Jeremiah 31:7-9; Psalm 126; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52
Jesus was never one to have a lot of patience with our attempts to split the world into “us” and “them.” I saw a meme on Facebook this past week that said, “As soon as you draw a line to exclude people, Jesus goes to the other side of the line with them, and invites you to join him there. Every time.”
The four Gospels are check full of accounts of people trying to get close to Jesus, with those already close trying to keep them out. Jesus, without fail, crosses the lines set up by the disciples and others.
In today’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples have been in Galilee, and are travelling to Jerusalem. Now, there were three routes you could take from Galilee to Jerusalem. The most direct route was through Samaria, but there were problems with this. First of all…Samaritans…Eeyew. It’s a 3-day journey by foot, so somewhere along the way a traveling Jew would have to interact with people that they did not like at all. Plus we know from the historian Josephus that there was sometimes violence between Jews and Samaritans. So…maybe not the safest route.
Another way was to go south along the coast, then turn east toward the hill country and Jerusalem. This avoided Samaria, but it took a long time to get where you were going. Not the best option.
The third route was to travel east, just north of Samaria, and cross the Jordan River, turn south, then cross back to come to Jericho. You could then take a direct route from Jericho to Jerusalem. It took 5 to 7 days, but it was shorter than the coastal route and safer and less…well, icky…than the Samaritan route. This apparently is the route taken by Jesus and his disciples.
It’s when they left Jericho that they happened to pass by a blind beggar, Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus obviously knew who Jesus was. He couldn’t see him, but he could hear what people were saying. And he called out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Notice that he called him “Son of David,” a title usually reserved for the Messiah.
But people started drawing those exclusion lines right away. Like people have always done, like we still seem to want to do. In this case, people tell Bartimaeus to just. shut. up.
But as usual, Jesus was not having it. He told his disciples to have the man come to him. He said to Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” Evidently Bartimaeus had once been able to see, because he said, “I want to see again.”
In an earlier episode, Jesus went through a ritual of spitting in the dirt and making mud to daub on a blind man’s eye, but he didn’t do that here. He simply pronounced that Bartimaeus’ faith has healed him, and it was done. He could see.
Preachers in the Anglican tradition will often try find some common theme between the Old Testament reading, the Epistle reading, and the Gospel. And it would be easy to take that way and say that this whole day is about Hope. And on some level, it is. Jeremiah sings a song of hope for the restoration of Israel. The Psalmist sings of the restoration of Israel. In an alternate Old Testament reading Job’s fortunes are restored. Bartimaeus’ sigh is restored. This is all good news. Israel, Job, and Bartimaeus have passed through darkness into light.
When I started this sermon, I thought the point was going to be that we shouldn’t be drawing lines to exclude people. Then, having thought about all the readings together, I though it should be about hope. But as I thought, and wrote, and realized just where Jesus was going at the end of this story, it began to dawn on me that that wasn’t what was going on at all. The Holy Spirit will do that to you. Sometimes your own ideas get overridden.
There’s a little detail in this Gospel story that I think we need think more closely about. Something a little different from the other stories of Jesus’ healing. In his previous healing activities, Jesus has generally sent the healed person on their way, free to continue their normal lives. Often he tells them not to tell people about him – not that they listened to that part. But he doesn’t do that in this story. He doesn’t tell Bartimaeus to go home. He doesn’t tell him to keep quiet. And Bartimaeus follows Jesus “on the way.”
And we have to ask…on the way to where?
At the beginning of the passage, we are told that Jesus and his disciples are leaving Jericho. In the context of Mark’s gospel, they are headed to Jerusalem.
Jesus is heading to his crucifixion.
He is going to his death.
And Bartimaeus has become a Jesus-follower.
Jesus sees us and invites us to come to him. He heals us. He brings us out of darkness, yes. But for that healing to have real, lasting meaning, we must follow him. We must follow him on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. We must follow him to his crucifixion…and beyond.
You see, our hope – our Good News — is not just in the healing. Healing is wonderful but, in itself, it’s nothing. Our hope is also in his crucifixion and his resurrection. In his death he conquered the powers of evil, and in his resurrection he vindicated all he had done and shows us that it is all very, very real. He shows us that the Kingdom of Heaven really has arrived. And his resurrection is the down payment on the redemption of all creation.
From darkness, to healing, to following, to crucifixion and death, to new creation. That is our journey as Jesus-followers.