SCRIPTURE READING They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
MESSAGE “No Longer Anonymous” James R. Renfrew, Teaching Elder
(might seem a bit cryptic because the sermon refers to pictures of Bartimaeus shown by Power Point)
I’m looking for opposites. Help me out! Remembering (forgetting). Finding (losing). Falling (rising). Harmony (discord). Loving (hating). Pleasing (annoying). Belonging (rejection, antipathy, hatred, invisibility, anonymity).
Bartimaeus, the man in our Gospel reading, experienced the opposite of belonging in every way. Not only blind and poor, I believe in every way he was pushed aside, ignored, avoided, rejected, hated. He was supposed to know his place, which was to be silent, invisible, and anonymous.
Just look at him, squatting by the side of the road, his only possessions are probably his dirty cloak and his beggar’s bowl. This modern artist shows him with a red and white cane. My Dad had one of these as he lost his vision late in life. He wasn’t completely blind, but he needed the cane it to avoid tripping on curbs and steps. So there’s Bartimaeus, depending on strangers to toss him small coins.
The first hint that Bartimaeus’ situation was about to change is that Mark, the author of the Gospel, identifies Bartimaeus by name. Many stories about Jesus talk about people according to their condition, the paralyzed man, the man with the withered hand, the man with leprosy, but Bartimaeus is named right at the start of the story. This is Mark’s way of telling us to keep our eye on Bartimaeus, because something is about to happen. The man pushed aside, is going to be at the center of our attention
I like to think that this picture of Bartimaeus could be a lot like a picture of you. Not necessarily because you are blind or poor, with a red and white cane, but because when we gather for worship I believe something is about to happen to you, too! We aren’t spectators here, we are at the center of what is about to happen! It’s all about belonging.
Like Bartimaeus, you have a name, too. God knows you by name. God knows what you have done. But God knows what you can become. In fact God is already where you are becoming, waiting for you to get there. Not just waiting, but encouraging you and cheering you on. Because in the family of God no one is nameless, no one is pushed away, everyone is loved, and everyone belongs.
Bartimaeus hears something, some commotion off in the distance. He has sharp ears for commotion like this, because it often means that someone is about to yell at him, push him away or kick him. No one wants him around and he knows it. What did he hear? The sound of approaching feet, loud voices. He must have heard the name “Jesus”, and that got his attention. Who know what he knew about Jesus previous to this moment, but hearing the name of Jesus gives him a reason to stand up, not in fear, but at least in curiosity, and maybe even in hope.
The crowd is now close at hand, and Bartimaeus knows what to expect, they will pass right by without giving a single glance at someone as miserable as him. So he opens his mouth to make his presence known. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” If you were in Bartimaeus’ place, what would you shout to get Jesus’ attention? “Help me!”, or “I’m over here!” or just “Hey!”
Bartimaeus broke all the rules in opening his mouth. He was supposed to be silent, invisible and anonymous. He was supposed to know his place, but he broke the rules and shouted out. And the reaction from that crowd was as expected, “shut up, you!”, “get out of here!”, “go away!”, and “beat it, or I’ll kick you!”.
Now this is where Bartimaeus shows incredible courage. He starts shouting for Jesus so loud that his face turns red. Now the crowd is angry at Bartimaeus. He’s really going to get it now.
You’re not surprised about what happens next, I bet. Jesus stops in his tracks, stops right there. “Bring that fellow over here”. When Bartimaeus hears this, he throws off his cloak in his eagerness. And why not, no one ever wants to see Bartimaeus up close. So he jumps up, throws off his cloak and there he is right next to Jesus. I couldn’t find the artist’s picture of Bartimaeus throwing off his cloak, so what our young friends demonstrated a few minutes ago will have to suffice.
I love this picture of Jesus. He’s removing the bandage that covers Bartimaeus’ eyes, as if to show his awareness that under that bandage is someone very important to God. Just look at the expression on Jesus’ face. How would you describe that expression? Now just imagine Jesus looking at you just like that! Wow!
Bartimaeus is about to be cured of his blindness. How did Jesus do it? Was it what he said? Was it what he did with his hands or fingers? This artist gets me thinking that it’s the look, the expression on Jesus’ face. That’s all it took! Of course, this is a story about blindness, and I don’t want to downplay that. But this is a story for each of us, blind or not, to KNOW that we belong to God, that we are a valuable member of God’s family. As we respond to the stewardship appeal for 2016, keep in mind that it’s all about belonging, an awareness, a joy, a hope, a purpose, a feeling, a mercy, a cure, and so much more.
I love this picture, too. Bartimaeus. Astounded amazed overwhelmed. Yes, it’s about being cured of blindness, but it’s also that awareness of mattering, of being important in the life of a community, of belonging to the family of God. Invisible no more, anonymous no longer.
What would the picture of you look like after such an encounter with Jesus? And what would be the look on your face? No, let me re-phrase that, what IS the look on your face?