46 Then [Jesus and the disciples] came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
God and Adam were having a conversation one day in the Garden of Eden. Adam asked God, “God, why did you make Eve so beautiful?”
“So you would love her,” replied God.
“God, why did you make Eve so elegant, sophisticated, and graceful?”
“So you would love her,” was again God’s reply.
“God, why did you give Eve such bad eye sight?” asked Adam one more time.
“So she would love you,” said God.
What is love, what causes us to love another, and what causes us to give worth to another individual? Looks, elegance, social status? There is nothing wrong with these things, but I think we miss the mark when these things determine how we see others. No, one’s value does not come from what they can provide or do, but from who they are.
Mark tells us that Jesus and his disciples are traveling through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem. Jericho is the hometown of a blind man named Bartimaeus. This event takes place in the third year of Jesus’ earthly ministry, so everyone is talking about Jesus; they are talking about his teachings, the way he speaks with authority and put the Pharisees in their place, the way he eats with the tax collectors and the sinners, and the signs that he is performing. One particular sign caught the attention of Bartimaeus. This Jesus fellow is healing people, healing people just like him. So as Jesus and the disciples are ready to head out of town Bartimaeus begins to yell, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus calls him over, asks him a few questions, and “Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.”
When we hear this story, we often think of it as a story of faith. Jesus even tells Bartimaeus that it is his faith that has healed him. I want to go a little deeper into this text to see how Bartimaeus was healed on account of his faith.
Immediately after Jesus calls Bartimaeus to him, Bartimaeus does something that I never took notice of until this week. In verse 50 we read, “Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.”
The cloak is significant. To a poor, blind, likely homeless man like Bartimaeus, the cloak would have served a number of purposes. This cloak would have been Bartimaeus’ umbrella to protect him when the rain storms pop up in the Mediterranean region. It would have been his tent, perhaps his only protection from the cold of night as he huddled under it with nothing else between him and the midnight sky. The cloak would have been his means of collecting the donations of passersby, spreading it out on the side of the road, waiting for people to cast their loose change on top of it. And as he traveled from place to place, he may have wrapped up all of his belongings within the cloak, tied it closed with a string and walked to his next destination.
I think that it is interesting that Bartimaeus threw his cloak aside because that piece of material was of the highest value to him as a poor, blind, road-side beggar. In calling Bartimaeus, Jesus helped give Bartimaeus the faith needed to cast the life of a poor beggar aside with the cloak and claim the worth and value that was already within him. Jesus was calling him, and he was ready to leave it all behind and follow Jesus along the road. Bartimaeus’ faith led to his healing physically, spiritually, and I believe emotionally as well. Let’s move our focus to the emotional healing.
Bartimaeus was a man of little worth in the 1st century. In fact, he might have been viewed as not only worthless, but less than worthless; he was probably viewed as a burden on society. The blind, the physically impaired, the widows and the orphans all were burdens on other people. They couldn’t work; they couldn’t support themselves. All that they could do was rely on the generosity of friends, family members and strangers. This is why so many times throughout the Bible we find commandments that God’s people are to care for the people that can’t care for themselves.
Obviously, things have changed in the last 2,000 years. People with these conditions are not necessarily a burden on society or any other person, and many contribute to society. But in Bartimaeus’ day, he would have been forced to beg, steal and borrow just to put food on the table for himself. In fact, our text for today even tells us that Bartimaeus was sitting by the road begging when he had this encounter with Jesus.
An interesting fact about Bartimaeus has to do with his name. I don’t want to make too much of an issue of this, but in Aramaic, “bar” means “son.” Bartimaeus means son of Timaeus. So the text literally calls him, blind Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus,” perhaps suggesting that he was just known as the blind son of Timaeus.
Did he even have a name? It might even be possible that he was born blind, considered less than worthless, and simply went through his life known as the blind son of Timaeus.
So as Jesus and his disciples travel through Jericho and pass near the blind son of Timaeus, he begins to yell, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Now look at verse 48, “Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” You, sir, are of no importance. Keep quiet! The important people are busy right now!
I have been working through a book that I find fascinating on the subject of love and justice. Any time you try to address the relationship between love and justice, you need to spend a significant amount of time defining each of these terms. They are indeed complicated!
Justice is often defined as giving to someone what is owed. I won’t get into all of the nuances of what that means, but let’s leave it at that for now. But then we must ask the question, What is owed to a person? The author essentially says that a person is owed the rights of someone with the level of worth that they possess. A great novelist is worthy of the rights of one who has written a great novel; an Olympic gold medalist is worthy of the rights of one who has won the 100 meter dash.
I get it, and the author is trying to appeal to a larger, secular philosophical group. But I do believe that he is limiting the worth of people. In saying that a person is worthy of the rights of one who has achieved or accomplished the things that they have achieved or accomplished, we are attributing worth to someone simply based on what they can give to the larger society. This is clearly the way that Bartimaeus and other people in his situation were seen and I believe that this is the way that most people function today. Who is worth more, a doctor or a homeless man, rock star or the person who delivers your morning newspaper? Our society assigns worth to people based on their jobs, their looks, their age, and what they can provide for us.
When was the last time that a homeless person wandered into a shopping mall and you just rushed to get a glimpse of them? Did you ask for their autograph? Did you try to get your picture taken with them? It might be a bit different if it was a celebrity.
So the people hushed this blind son of Timaeus when he tried to call out to Jesus. But Jesus called for the man to come to him. Jesus calls out, “You, man of little to no value to society and these people, I want to meet you.”
Jesus gave this blind son of Timaeus not only his sight, but also a new sense of worth. And here is the thing; that worth was always there. It isn’t like Jesus gave Bartimaeus worth by talking to him, or touching him, or having his picture taken with him. Jesus just saw Bartimaeus as God sees us all: as people created in God’s own image, beautiful, valuable people of unsurpassable worth. Jesus said to Bartimaeus the same thing that he says to all of us: you are worth me dying for.
When I was a boy, like so many other boys, I collected sports trading cards, particularly basketball cards. I would have been 10 years old in 1990 when the first Skybox basketball cards were released. Being the entrepreneurial 10 year old that I was, I saved my money for months and scratched together enough to buy the entire set of 423 cards. That’s right, I got the 20 or so players that I knew, and 403 of the best basketball players that you have never heard of in your life. I think I spent $30 on this entire set of cards and I was given a free cardboard box to keep them in. And I purchased this entire set, in large part, because I thought that if I held on to it for 20 years or so that this original, full set of Skybox basketball cards would be worth some serious money.
Now I was never as into collecting cards as my little brother was. He had some very valuable cards, like Michael Jordan’s rookie card. Remember, this was 1990 and Jordan was really just gaining attention for his skills. So my brother bought these cards at a decent price, and today I think there are some that are worth a pretty penny.
Now the cards that I purchased were just kept in that free cardboard box that came with them. But my brother had a series of storage methods. His average, run of the mill cards were kept in a three ring binder with plastic sheets that held three cards across and three cards down; 9 cards per page. The cards that were worth a little bit more were kept in their own, private little dust protector made of flexible plastic, which was open on the top and you just slipped the card down into it. The next set of cards, just a little more valuable, were kept in a hard case. This was made of rigid plastic and it snapped together. But the most valuable, top of the line, card with the most worth was put into a two-pieced, rigid, formed plastic holder that was fastened with four screws. It was air-tight, and my brother claimed was bullet proof, though he never let me test his claim.
My brother would get these magazines that would give the estimated value of each of his cards, and he would rearrange them according to the value in this magazine. The value that other people put on these cards determined how my brother treated them.
People are not trading cards, but too often we treat them like they are. We base their value on what other people tell us they are worth. So we turn away from people like Bartimaeus who can’t give us the things we want. Bartimaeus can’t give us money, power, or fame. But Bartimaeus is a person, made in the image of God, and because of that, he has just as much value in God’s eye as you or me or Michael Jordan or the President of the United States.
As I was walking in the parking lot of the Staunton YMCA yesterday, I saw a little getting out of her mother’s car. She was maybe six years old. She was holding in her little hand a short pink cane, while the other hand was firmly in her mother’s hand. She was blind.
I had been thinking about my message for today about blind Bartimaeus and the worth that God places on all of his children. And it was easy to see that that mother loved her daughter just as much as I love my daughter. And if she and I can love our daughters the same, fallen people that we are, then surely God loves us all just as much with his perfect love.
Just for fun, as I was preparing for this message, I took a few minutes and looked up on the internet how much my 90-91 original printing, first edition of Skybox basketballs cards sitting in my childhood bedroom would sell for today. And rather than looking at some magazine that assigns a value to the cards, I wanted to see how much people were actually getting for this unique investment that I made just over 20 years ago. So I went to ebay, the online auction site, and guess what I found out. $7.99. People were buying and selling those 423 original Skybox basketball cards for about 1/4 of the price that I bought them for in 1990. You see, the cards are only worth as much as someone is willing to give you for them. A magazine might tell you that they are worth $500, but if nobody is willing to give that much for them, then they really aren’t worth that much. A trading card is only worth as much as someone is willing to give for it.
My friends, Jesus gave everything for you. Not only for you, but for the blind, the homeless, for the beggar, the prostitute, and the sinner. And if you can’t see that worth in others, then perhaps you are the one who is blind.
The faith of Bartimaeus that caused him to throw that cloak aside, come to Jesus and follow him is what healed him. It healed him physically. He could see. It healed him spiritually, for he became of follower of Jesus in the most literal sense. And it healed him emotionally. Because he was willing to call out to Jesus, Bartimaeus realized that Jesus would pay the ultimate price for him. Have faith in God, because God has faith in you. God has so much faith in you that he was willing to die for you.