The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Mark 10:46-52

THIS IS THE 22ND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST. IN A CERTAIN OTHER DENOMINATION, THIS SUNDAY IS KNOWN AS REFORMATION SUNDAY; SO YOU MIGHT GET A BIT OF LUTHER THROWN AT YOU TODAY. LET US BEGIN, HOWEVER, WITH THE WONDERFUL STORY OF BLIND BARTIMAEUS. TO PUT THIS GOSPEL PASSAGE IN PERSPECTIVE, THE EVENTS OCCUR RIGHT AFTER JAMES AND JOHN ASKED FOR POSITIONS OF POWER IN THE COMING KINGDOM, AND RIGHT BEFORE JESUS’ ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM. IT SERVES AS A POWERFUL TURNING POINT AND TRANSITION FROM JESUS’ MINISTRY TO HIS COMING PASSION AND DEATH. AS WE READ OR HEAR THIS STORY, WE GET A SENSE OF IT BEING AN EYE WITNESS ACCOUNT OF PETER TOLD TO MARK, WHICH IS WHY MARK HAS TO EXPLAIN THE NAME OF BARTIMAEUS TO HIS GENTILE READERS.

BLINDNESS WAS QUITE COMMON IN FIRST CENTURY JUDEA, MOST LIKELY CAUSED BY A PARASITIC INFECTION OF THE FLUID DUCTS IN THE EYES WHICH, BECAUSE OF THE DRYNESS AND DUST OF THE DESERT, CAUSED THE EYES TO DRY OUT TO THE POINT OF BLINDNESS. THE BLIND COULD NOT WORK, SO WERE REDUCED TO BEGGING. WITH THE GENERAL ATTITUDE THAT ILLNESS WAS CAUSED BY SIN, THIS MEANT THAT THE BLIND WERE EXCLUDED FROM THE LIFE OF THE COMMUNITY. SO BARTIMAEUS SAT ON THE SIDE OF THE WAY, HIS CLOAK SPREAD OUT BEFORE HIM, HOPING THAT SOME OF THE PASSERS-BY WOULD TOSS A COIN ON IT. WHEN HE HEARD AND SENSED A HUGE CROWD ON THE DUSTY WAY, AND HEARD SOME SAY THAT JESUS OF NAZARETH WAS PASSING BY, HE DID THE ONLY THING HE COULD DO; HE YELLED OUT, “JESUS, SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!”

THE CROWD TRIED TO SILENCE HIM, BECAUSE THEY MIGHT MISS SOMETHING JESUS HAD TO SAY, AND BECAUSE THIS BLIND BEGGAR WAS NOT WORTHY TO BOTHER THE FAMOUS RABBI. HE WOULD NOT BE SILENCED; AND YELLED LOUDER THAN BEFORE, “SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!” WHEN JESUS HEARD HIS CRY, AND STOPPED IN THE WAY, HE SAID, “CALL HIM TO ME;” THUS MAKING THE ONES WHO ATTEMPTED TO SILENCE BARTIMAEUS BECOME HIS HELPERS. “TAKE HEART,” THEY NOW SAID, “GET UP; HE IS CALLING YOU.”

BARTIMAEUS IS THE PARAGON OF FAITH IN MARK’S GOSPEL. HE UNDERSTANDS WHO JESUS IS; NOT JUST JESUS OF NAZARETH THE RABBI, BUT THE SON OF DAVID WHO IS THE MESSIAH. HOW HE KNOWS THIS WE CAN’T SAY. PERHAPS HE HAD OVERHEARD PEOPLE TALKING THE MARKETPLACE AND CAME TO HIS OWN CONCLUSION, OR PERHAPS THE HOLY SPIRIT INSPIRED HIM. DESPITE HIS BLINDNESS, AND ALL THE CONNOTATIONS OF SPIRITUAL IGNORANCE IT IMPLIES, ONLY HE IMMEDIATELY RECOGNIZES THE ROYAL KINGSHIP OF JESUS.

BARTIMAEUS PERSISTS DESPITE THE CROWD TRYING TO SILENCE HIM. THE IGNORANCE OF THE CROWD AS TO THE MEANING AND EXTENT OF JESUS’ MESSAGE OF GOD’S GRACE IS SHOWN AS THEY TRY TO RESTRICT JESUS’ MINISTRY TO THOSE WHO DESERVE IT – NOT SOME SINFUL BLIND BEGGAR. BARTIMAEUS KNOWS, HOWEVER, THAT JESUS’ COMPASSION AND GRACE ARE FOR PEOPLE EXACTLY LIKE HIM; SO HE YELLS EVEN LOUDER.

BARTIMAUES EXPECTS THAT JESUS WILL RESTORE HIM. WHEN THOSE WHO TRIED TO STOP HIM NOW MUST TELL HIM JESUS IS CALLING HIM, HE GETS UP AND LEAVES HIS CLOAK ON THE GROUND. WHEN HE GOES TO JESUS WITHOUT HIS CLOAK, HE IS DEMONSTRATING HIS CONFIDENCE THAT JESUS WILL TRANSFORM HIS LIFE, AND THAT HE WILL NO LONGER SIT ON HIS CLOAK DEPENDENT ON HANDOUTS FROM PASSERSBY.

WHEN JESUS ASKS HIM, “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO FOR YOU,” THE SAME QUESTION HE ASKED JAMES AND JOHN, BARTIMAEUS ASKS FOR THE RIGHT THING. HE DOES NOT ASK FOR ANY SPECIAL POWER AND HONOR, JUST THAT HE MIGHT SEE AGAIN. HE HAS COMPLETE TRUST IN JESUS’ ABILITY TO GRANT HIM THE ONE THING THAT WOULD RESTORE HIM TO A PLACE IN THE COMMUNITY. JESUS HAS COME TO OPEN THE EYES OF THE PEOPLE TO A NEW SPIRITUAL AND SOCIAL REALITY MADE POSSIBLE ONLY IN THE KINGDOM WHICH HE WILL RULE. BLIND BARTIMAEUS SEES THIS BETTER THAN JESUS’ OWN DISCIPLES.

TO THIS MAN WHO TRUSTS HIM COMPLETELY, JESUS SAYS, “GO; YOUR FAITH HAS MADE YOU WELL.” WITH HIS SIGHT RESTORED, BARTIMAEUS DOES GO; BUT HE GOES BY FOLLOWING AFTER JESUS. NO LONGER ON THE SIDE OF THE WAY, HE FOLLOWS JESUS ON THE WAY TO THE CROSS; THE ONLY ONE OF ALL THOSE RESTORED BY JESUS WHO FOLLOWED AFTER HIM.

THE STORY OF BARTIMAEUS SERVES WELL AS A PREFIGURING OF THE REFORMATION STORY. AFTER YEARS OF AGONIZING OVER HOW ANYONE COULD DESERVE THE GRACE OF GOD, LUTHER’S EYES WERE OPENED BY THE STUDY OF THE LETTER TO THE ROMANS IN WHICH HE CAME TO UNDERSTAND THAT NO ONE DESERVES THE GRACE OF GOD; IT IS ONLY BY FAITH IN THE GRACE OF GOD IN JESUS ARE WE SAVED. ONCE HIS EYES WERE OPENED, HE COULD NOT KEEP SILENT, AND HAD TO PROTEST THE SELLING OF GOD’S GRACE BY THE CHURCH THOUGH INDULGENCES. WHEN THE CHURCH TRIED TO SILENCE HIM AFTER HE POSTED HIS NINETY FIVE THESES ON THE CHURCH DOORS AT WITTEMBURG, HE YELLED LOUDER AND LOUDER, SO TO SPEAK, UNTIL THE PROCLAMATION OF GRACE THROUGH FAITH BURNED LIKE A CLEANSING FIRE THROUGH THE CHRISTIAN WORLD.

NO ONE DESERVES THE GRACE OF GOD, BUT HE FREELY OFFERS HIS GRACE TO ALL. WE ARE CALLED TO JESUS BY GOD’S HOLY SPIRIT, AND SOLELY BY OUR TRUST IN JESUS ARE WE RESTORED TO OUR PLACE AS SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF GOD. ONCE WE ARE RESTORED AS MEMBERS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD WITH THE CHRIST OF GOD AS OUR LORD, OUR EYES ARE OPENED AND WE KNOW THAT NO ONE IS GOOD ENOUGH TO DESERVE GOD’S GRACE AND NO ONE IS BAD ENOUGH TO BE DENIED GOD’S GRACE. THE KINGDOM OF GOD, THE COMMUNITY OF GRACE, HAS BROKEN INTO THIS WORLD BY THE CROSS OF CHRIST, AND IN THE SHADOW OF HIS CROSS, THERE ARE NO DISTINCTIONS OF PERSON, PLACE, RACE, GENDER, OR SOCIAL STATUS; WE ARE MADE ONE PEOPLE IN CHRIST. IN CHRIST, WE WHO WERE BLIND CAN SEE, AND WE CAN SEE WHERE WE ARE TO GO; TO FOLLOW JESUS ON THE WAY OF THE CROSS. AMEN

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