The lenses in my eye glasses have to be changed in about every two years, because my eyes continue to change as I get older. Even though they are progressive lenses, it is not easy to read small letters. That’s why I printed this sermon out with big letters. I think I must make a trip to an optician again to have my eyes examined and new lenses ordered, because nowadays I cannot see well, especially, at night. When I drove the other night, Elizabeth told me, “Dad, you should go and check your eyes.”
Well, at least, I can get help by simply changing lenses. But there are persons who can’t get any help from an optician, or optometrist, or any doctor, simply because they are blind. There was a blind lady in my former parish. I can’t imagine how hard it is for Wanda who is legally blind to do everyday chores. Of course, she cannot drive and she needs a ride to everywhere she goes. But, she hardly misses the worship service. And even though she is legally blind, she is a member of SPRC and she is the chairperson of Board of Trustee. Even though she is blind, she is a strong pillar of the big church on the New Haven Green. As I read the Gospel lesson last week, I thought of her and I thank God for her dedicated service for the Lord. I also give thanks to God for all the faithful servants whom I met over the years in each church that I served. Of course, I thank God for you, God’s people here at DUMC. Thanks be to God for who you are.
Our lectionary text today is about blind Bartimaeus. Poor Blind Bartimaeus. Some say it as if “blind” were his first name. The name “Bartimaeus” literally means the son of Timaeus, or son of uncleanness. We don’t know how long he had been blind. Apparently he could see at one time. I imagine it may have been most of his life.
Imagine what it must have been like to be blind in Jesus’ day. It certainly isn’t easy now, but it was much harder back then. Back then they didn’t have canes for the blind or seeing eye dogs. Back then they didn’t have State offices of Vocational Rehabilitation or a Federation for the blind. The blind were forced to beg in the streets. A blind person couldn’t work in the fields or work a trade. And no one wanted to take the time to try to teach them. There was no Braille or taped books.
Bartimaeus probably had to depend on others for everything. He begged for the money to buy his food. He had to trust some friend to keep track of his money for him. He had to rely on someone else to lead him to a street corner to beg and then to lead him home again. Bartimaeus was a prisoner to his blindness. He couldn’t leave his house without an escort. And he had to rely on others to meet his daily needs.
Bartimaeus lived his life in darkness. Not just the darkness of eyes that cannot see. But the darkness of a life with no hope. His life was a dark existence of wandering aimlessly. He was in a prison whose walls were very real even though he could not see them. Blind Bartimaeus; poor Blind Bartimaeus.
When we meet Bartimaeus in the Gospel of Mark he was doing what he did every day: begging. But this was the high point of the begging season. The Passover was approaching and many pilgrims were coming through Jericho on their way to Jerusalem only 15 miles away. Religious people on a pilgrimage were generous. So there Bartimaeus sat in darkness begging gifts from strangers. He would call to the passers by: “Sons of Abraham, have mercy on a blind beggar.” “God blesses those who show mercy to the needy.” “The God of Mercies loves the merciful.” He would call blindly into the crowd hoping someone would hear.
On this particular day Jesus and his disciples were on their way to the Passover and they were passing through Jericho. Bartimaeus had heard of Jesus, of his teachings and his healings. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was passing by he began to hope. “Could this man of God heal me?” “If he is truly the prophet that people said he is, if he is the Messiah as some say he is, he can heal me.” But how does a blind man find a stranger in a crowd of travelers passing by. Jesus was his hope, but he had little hope of finding Jesus. He couldn’t see the way to go, but he could shout.
So Bartimaeus raised his voice. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” One of the people in the crowd rebuked him; “The Rabbi is on his way to Jerusalem.” “He doesn’t want to stop to give you a coin.” But he continued, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus heard him. Jesus knew that he was more than a beggar seeking silver. This cry for mercy came from deep inside the man calling.
So Jesus called Bartimaeus to him and asked him, “What do you want?” The people probably expected him to ask for money, but instead he said, “I want to see again.” Jesus said, “Your faith has made you whole.” At that moment Blind Bartimaeus could see. Blind Bartimaeus was no longer blind. The Son of Timaeus could see. Jesus had brought light to Bartimaeus’ darkened world.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Bartimaeus was not the only blind person in that crowd. Many of the people on that road that day were blind. Sure they could see with their eyes, but like Bartimaeus they were dwelling in darkness. They had no idea where Jesus was headed and what he would do when he got there. They had the light of God, Jesus, right there in their midst. And they were blind to his presence.
The people thought Jesus was going to Jerusalem. He was on the road that leads to Jerusalem and Jerusalem was a popular destination for the religious at that time of year. But Jerusalem was not Jesus’ final destination. They thought that when Jesus got to Jerusalem he would go to the temple and then the palace. And he would go to both places, but he was on the way somewhere else. They thought Jesus would end his journey on a throne, but to their surprise that throne was on the other side of the tombs from Jerusalem.
The author of light and life was walking through their town and only one would ask to see him. People did make requests of Jesus. They said, “Jesus, tell me, can a man divorce his wife.” “Jesus, can my brother and I sit at your right and left hand when you are the king?” “Jesus, what will happen in Jerusalem? What are you going to do to Herod when you’re the king?” Only one said, “Teacher, let me see.” Only one asked Jesus to give light to his darkened eyes.
Many today are blind. They are blind but they don’t know it. They are so blind they are blind to their blindness. The people on that road to Jericho had the source of eternal light and heavenly vision in their midst and they could not see. Today people are lost without direction. They wander through life as if they were blind. Most people are blind to the very presence of God, the Spirit of God.
Jesus walks into the darkness of our world just as he did that day in Jericho. Most people miss the significance of his entry. He appears to be just another religious person walking down the road with so many other religious people. He is just another prophet or saint, or miracle worker. Some come asking for mercy. “Jesus, Son of Abraham, you look like a nice man. Could you spare a dime?”
But then some recognize that Jesus is someone more. We are here today because we believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He is here today. Have you heard of him? Some say he is God’s chosen king. They say he has wisdom greater than all our scholars. They even say he can raise the dead. It is reported that he gives sight to the blind. Do you believe this?
He is with us right now. What will you do? Will you ask for the answer to some theological question? Will you request the solution to a moral dilemma? Will you ask for some goodie, “Jesus, buddy, can you spare a dime?” Or will you ask him to let you see?
Jesus the author of light is passing by here today. This room is full of light. I am not talking about the light of 300 watt light bulbs. I am talking about the light of God’s love and hope: the light of life and meaning, the light of eternal purpose, the light of Jesus Christ the Son of God. Do you see it? If you can’t see the light you must be blind. But don’t worry, Jesus, the one who gives sight, is here. Just call on his mercy and you shall see the Son of God.
Before I conclude my sermon today, I want to urge upon you the humility of Bartimaeus. I urge upon you the wisdom and the power of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is one of the most famous prayers in the history of Christianity. Orthodox Christians in the Middle Ages popularized this prayer that led them to a place of deep contemplation or centering prayer. Today, many Christians find the Jesus Prayer to be the ultimate “prayer of the heart.”
I cannot promise to you that this prayer will work like magic and that you
will receive back into your life health that you have lost, or the wealth
that you may need to enjoy life more. But I can promise to you a new life – a different life than that which you have had – or even now have. A life that will allow you to enter into a mysterious and most glorious place of all; a life that will allow you to dwell in the Kingdom of God,
– to dwell in that Kingdom both here: where we even now can taste and see
– and to dwell in that Kingdom beyond here, in the place beyond the grave,
where all that is good and true and glorious and full of love abides forever
in peace and in joy.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Pray with Bartimaeus. Pray as if you were Bartimaeus: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.
Pray with those of the church around the world: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Pray it over and over again. Lord is listening. Blessed be His name, now and forever. Amen.