46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
I remember an experiment that we did in High School Biology class involving crickets. We were given a live cricket and we were told to see what effects it would have on the cricket if we removed its legs one at a time. So I pulled off one of the cricket’s front legs and I yelled at the cricket “Hop!” And the cricket hopped. I pulled off another front leg and again yelled “Hop” and the cricket hopped again. I pulled off the third leg, yelled hop and got the same result. Finally, I pulled of the last leg, yelled hop, and this time I got no response from the cricket. So I wrote up a report with my findings from the experiment and do you know what we discovered? When all of the legs of a cricket have been removed, they become deaf. (Please don’t pull legs off crickets. It was a joke.)
I tell that joke today because I was listening to a segment on National Public Radio the other day about crickets. We get crickets in our house all of the time, though I am not sure where they get in. I love to hear crickets outdoors singing their songs, but as Sonya assures me, they do not need to be in our house. So when I heard that this segment on crickets was coming right up, I made myself comfortable and tuned in to hear about these varmints hoping to find out how to remove them.
As many of us are well aware, crickets make a unique sound and I really don’t know how to explain it other than to say that it is a kind of chirping sound. They make this sound by rubbing their hind legs together. Some claim that this is their way of communicating with one another. Some people claim that it is a way to tell the temperate, by counting the number of chirps per minute and plugging it into a formula. But the thing that I found most interesting about the chirp of a cricket is that if you record the sound of a cricket chirping and slow it way down, you can actually hear that each chirp is made up of eight individual chirps that are made too quickly for our ears to discern. We simply perceive every eight chirps as one. It is truly amazing what we can learn when we just slow down and listen. This pest, this varmint, this bug turns out to be a pretty fascinating creature.
Sometimes we treat people in our community as pests, varmints, and bugs as well. They seem to get in the way of what we are trying to do, and they might even seem to us to be getting in the way of what God wants to do. But today, I want to slow things down a bit to see that there might be more to God’s plan than we often see, and if we slow ourselves down a bit and truly listen to the Spirit, we might hear God’s plan a little more clearly.
Our scripture begins by telling us that Jesus and his disciples are just a passing through the city of Jericho. They have another 17 miles to go until they get to their destination of Jerusalem. Just before or scripture begins, Jesus tells his disciples what is going to happen to him in Jerusalem. He is going to be handed over to the religious authorities who will then hand him over to the secular government who will mock him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him. Who wouldn’t want to go to Jerusalem?! Sounds like a blast. At least we find in the next chapter that Jesus received a good welcoming into the city, but things went from good to bad pretty quickly.
So they are passing through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem on the days leading up to what we often call Holy Week, and they pass along side a blind beggar. And someone must have recognized Jesus because this blind beggar heard the conversations among the people, “Hey, isn’t that Jesus of Nazareth? No, that’s not him. Sure it is. See, he is running around with that group of twelve ragged men.”
This wasn’t the first time that this blind beggar had hear of this man named Jesus. The stories had been circulating for some time now. This Jesus guy travels from town to town, talking about a new way of life, a way of life that doesn’t end with death but will transcend into eternity. And not only does he teach about this new life, he gives new life! He gives people a taste of what is to come when all of the world recognizes him as the true king. He heals the sick, the lame are able to leap like deer, the mute are able to speak, and the blind…the blind are able to see! And that is what excites our blind beggar sitting alongside the road in Jericho.
So this blind beggar yells out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And this title “Son of David” is nothing less than a messianic title. This blind beggar recognizes that this Jesus of Nazareth is the one that Isaiah had spoken of almost 700 years earlier, saying that he would be the one to bear the infirmities of the people. This blind beggar knew that Jesus was the Messiah.
Let’s pause that story for a moment and come back to it after we look ahead in our Bibles. In Luke’s Gospel (chapter 7) we read that John the Baptist began to question whether or not Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the anointed one. So he sends his disciples to Jesus to find out if he is actually the one that they have been waiting on. And what is Jesus’ response? He tells John’s disciples to tell John what they have seen: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. (7:22)
I think that this is a little bit ironic. John the Baptist, who first met Jesus when he was nothing more than a baby in his mother’s womb, the very man that spoke so boldly about Jesus early on in his ministry, the very man that baptized Jesus and witnessed the sky open up and God’s voice speaking about this man was now questioning if he was the messiah. The blind man that saw none of this, he had never seen anything at all, yet he knew that Jesus was the Messiah. So who was blind in this case?
You see, John must have fallen into the trap of the popular culture that understood the Messiah to be one that would come and lead the Jewish people back to their once prominent position in sole possession of the Promised Land. And John was getting anxious waiting on Jesus to do what he thought Jesus should be doing. And in taking his expectations of the Messiah and broadcasting them upon Jesus, he began to even question if Jesus was the one that he was to be looking for. He was anxious for action and he was ready to do what he believed was necessary. But his skewed messianic expectations caused him to be blind to the way that God was moving in that time and in that place. He didn’t first take the time to discern the Spirit.
So I have thus far only referred to this blind beggar as a blind beggar and I have not used his name, which Mark tells us is Bartimaeus. Mark says that his name is Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Now Bartimaeus is a Hebrew name, which means, “Son of Timaeus”. Bar is the Hebrew word for son, Bat is the Hebrew word for daughter (ie Bathsheba). So when Mark says that his name is Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, he is writing that in Greek for his Gentile readers. And essentially it sounds like the blind man doesn’t even have a name. At least his name is not important enough to even be recorded. He was only known as the blind man or the son of Timaeus.
See, because this blind man, and I will call him Bartimaeus from now on, because Bartimaeus was blind, he was considered defective. He was damaged goods. He may not have been accepted in the temple in Jerusalem to worship because of his physical defect. He would have been looked at as either a sinner or his parents would have been looked at as sinners. We read that in John chapter 9 with the man born blind. People were convinced that because this man was born blind that he or his parents must have sinned against God.
So here we have this blind man, a man that could not worship in the temple, a man that was considered a sinner, a man who was so insignificant that nobody even knew his name or if he even had a name. And he was calling out to Jesus as he passed by. Jesus, the Messiah, have mercy on me.
But here is the amazing thing. As Bartimaeus is calling out to Jesus, the people try to quiet him down. The NRSV says that they attempt to sternly quiet him down. This wasn’t a little “hush” from the guy standing next to Bartimaeus. They were threatening him! Why were they doing this? Did they not know the prophesies? Did they not know that the Messiah was to come to take on the infirmities of the people, to heal the blind, the deaf, and the lame? No, they were more interested in what Jesus could do for them than what Jesus could do for others.
Maybe they weren’t there to heard Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth about three years earlier when he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). But for some reason, this blind beggar knew that Jesus was not only able to heal him of his blindness, but this blind beggar seemed to know that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Messiah that he and everyone else had been waiting on for the redemption of their people. Who is blind?
I believe that we see this today as well. Many Christians would agree that Jesus offers forgiveness for our sins as a free gift. But so few seem to recognize that Jesus is more than just a ‘Get out of hell free’ card. He is calling us to live a transformed life as a part of a kingdom that is not of this world, a kingdom that will only be fully realized when Christ comes back to rule over his people as the one true king.
That Good news that Jesus came to announce was not just that we can escape from this world and all of its fallen-ness, but that we can transform this world to make it more like the kingdom of God that is yet to come. When in Jesus’ first sermon he announced the good news to the poor, the oppressed, and the blind, it was not just a message that these people needed to accept him as savior and wait until they die for things to get better. He said these things have been fulfilled in your hearing. The kingdom of God is at hand. It is both coming and it is here.
But I believe that so many people miss this point because they are so sure of what God wants to do or is doing that we don’t take time to listen to the Spirit. We don’t slow down to listen to God and anyone and anything that gets in our way, like blind Bartimaeus, are called to hush up, or we forcefully cause them to hush up.
If you spend as much time as I do on the internet, you may have come across this story about a church in North Carolina that is having a bit of a Fall Harvest Party this year, though their’s is much different from the one that we will be having on the same night. We plan to get together this coming Saturday, October 31st to roast hotdogs and marshmallows. They are getting together to roast copies of the Bible, copies of books by authors such as Billy Graham, Rick Warren, and Mother Teresa, and copies of contemporary music. Even Christian music.
This church claims that every version of the Bible, with the exception of the King James Version, is a perversion of God’s message. The pastor calls the NIV, the NRSV, ESV, the Message, even the NKJV satanic and demonic. So they are going to burn them. Books by authors that they believe to be heretics, like that devil himself, Billy Graham and Mother Teresa, will be torched and condemned. Music of every genre, from Bluegrass to Southern Gospel, to praise and worship music will be tossed in the fire. All in the name of keeping true to the message of God.
This is both funny and sad to me at the same time. It is funny because, come on, Billy Graham is seen as a threat to Christianity? And while it is true that some translations of the Bible are better than others, to claim that the KJV is the only version that we should use and that all others should be burned seems somewhat counterintuitive to me. Why would God bless one translation of the Bible and not another. All translations have their problems because we are trying to capture thoughts from 2,000 years ago that were recorded in Hebrew and Greek in contemporary language. But to burn them and denounce these Christians as heretics? Come on. The only thing on that list that I support burning is the Bluegrass albumsJ.
The thing that strikes me about this church in North Carolina is that their church name is The Amazing Grace X Church (denomination name left out because I wouldn’t want to be associated with them, either). And the line from the song Amazing Grace that comes to my mind is “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Who is blind?
When I hear of this church burning versions of the Bible, burning music, even Christian music, I can’t help but associate them with those that wanted to silence Bartimaeus. I don’t have a problem with a person having a favorite version of the Bible. I have a preferred version and you probably do as well. But burning these other versions seems to me to be a stifling of the Spirit of God.
If someone came to me on the street or here at the church and they wanted to know more about this Jesus guy, I wouldn’t hand them a Bible that uses language that we don’t use today. If you grew up with the KJV and you can understand it, great. But to someone that doesn’t know Jesus from Jonah, I’m going to give them a copy of the Message or the New Living Translation.
As we read through the New Testament, we find that there is no other group with whom Jesus butts heads with more frequently than the Pharisees. The Pharisees are a group of religious scholars that believed that if keeping the law of Moses was a good thing, then they should not only keep the law themselves, they should force every last person to keep it as well. If you didn’t keep the law, they could cause an impromptu stoning, such as was the case with the woman caught in adultery or with Paul and the stoning of Stephen.
But the real issue that Jesus took with the Pharisees was not that they were keeping the law and expecting others to do it as well. The problem was that these Pharisees tacked on extra laws to the law of Moses and then failed to extend grace to others when they failed. Furthermore, Jesus knew that the Pharisees were just as guilty of sinning as anyone else.
If we read through Matthew 23 we find Jesus’ “woes” to the Pharisees and the scribes. He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” The Greek word for hypocrite essentially means “actor”. A hypocrite is one that puts on a persona, though that is not really the way they are in real life, like an actor becomes a person in a play.
Verses 25-28 read, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Jesus isn’t saying that what is on the outside doesn’t matter. Jesus was very interested in making sure that people lived in a way that honored God, cared for those around them, and manifested the kingdom of God. But what he is saying here is that the Pharisees went about it backwards. They began by making sure that they were doing all of the correct religious practices. They tithed, they prayed, they read scripture in public, they gave to those in need. Jesus is not saying that these things are bad! In fact, he says that they are beautiful. But these things must come about from an inner change first. All of that beautiful piety, those actions are only pleasing to God if you first have a change of heart and you do those things out of a desire to love God and love your neighbors. Those acts radiate out of the center.
So I come back to these crickets. It always seems like they make the most noise when I sit down with a book and want to concentrate for a while. So I try to remove them, humanely, of course. But this is easier said than done because that simple chirping carries a long way. The cricket may be in the basement, but I can hear it all the way upstairs. So I get out my trusty flashlight and search every corner, behind every box, and inside every crevice. And usually I give up and go back to my reading.
It is because that chirping carries so much that the crickets are so difficult to pinpoint. Their sound radiates from their rear legs and spreads through the house like ripples in a pond when you throw a rock into it.
Blind Bartimaeus might have seemed like a pest in his day, but he was a part of God’s plan for Jesus because Jesus came to give sight to the blind. Those that believed that Bartimaeus was only in the way were missing the point. But when we slow down and listen to God’s Spirit, we are able to discern things that we couldn’t otherwise hear. And these actions cannot simply be religious acts that we perform to be seen by others, like the Pharisees. They must ripple out of a changed heart. The effects of which will be heard throughout the house, like the chirping of a cricket.