maybe he saw that the man was possessed by his possessions. Maybe he saw that life was just another thing the man wanted to possess. Whatever, he told him to get rid of his possessions then follow him, but the rich man couldn’t or wouldn’t. Instead, he turned his back on Jesus and walked away, grieving.
The second story is that of the disciples on the road, jostling for position in God’s kingdom. James and John tell Jesus they want him to do as they wish. He says, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They ask for greatness and glory: but these are not his to give. And he reminds his disciples that if they want to be great in God’s kingdom, they must be least of all.
Bartimaeus was least: blinded, rejected, poor. Like all beggars, he had just one possession: his cloak. It was his protection and livelihood. At night, he wrapped himself in it for cover and warmth; by day, he spread it on the ground to collect a few crusts, a few coins. As he sat on the roadside, on the outside, in the darkness, he had his cloak with him.
So there he was, when he heard a large crowd coming out of the city gates. Someone in the crowd was speaking: and the voice resonated deep inside him. ‘Who is it?’ he asked up the beggars’ line, ‘Who’s that?’ Gradually word filtered back: ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus! The one who touched rejected people, and made them whole again. The one who healed a bleeding woman when she simply touched his cloak: and instead of rebuking her for mixing with the crowd, he commended her and praised her faith. The one who raised a corpselike boy with his father’s faith and doubt. The one who centred sick and snivelling children, and who seemed to love everyone.
The one who sounded, in fact, like the long-awaited messiah, giving voice to the voiceless and sight to the blind, healer and saviour of all. And as everyone knows, the messiah is David’s son. So Bartimaeus took a risk and filled his lungs: ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’
The crowd heard. But he had been kicked out, silenced, erased: he wasn’t supposed to mingle with them; he wasn’t supposed to draw attention to himself. And so they rebuked him, and ordered him to be quiet.
What did it take for him to try again? What strength of character? What resilience? What mustard seed of faith? He knew the risk. He depended on charity for survival. If he angered the crowd, he would starve or worse. But something inside him, something deep and true, inspired him to fill his lungs again and shout, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’
This time, Jesus heard: and Jesus realized he had been seen. For this is the first time he was called by this title, recognized for who he was: and not by disciple, rich man, Pharisee, or priest. Instead it is blind Bartimaeus, the beggar by the roadside, the one cast out of the worshipping community, the one who apparently cannot see, who has truly, deeply seen Christ.
Jesus calls Bartimaeus: and the blind man must find his way through the crowd. But a man with this courage? He’s up to it. He throws off his cloak, his only possession, and leaves it behind as he stumbles his way towards Jesus.
Looking at him, Jesus sees him. He sees beyond the blindness, beyond the poverty, beyond the rejection, into the fullness of the person. He doesn’t presume to know what Bartimaeus wants or needs. He doesn’t assume he wants his blindness healed, or his poverty alleviated: perhaps the presenting issues are not the most important. And so, just as he said to James and John, Jesus asks, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
But where James and John sought greatness and glory, Bartimaeus wants one true thing: ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ And this, Jesus can grant: for perhaps, just perhaps, Bartimaeus has been seeing clearly all along. Perhaps, despite his so-called issue, he always has been faithful. Perhaps, to light up his darkness, all he ever needed was affirmation, acceptance, solidarity, love. For Jesus does no magic tricks. There’s no mud, no spit, no pool of Siloam; he doesn’t even touch him; there are no groaning prayers. Instead he simply commends his faith, saying, ‘Your faith has made you well.’ And Bartimaeus, with renewed clarity of sight and tears of joy and relief, follows Jesus on the way. Ω
Reflect: What do you want Jesus to do for you? What do you see clearly now that once was obscure to you? How has your faith made you well? Alternatively, is there somebody you have dismissed or judged for their ‘lifestyle’ who may, in fact, be a profound witness to Jesus Christ? Pray about it.
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