October 24, 2021 - Proper 25 (22nd Sunday after Pentecost)
Many sternly ordered Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled even louder.
Throughout history, the lame and the blind who have been obliged to beg for their food have sought to benefit from the generosity of people. On the steps of medieval cathedrals, as at the gates of Jerusalem’s temple, helpless people have asked alms to be given for the love of God.
The blind son of Timaeus lived in Jericho. He could not find his way to Jerusalem. But he could sit at the side of the road that led west from Jericho, and there he could ask for the kindness of pilgrims who happened to pass that way on their way to Jerusalem.
Pilgrimages were joyous events. Psalm 84 says, “Happy are those … in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs…” (vv. 5-6). People sang and talked. And when there was someone important among them, they celebrated the person’s presence. So the blind beggar could hear the name of Jesus of Nazareth, a name that he already knew. Evidently, he had heard how Jesus had given sight to others, and he knew that he might not be afforded such an opportunity. He had to take the chance to call out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The pilgrims, however, were eager to reach the Holy City and did not wish to be delayed by anything that wasn’t their responsibility. I’m sure they reasoned that the beggar could perhaps be assisted at some other time. But the beggar would not be silenced.
Certain that Jesus was now within hearing distance, the beggar renewed his plea, calling out even more loudly. Jesus did hear, but the crowd around him was so thick that he could not see a beggar who was sitting beside the road. Yet, he did perceive the presence and that the man’s cry expressed a genuine need. And so Jesus stopped and made it possible for the man to come to him.
Think about the pilgrims again – they just want to get on their way. Realizing that Jesus was not intending to pass by, the people sought to have Jesus meet the man and deal with his problem at once. So they told the beggar that he was being summoned by Jesus, at which time he threw off his cloak, spring up, and was led to Jesus.
It was pretty obvious what the man’s need was. Just as in our prayers, God knows our needs before we ask. But if we are truly to receive God’s help as a gift, it is necessary that we first acknowledge a need. If we fail to admit our own helplessness, we cannot receive. And so Jesus requires Bartimaeus to name his need, and as soon as he has done so, Jesus assures him that his faith has restored him.
So, now the man can see. He can now join the pilgrims and make his way to the temple with others who rejoice. In particular, he can follow Jesus, who has been the agent for giving him his sight.
The Gospel today ends with the words “and followed him on the way” (Mk 10:52). The verb follow here was often used in the sense of becoming a disciple. It would be easy to understand if the new life and possibilities brought about by Jesus’ ministry should prompt Bartimaeus to make such a commitment. But the Gospel never mentions him again. So the words may mean no more than that he followed to Jerusalem and made his thank offering in the temple, then returned to Jericho. Of course, his life would never be the same, and he would be reminded of how grateful he was to Jesus every waking hour.
Today, the crowd tried to ignore and to quiet Bartimaeus. What are some of the needs of our own community that we may be trying to quiet and ignore? Could we meet the community members and bring them along on the way as we continue our journey to follow Jesus?