Run, Bartimaeus. Run to the Savior. Run. Run. Run. It’s a very catchy tune, focused on the main character in the story. Bartimaeus wants to be healed, so much that he is willing to call out. He is willing to disregard those who he depends upon to live (the crowd gathered at the side of the road) who is telling him to be quiet. And when given the opportunity, he leaves everything (which is his cloak) and runs to Jesus to ask for healing.
I want to point out that the author of the gospel of Mark has masterfully had Jesus ask the same question two weeks in a row! “What do you want me to do for you?” Last week, it was James and John asking for glory and fame and power. And we all know how that worked out.
This week, Jesus asks Bartimeaus “What do you want me to do for you?” and Bartimeaus asks for healing, “Let me see again.” And Jesus proclaims that his faith has made him well. At once he can see, and follows Jesus on the way.
These healing/miracle stories are always tricky to preach on. We cannot equate what happened to Bartimaeus physically with our world here and now. It would be cruel to tell people that if you just pray to Jesus, if you just cry out loud enough, if you just persist long enough, your faith will fix whatever ails you. This is a poor theology, and a poor reading of the text. Jesus doesn’t wave a hand and get rid of all that we would wish. He was able to heal Bartimaeus.
So what do we do with this text? What is it saying to us?
Certainly, I think it calls us to look carefully at what we are asking from God. We do not want to be arrogant like James and John, seeking preferential treatment. We want to be like Bartimeaus, asking in our distress. Persisting in our pleas. Running when we get the chance. Following on the way.
But as much as I love the image of running Bartimeaus, today I want us to think about what kind of healing Jesus offered, to whom it was offered, and what that could mean in our lives.
Of course, Bartimeaus is front and center in the story about healing. In fact, we know his name, Bartimeaus. This is not a generic story about a healing of “the blind man.” But Jesus is offering healing to more than Bartimeaus.
You see, in Jesus’ time, having an infirmity, being different in some way, marked you as one to be excluded from the center of life. Anything “odd” was considered to be a curse from God, because of something you or your family had done. And if God had cursed you, well, no one else wanted to be anywhere near you.
Jesus’ ministry flies in the face of this way of living. Jesus is constantly hanging out with the outcasts—blind people, lepers, tax collectors, women of dubious reputation, women at all, even children! Jesus’ world, and his depiction of the Kingdom of God, the breaking in of God into our world, demands that all are brought into the circle of God, of community, of love.
So we could see this story as being not only about the healing of Bartimeaus, but also the healing of the community, the healing of the “blindness” of those who exclude and create “them and us” and find ways to divide rather than unite. I notice that in this story Bartimeaus is not sent back to his own community. I notice that this healing is done just outside of Jericho, a resort town of sorts, where lots of wealthy people, including royal families had huge villas where they spent the winter. Maybe Mark is suggesting, as Jesus did just a couple of verses before, that it is hard to reform rich people, that even healed Bartimeaus might not be welcome in Jericho.
But, the community is partially healed because Bartimeaus is welcome to follow Jesus, to join those who are traveling with him to Jerusalem. It is telling that in the gospel of Mark it is Bartimeaus who identifies Jesus as “Son of David”—and immediately following this story, what we call the Palm Sunday crowds will pick up the theme as they yell “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” So although the healed Bartimeaus does not return to his home community to help heal it of its tendencies to exclude and ignore, he is welcome in the new community, the beloved community of those gathered around Jesus, of those following “on the way.”
I believe that the story of Bartimeaus has much to ask us today.
--Are we part of the beloved community, welcoming in all those who are desperate to find a place to call home? Or are we part of the crowd yelling at the Bartimeaus’ of the world to “Shut up”?
--Are we part of the beloved community, opening our arms to all who want to follow Jesus? Or are we part of the crowd that likes to dissect people into this or that, who needs to put some “out” so that we can be “in”?
--Are we able to see our own blindness about the way our world work? Are we able to ask, beg, Jesus to help heal us? Are we willing to do everything we can to create the beloved community not just within these walls, but in our towns, in our state, in our country, in our world?
Healing is not something to take lightly. It takes yelling as loud as one can. It takes hutzpah and patience and sometimes what seems like endless time. It takes enthusiasm, running and running and running, when you can. It takes faith that we are on the way, that we have been given a view of the mountaintop with Jesus, but we should never forget as Dr. King so prophetically said, “I may not get there with you”—although we may never see the final fruits of our labors that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep working.
Jesus in Mark begins his ministry by proclaiming “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news.” We need to turn around. We need to remember we do not yet live in a world that is truly as God would have wanted it. It has come near, we can see glimpses, we have been given a vision, but we are still on the way.
Season of the Spirit suggested using a song from Sounds of Blackness called “Time for Healing.” I’d like to quote just a little from their lyrics.
“Take a look around/This world has gone insane
Everywhere you turn/There’s suffering and pain
Children are dying/We’ve got to take a stand
Against [our] inhumanity
To woman, child and man…
That is not the way/ that it’s supposed to be
We were meant to live in peace and harmony
There are so many old wounds and scars
Keeping us apart.
It’s time for healing/ inside of you and me.
Healing throughout all the human family.
Nation to nation. Spirit, and soul to soul.
Open up your heart and let the healing flow.”
Sometimes it seems that we could never do enough. Sometimes we get paralyzed trying to figure out what could We do. We’re small. Face it, we’re old. And if we were trying to be on top by the world’s standards we would be in trouble. But this is the beloved community. These are the people who are following on the way. These are all the people who have been counted out, counted against, counted insignificant.
I loved a link for this week that took me to a site called The Raging Grannies. These are women of mature age who dress up like the quintessential “granny” and it often allows them to get close to individuals or corporations because no one thinks they are going to cause trouble. They meet with one another. They strategize. They make up songs about issues they want to highlight. I invite you to go check out what they are doing @ raginggrannies.org.
But the point is this—their age didn’t stop them. Let’s find more ways to be like Bartimeaus (and the raging grannies)—shaking the trees for healing. And as we follow on the way,
let Jesus help us bring healing to us all.