Text: Mark 10:46-52
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There’s something about having our sight taken away that teaches the nature of trust. From icebreaker games where someone is blindfolded and has to follow the voice of their teammates to the ever popular (or unpopular) trust falls—see how we throw the word “trust” at a situation where someone is blindfolded—there’s the element of not using our eyes that forces us to develop a sense of trust.
In our Gospel reading for today we have a blind beggar, a man by the name of Bartimaeus. He’s heard the buzz in Jericho about this preacher and miracle worker named Jesus who’s been passing through the region, casting out demons, teaching, healing, and even raising the dead. From what Bartimaeus could remember of his lessons in the Scriptures, all of this seemed to fit the bill for what the Messiah was supposed to do when He arrived. And so, as Jesus was leaving Jericho with a large crowd in tow, passing by the place where blind Bartimaeus usually begged, Bartimaeus cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He calls Jesus by name, and then showing that he believed Jesus was the Messiah, promised to be descended from King David, he calls Jesus by His Messiah title, Son of David.
But then something that might strike us as strange happened. Many in the crowd rebuked Bartimaeus for his outburst. They told him to be quiet. Jesus was busy, obviously. He hadn’t stayed in Jericho very long because clearly He was on His way somewhere more important: Jerusalem. There were so many others in the crowed who needed Jesus’ help, so why should Bartimaeus make such a fuss over his problems. Besides, asking for his sight to be restored—that was an impossible request. No one could make a blind person see once their vision was gone. It was a ridiculous thing to ask for. Bartimaeus was just embarrassing himself with all this loud noise and shouting. Be quiet, don’t bother the others, save your breath, Bartimaeus.
Bartimaeus could have quieted down. He could have listened to those voices, and paid attention to his own experience, which told him that the crowd’s rebuke was reasonable. After all, no one else had been able to help him get his sight back. He would have to continue taking care of things himself, living for the scraps that others threw to him. He was embarrassing himself, praying and crying out to Jesus, not even knowing if Jesus was hearing him over the noise of the crowd. And he was just one person in a sea of people with problems. Why should he think that the Messiah would care about his unsolvable situation?
We know those doubts. The world hears the prayers and songs of the Church on earth and it tells us to be quiet. It’s embarrassing, the world says. It’s foolish, it’s useless. The sudden attack on the phrase “thoughts and prayers” might have taken some of us by surprise in the last couple years. But for those who have understood the world’s disdain for the cries of mercy that the Church prays, for Bartimaeus and those of us beside him on the roadside, we’ve heard this from the world before. The rebuke, the anger whenever Jesus’ name is mentioned, the cruel sneers. Be quiet.
And our own doubts creep in too. Does Jesus even hear our prayers? Sometimes it seems like we just keep praying and praying, but He isn’t listening. So the shadows fall in our hearts and minds. Is Jesus listening? Does the Son of David even care? Aren’t I just one person in a sea of so many others, all with their own problems, so why should I think that I should be the one to ask for help from the Messiah of the world? Shouldn’t I just deal with it myself, live off the scraps that get thrown to me, like Bartimaeus? And with the devil spurring on those doubts and fears, mocking us, lying to us about our God, we can feel the worries and anxieties and doubts grow. Maybe the crowd is right, maybe we should be quiet, maybe we don’t know, maybe we should be embarrassed.
Bartimaeus surely had all of that run through his mind. He could have listened to the world’s rebuke. But he doesn’t. He cries out all the more, “Son of David, promised Messiah, have mercy on me!” Bartimaeus is not shushed. He’s heard about Jesus. He’s heard what Jesus can do, even the previously thought impossible things. He’s been looking forward to the arrival and the reign of the Messiah, when everything will be made right, just as much as anyone else has been looking forward to it. So in spite of the world’s rebukes, in spite of his own doubts and fears, he cries out all the more: “Have mercy on me!”
That’s the very nature of faith, which Bartimaeus has in spades. Faith defies experience. It defies what our senses calculate is possible or reasonable. It defies what our eyes tell us. When the eyes only see darkness, faith sees the light of the world. So faith cries out, against all odds, against the objections of the crowd and the world, against the misgivings in our own hearts and minds, against the smirks of the evil one; faith cries out, “Jesus, Lord, have mercy!”
And Jesus does hear. He does have mercy. He stops the enormous procession and calls for Bartimaeus. He asks what the blind beggar wants. And Bartimaeus swings for the fences. He doesn’t want coins or a warm meal or a safe place. He wants to have his sight recovered. He wants to see the Messiah, here at long last. He wants to see with his eyes what his faith has already beheld: Jesus, the Savior of the world.
Jesus heals Him. “Go your way, your faith has made you well.” Now I do need to make a slight correction to our translation today. The phrase isn’t really “your faith has made you well.” It could be translated that way, but it takes some extra turns and flips to get there. A better translation is, “Go your way, your faith has saved you.” Your faith, Bartimaeus, has locked on to the only One who could save you, and so He has saved you. You opened your hands in faith, and your Messiah opened your eyes; opened heaven itself to you. Go your way, your faith has saved you.
We’re entering a time of the Church year when faith will become a major focus. Next week is Reformation Sunday, when we tighten our focus on “Faith alone, Grace alone, Scripture alone.” Faith is going to be explained as the only way that we receive the benefits of all that Jesus won with His cross and resurrection. After that is All Saints, when we look to what the end of our faith will be—resting with the Lord, just as the believers before us are already doing. We acknowledge that in Jesus they still live, even though our eyes can’t see them for now. And after All Saints is the end of the Church year, when our faith will stay focused on Jesus even in the storm of all that comes with the end of the world. Faith will see all that Jesus has promised there in these coming weeks, even if our eyes don’t see it. Faith will cry out over all of our fears, it will shout in the face of our doubts and worries. Faith will refuse to be quieted down. Its songs and prayers will grow stronger and stronger until at last Jesus comes and opens our eyes, raises us from the dead, and we can see what He’s promised to give us: forgiveness of sins and life everlasting.
So faith looks to Jesus and follows Him. That’s how our reading ends. Bartimaeus immediately recovered his sight and followed Jesus on the way. Remember that Jesus was going to Jerusalem. The very next verse is the beginning of His triumphal entry on Palm Sunday. Bartimaeus was following Jesus to the cross. Because that’s what faith does.
Faith follows Jesus anywhere and everywhere. Throughout this season of faith these last few weeks of the Church year, our faith will follow Jesus. And as our faith is following the Son of David, our eyes will see the same old things it sees in the world. Our hearts will hear the same whispers. But no matter what doubts we experience, no matter what fears sneak their way in—doubts from within, shouts from the world, the devil’s mockery and rage—no matter these things, faith will look to Jesus and follow Him. It will, like Bartimaeus’ faith, follow Jesus to the cross. For that is where our eyes are opened to see all that Jesus has promised to give us. That’s where we see the body and blood given and shed for you. That’s where we see the forgiveness of sins. That’s where we see our death, our darkness, our blindness, traded for His life, His light, His comfort. And beholding that cross again and again, we go back out to the places we’re sent. We follow Him wherever He leads, knowing eventually He will lead us to eternity. Go your way, your faith has saved you. Your Jesus has saved you. In the name of Jesus, the Messiah. Amen.