Might want to look at these again tomorrow sometime - but this is basically what I feel I have to say.
Mark 10: 46-52
Perhaps we hear this story as yet another healing story: miraculous and wonderful for the man who regains his sight, but just another example of Jesus helping and healing someone who needed it.
But the story contains a most intriguing question:
‘What do you want me to do for you?’.
Jesus asks this question of blind Bartimaeus – a man who cannot work because he cannot see, and so who has to beg for a living. A man so low-down the social pecking order that when he first calls out to Jesus people around tell him to shut up, they don’t want him bothering Jesus, the great teacher & healer.
What does blind Bartimaeus want? He wants to see, he wants his life back, he wants the gracious power of Jesus to change him.
He wants to be healed.. and he is.
And at one level that’s all we need from this story – a story of Good News for Bartimaeus.
But this story can tell us so much more, if we’ll let it. It’s position here in Mark’s gospel is pivotal – this is the last conversation we have recorded between anyone and Jesus before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and all the passion and pain and glory which follows on from it.
This encounter might remind us of others that have come (just) before:
Remember the rich young man, who came to Jesus and asked ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’. He didn’t wait for Jesus to ask him what he wanted – he came right out with his request – ‘I want eternal life – how do I get it?’.. and ultimately he went away grieving because although he can keep the commandments, he can’t give away all his riches and follow Jesus: he just hasn’t got the faith to trust jesus instead of his riches.
But here’s Bartimaeus, ready to show us what faith really looks like.
Although he is physically blind, he sees Jesus for who he really is, and he throws himself on the mercy of Jesus ‘Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me’. He refuses to be diverted by the stern voices around him, telling him to be quiet, and he throws off his cloak – he leaves what little security he has behind, and puts his whole trust in Jesus. And then when he has been healed, he follows Jesus on the way, without Jesus even asking that of him.
Or compare this conversation with the one that comes immediately before it: where James & John come to Jesus with their request – that they can sit one at the right hand and one at the left in his glory. They don’t wait for Jesus to ask them what they want – they march straight up and almost demand ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’. You see how this is the almost exact opposite of what happens between Bartimaues and Jesus. James & John are demanding a right – Bartimaeus is receiving a gift.
And James and John – who have spent so many months or even years with Jesus – cannot see what ‘blind’ Bartimaeus can – they cannot see who Jesus is. He has told them plainly that he will suffer and die – and only then be raised to glory. But they don’t get it, they don’t ‘see’ it. By contrast, when Bartimaues ‘sees’ who Jesus is, he knows he has to go to him, to ask for his mercy, to receive his grace.
In all three of these stories, Jesus does not turn anyone away, or reprimand them for the way they ask things from him. But it is in the Bartimaeus story that we see the grace of God in Jesus most clearly in action – drawing Bartimaeus to him in faith, meeting his deepest needs, and drawing from him a response of true discipleship.
Can we be more like Bartimaeus in our approach to Jesus?
more trusting, more persistent, more devoted… and ready to hear Jesus ask ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ and ready to be given grace and healing and a new start.
In Jesus’ name, son of David, giver of life.