On the Road of Faith

Oct 24, 2021

Sermon 10-24-2021
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 10:46-52
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     Bartimaeus went from sitting on the side of the road to following Jesus on the road. Before we contemplate how that happened, though, let me note that there are at least two ways to understand Bartimaeus and his response to Jesus.
     The first is the most obvious. Bartimaeus is blind, which is why he is a beggar on the roadside. His need is great, and he is completely dependent on others to meet those needs. Yet, the very ones he depends on tell him to stop shouting for Jesus to help him; from their point of view, he is a nuisance and not worth Jesus' time. This is a man who is barely seen and not often heard.  It seems that he longed for healing, for mercy, and for a new life.
     The second way to think about Bartimaeus is not so obvious but is proposed by Pastor Martha Anne Fairchild in her sermon on this text. Everything I just said about Bartimaeus is true, but perhaps this is true too. The darkness is familiar to him; it is taken for granted and part of his identity. His fellow citizens had a religious duty to give alms, which meant he would receive at least some money to live on. He could not work and was not expected to do so, and his religious duties would have been very limited. He could spend his days by the roadside, interacting with people; he is accustomed to his situation, which may not have been easy to give up. (1)
     Perhaps both descriptions are his reality; he wants a new life, but he is afraid of a new life. Should he ask for help, or is it better to leave well enough alone? The picture painted for us indicates that if he had doubts, they left him before Jesus rounded the corner.
     Bartimaeus cried out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" When he was sternly ordered to be quiet, he cried out more. This is an audacious act; he does not have the right to be obtrusive; he is allowed to beg, not badger, writes Pastor Timothy Adkins-Jones. (2)
     Yet, he made himself known to Jesus, who was stopped by the man's loudness and desperation. Why was Bartimaeus so persistent? I think it is possible that his transformation began even before he was healed, perhaps even before he decided he wanted to be healed. Having heard about Jesus, the wisdom-speaking, status quo-shaking, miracle-working rabbi, the Holy Spirit began to stir in his life, the result being, as Pastor Adkins-Jones notes, "…before he is healed, he is able to perceive Jesus more clearly than almost anyone else Jesus has encountered in Mark's Gospel up to this point. Notice that Bartimaeus is told that it is "Jesus of Nazareth" who is coming by – a title that identifies Jesus only by his peasant hometown. But when Bartimaeus cries out he says, "Jesus, son of David," identifying Jesus by his messianic designation. So far in Mark no one else has been able to perceive Jesus this well with so little data." (3)
     Bartimaeus may have had "little data," but he knew who Jesus was. The Holy Spirit had sparked a transformation within him so that when he heard Jesus was coming and then was told that Jesus was calling him, his reaction was dramatic. Dramatic? All it says is that he threw off his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. That does not sound so dramatic to us, BUT there are several things we may not realize.
     First, the cloak probably was one of his few possessions; he sat on it and used it as a blanket at night. Someone in his position would keep his cloak close for fear of it being stolen. Also, it could have been that he used to cloak, wrapped around him to form a basket in his lap, to collect the donations given to him. If that was the case, imagine coins flying everywhere when he threw off his cloak so that not only his cloak but his livelihood were fair game to anyone passing by.
     It could be he was careless because he was excited, but it also could be that he expected to be changed, to be healed, which would restore his place in society, and he would no longer need to beg. By the time Jesus asked him that wonderful question, "What do you want me to do for you?" Bartimaeus was ready to let go of what was and live out the faith he had been given.
     When he regained his sight, Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the way. We read, that is, the way to Jerusalem to see for himself the final days of Jesus' life, his arrest, death, and resurrection. He had no idea where his faith would lead him. His healing was a call to discipleship; he no longer was sitting on the side of the road; he was following Jesus on the road.
     This is a great story that raises several questions for us to consider, both for ourselves individually and for our congregation, including:
  • What comfortable but unhelpful aspect of our lives do we need to lay aside to embrace more fully following Jesus?
  • What do we want Jesus to do for us to make that possible?
  • What cloak – what vestiges of what was – do we need to throw off and leave behind?
  • How can we stop sitting on the side of the road and instead get on the road, following Jesus with more commitment?
  • Is transformation beginning now, as the Holy Spirit stirs in our lives?
     I recently was re-reading sections of a book by Christian writer Philip Yancey. In it, Yancey praises author C.S. Lewis whose name is probably familiar to you. A convert from atheism, C.S. Lewis wrote many books, including the well-known Narnia series but also Mere Christianity and the Problem of Pain. C.S. Lewis' writings called Philip Yancey, a person of faith, from sitting on the side of the road, to get on the road as a writer who works out his faith in print. His books have impacted thousands.
     He said, "He (C.S. Lewis) interrupted my own small world of selfish ambition, materiality, pride and pain with news from another world – in this case news not tragic but unimaginable good: a sure promise that God has not given up on this planet."
     In a less dramatic way, Bartimaeus' story of the Spirit stirring, faith arriving, and discipleship beginning, was Philip Yancey's as well when he heard Jesus' voice through C.S. Lewis.
     You see, the Holy Spirit can stir within us in a variety of ways, but whatever way it happens, we too can throw off what was, answer Jesus' question "What do you want me to do for you?" and become a more devoted follower on the road of faith. AMEN
(1) "Seeing God: Blind No More" by Marth Anne Fairchild, Mark 10:46-52, www.preaching.com
(2) "Reflections on the Lectionary" by Timothy Adkins-Jones, Christian Century, October 6, 2021, pg. 21
(3) Same as #2
(4) What Good is God by Philip Yancey, 2010 Hachette Book Group, pg. 99