May 13, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Gospel of Mark
Blind Bartimaeus Receives His Sight
There are about ten million legally blind people in America. Most of those are visually impaired with correctible vision. But many live in total darkness. Famous Americans like Helen Keller, Fanny Crosby, the great hymn writer, Ray Charles, and Stevie Wonder were all blind. But Rev. David Dykes tells the story of one his favorite blind Americans, Charley Boswell, who was blinded while fighting in World War II while rescuing a friend from a burning Sherman tank that exploded.
Charley had always been a great athlete, so after the war he took up golf. He became famous and won sixteen National Blind Golfing Championships, usually shooting a score in the low 80s.
In 1958, Charley came to Ft. Worth, Texas to receive the coveted Ben Hogan Award. Mr. Hogan agreed to play a round of golf with Charley. Charley said, “Would you like to play for money?” Hogan said, “That wouldn’t be fair!” Charley said, “C’mon, Mr. Hogan, are you afraid to play a blind golfer?” Hogan was really pretty competitive, so he said, “Okay, I’ll play for money. How much?” Boswell said, “$1,000 per hole.”
Hogan said, “That’s a lot. How many strokes do you want me to give you?” Boswell said, “No strokes. I’ll play you heads up.” Hogan said, “Charley, I can’t do it. What would people think of me taking advantage of a blind man?” Boswell smiled and said, “Don’t worry, Mr. Hogan, our tee time is tonight at midnight!”
After his accident, Charley Boswell was persistent in obtaining what he wanted. He did not let his blindness stand in his way of being successful. In our scripture story today, blind Bartimaeus is also persistent in getting Jesus’ attention as he passes through the city of Jericho. Bartimaeus is not about to let this opportunity to get his sight back pass him by. Would you pray with me?
Jesus and his disciples have come into Jericho on their way to Jerusalem where Jesus will be arrested, tortured and crucified. Jericho is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. It is located near where the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. Jericho is an oasis in the desert. The road from Jericho to Jerusalem is about fifteen miles long, but it is uphill all the way changing in elevation by 3,400 feet over that distance.
As Jesus comes into Jericho, he is in the company of a large crowd made up of his disciples as well as numerous pilgrims making their way up to Jerusalem for Passover. In Jesus’ time, Jericho was a resting place for the thousands of priests and Levites attached to the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple had over 20,000 priests and about as many Levites. They were divided into twenty-six shifts which served in rotation. When they were not on Temple duty, most of them would reside in Jericho. And so, as Jesus is moving through the crowd, there were many eyes watching him.
Now, it was not unusual for the poor and handicapped to sit outside the walls of the cities and beg from the people who were passing in and out of the gates. And one of these beggars was blind Bartimaeus. He obviously heard the tramp of feet and asked what was happening and who was passing. He was told that it was Jesus of Nazareth.
At that moment, Bartimaeus sat up and began an uproar to attract Jesus’ attention to him. Jesus’ reputation and miracles had obviously preceded him. He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” To those listening to Jesus’ teaching as he walked, the uproar was an offense. They tried to silence Bartimaeus, but no one was going to take from him his chance to escape from his world of darkness. Bartimaeus cried with such violence and persistence that the procession stopped, and he was brought to Jesus.
What is interesting is what Bartimaeus called Jesus, Son of David. Bartimaeus kept repeating to everyone’s distress, “Jesus, Son of David, Jesus, Son of David.” You see, this was a blatantly Messianic title. Even though he could not see, Bartimaeus knew this Jesus was truly the Messiah that was promised in the Hebrew scriptures.
Someone once bluntly asked blind and deaf Helen Keller, “Isn’t it terrible to be blind?” To which she responded, “Better to be blind and see with our heart, that to have two good eyes and see nothing.” So, it was with blind Bartimaeus. Perhaps blindness had its benefits. Bartimaeus had a lot of time to think without visual distractions, to develop the interior life and a contemplative spirit, and to see with his heart. Maybe he realized his own darkness and need and who Jesus was.
In this scripture story, we need to “see” the many things we might call the conditions of the miracle. First, there is the sheer persistence of Bartimaeus. Nothing would stop his clamor to come fact to face with Jesus. He was utterly determined to meet the one person whom he longed to confront with his trouble. It was a desperate desire, and it is that desperate desire that got things done.
Second, you have to notice that Bartimaeus’ response to the call of Jesus was immediate and eager. In fact, Bartimaeus was so eager to come to Jesus that he threw off his cloak, something that most blind men of Jesus’ time would not do, because they would lose their only means of warmth and bedding. Bartimaeus came like a shot when Jesus called. Bartimaeus knew that this was his last and only chance to gain his sight.
Third, Bartimaeus knew precisely what he wanted, his sight. I’m sure he had thought about this for years, as he self-examined himself. Shouldn’t we do the same. We should take time to come face to face with ourselves and our real spiritual needs. When we go to Jesus, if we are as desperately definite as Bartimaeus, things will happen.
A father asked his young son to move a big boulder in the back yard but try as he might the little boy couldn’t move it. He tried pushing it, pulling it, using a lever, and he even enlisted the help of his dog, but nothing worked.
Finally, he told his dad, “I can’t do it, it’s impossible.” The father said, “Have you tried everything?” And the boy replied, “Yes.” The father then said, “You never tried asking me.”
Like Bartimaeus, you and I and many other people are going through situations where we’ve tried just about everything to resolve our troubles, except asking God. Have you tried asking God for his power and grace?
Although Bartimaeus was blind, he had enough vision to see that Jesus was the only one who could help him. He had enough vision to see he needed God’s grace. Spiritual blindness is far worse than physical blindness, because it keeps us from receiving God’s grace, not only for salvation, but also for the daily mistakes we make along the way.
Now please remember that Jesus is on the way to the terrible Cross in Jerusalem, his last stop. It is only fifteen miles away. And yet, Jesus has time for this poor beggar.
Jesus was very direct with him. “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Jesus made Bartimaeus articulate his desire, so he could strengthen the man’s faith. Bartimaeus knew exactly what he wanted. If we knew our needs as well as he, what blessing would follow. “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately Bartimaeus received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
Christ responded to Bartimaeus’ persistence to come face to face with him and to his articulating exactly what he wanted Jesus to do. But in the final analysis, it was all of Christ. Jesus, the Savior, called forth Bartimaeus’ faith. Bartimaeus was “saved” both physically and spiritually, and he “followed Jesus.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, if you haven’t noticed it yet, practically the whole gospel of Mark is about blindness. The Sadducees, Pharisees, and scribes are blind to the Messiah that was prophesized and is now in their midst. The disciples are blind to the fact that they can’t see the Kingdom of God around them despite all that Jesus has done to teach them and to demonstrate it through miracles. And lastly, the Jews are blind to a Messiah that has come in peace and not war.
Folks, there are people all around us who are blind and need to see Jesus. Are you going to be the one to bring sight to someone who needs to see Jesus? Are you going to call forth their faith?
Faith, like that of Bartimaeus, believes even when you cannot see. Faith, like that of Bartimaeus, resists any barriers to Christ. And faith, like that of Bartimaeus admits a need to be changed. Maybe we need to call out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”