What is it you want me to do for you?
Ordinary Sunday 30: 28th October, 2018
Lynda Crossley, Klingner Scholar at St Peter's, Eastern Hill
Mark 9: 14-29
Our gospel reading today has got to be one of my favourites in Mark. It's not a long passage but there is so much in it. So before getting into the actual gospel passage, I want to set the scene into which we find the story of Blind Bartimeaus.
Mark has recorded three passion predictions by Jesus. Jesus has told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, to suffer, to die and in three days, rise again. And each time, the disciples are perplexed or challenge him directly. Peter upon hearing this news, questions Jesus saying Not so Lord. And Jesus responds by saying, 'If anyone wants to be my disciple, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.' Again, after the second prediction, some of the disciples had argued about who was greatest among them and once more Jesus replied, 'Whoever wants to be first must be servant of all.' And finally, in the third passion prediction, James and John argue about who should sit on Jesus right hand or left. Once again, Jesus responds, 'Whoever wishes to become great, must be servant of all'. So Jesus is leaving Jericho to go to Jerusalem where he will be condemned, crucified, to rise again in three days. This is the setting into which we find Jesus with the disciples and the crowd, all setting off from Jericho to Jerusalem for the festival of passover, but also for Jesus to face the end to his earthly ministry.
So as they continue on their way out of Jericho, a man is sitting by the roadside and hears Jesus is passing by. He must know who Jesus is, must know about what he has done for others for he calls out in earnest 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Jesus Son of David have mercy on me! Now the crowd of people going along the road STERNLY ORDER the man to be silent. Now I don't know about you, but in today's vernacular, I hear something more like, Hey, you, shut up! Stop shouting, You're being a nuisance. Don't bother the master. And the disciples too have been prone to act as gate keepers in this respect too. People brought children to Jesus, and what did the disciples do? They spoke STERNLY to the people who brought them to prevent them from coming too close to Jesus. And when other people were casting out demons in Jesus name, the disciples came to Jesus saying, tell them to stop. But Jesus, always about God's business, always willing to show God's grace to the smallest, to the demon possessed and now to a blind man whilst on his way to Jerusalem, doesn't hesitate to show God's mercy.
So here is a blind man, a beggar, calling out to Jesus, the ONE known among the crowd as teacher, and among the disciples as Messiah. Mark refers to the MANY people ordering the man to be quiet, so we can probably guess that the disciples were joining in too. And again, we see the disciples acting as gatekeepers, telling the man to be quiet. But the man begins to call out all the more, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'
Now there are two important matters to attend to before we go any further. Firstly, and quite surprisingly, we know the name of this blind beggar. His name is Bartimeaus, son of Timeaus. Mark, as a rule does not give us the names of people in his gospel. We know about Jairus and his daughter. And here Bartimeaus is named. Secondly, we know the name of his father, (And if we look a little closer at his name, we find Bar, meaning son of, and Timaeus, or timae in Greek, means 'honour'). It's quite possible that Mark knew who this man was because he records the man's full name, Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus.
So Bartimeaus, son of Timaeus is calling out to Jesus, ascribing to Jesus the name of God. Jesus, Son of David, and those around him would have known the intent of the name Son of David. Bartimaeus was calling Jesus, God. And he must know about Jesus work amongst people. Have mercy on me! And note closely what Jesus does next. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, on the way to face persecution, suffering, death by crucifixion, and to rise from the grave — Jesus STANDS STILL. He STOPS! Jesus hears Bartimaeus' call and responds. Jesus does the unexpected. Jesus does what God in his mercy would do. Jesus says to the crowd, to his disciples, 'Call him here'. Now how easily the crowd turns, instead of berating Bartimaeus, they say'Take heart! Get up! Jesus is calling you!
And I love Bartimaeus' response. Throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Bartimaeus cloak is a mark of his 'profession' as a beggar. The cloak Bartimaeus wore identified his status. Bartimaeus is a blind beggar. We have no way of telling how old Bartimaeus is, or how long he had been sitting by the road begging or even if he had been born blind or not. We don't know. But when Bartimaeus heres the invitation to go to Jesus, there is no hesitation. He drops the cloak to the ground. Jumps up and goes straight to Jesus. Bartemaeus casts off that which kept him by the side of the road begging. To cast off that which prevented him from living.
Now here is Bartimaeus, standing before Jesus and Jesus asks what may seem to us a very obvious question, 'What do you want me to do for you?' And Bartimaeus response is as profound as it is beautiful, 'Teacher, let me see again'. Bartimaeus has his physical eyes healed and his spiritual eyes opened. The first face he sees when his eyes are opened is Jesus and Jesus says to him, 'Go! Your faith has made you well!'
We heard this same question in last weeks Gospel. James and John arguing about who would sit on Jesus right hand or left and Jesus asks them 'What is it that you want me to do for you?' But Jesus said to them, 'You do not know what you are asking'. The question is the same but the answer is very different. From the point of the three passion predictions, we see the disciples grappling with how to respond to Jesus news of his imminent suffering and death. Peter rebukes Jesus. The disciples try to prevent the children from coming to Jesus, and to stop those who were casting out demons in Jesus name. They argue amongst themselves who is to be the greatest, and yet, right at the end of Chapter 10 of Mark, in between the passion predictions and Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus stops to hear the cry of a blind beggar, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, sitting by the side of the road. A man who was told to shut up, ignored, most likely abused. And yet Jesus showed God's love and mercy to him. Returned his physical sight, and opened his eyes to SEE Jesus for who he truly is, Son of David, Son of God. And Bartimaeus response to Jesus is one that Mark constantly returns to throughout his Gospel, Bartimaeus FOLLOWS JESUS. Bartimaeus leaves behind his cloak, his old life, his past. And he joins Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. THE WAY, following Jesus.
Jesus question to Bartimaeus and to James and John may well be the same for us today. What is it that you want me to do for you? Bartemaeus left his cloak behind and followed Jesus. What will our response be today? I remember the moment I decided that I would follow Christ. I was quite young around 10. I had begun to read the gospels and I liked what I read about this man named Jesus and I wanted to believe in this God of grace who knows us by name. I saw in the example of the people at church who showed God's love to me by their kindness, and the joy they expressed in their faith. I wanted what I saw in others. A God who changes the hearts and lives of people. Jesus asked, 'What is it you want me to do for you?'
In the name of the trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.