Mark 10: 46-52
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
October 25, 2015 – Reformation Sunday
The cries of Bartimaeus in this morning’s reading from the gospel of Mark could be the cries of the homeless, those not paid a living wage, people with no healthcare coverage, the disabled living on a Social Security check: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Bartimaeus was blind and thus, he had to beg for his living. He had to rely on the mercy of strangers in order to have some money to live on.
Beggary was a life one was consigned to. There was no hope of any other kind of life, for even if one was healed by some miracle, there was no other occupation to fall back on, no other way to earn a living. Even though beggary is not enviable, in Jesus’ time it was a just-barely sustainable lifestyle, because observant Jews were obligated to be generous to those who were less fortunate, what we now call noblesse oblige. Bartimaeus could trust that on any given day a few coins would land on his cloak, enough to keep him from starving. So though his income was meager, it was also a steady stream he could depend on.
Yet when he hears that Jesus is passing through town (we can assume that being on a public road he must have heard the scuttlebutt coming out of Jericho), Bartimaeus is willing to give up what is familiar to him for a life lived in the unknown. He tosses off his cloak, his means of collecting the alms given him, with abandon, before he is even healed. More than a story of healing, this is a story of call: Jesus’ call to servanthood and one poor beggar’s response.
Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus in a loud voice, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Here, Bartimaeus makes use of and trusts with his life the highest form of noblesse oblige. When a king passes by in procession and a subject cries out for mercy, the king, by virtue of his nobility, is obliged to stop the procession and attend to the needs of that subject. The title “Son of David”, used for here for the first time in Mark’s gospel, reveals that Bartimaeus not only recognizes Jesus’ kingship but that he is also the Promised One, the Messiah who would bring about a new world order, both spiritually and politically.
Yet notice how this title is used. First, there is the contrast between “son of Timaeus” and “Son of David”; the Son of David, this king, this messiah came for those humble ones such as Bartimaeus. And then there is the timing of this title. Mark places this call story right before Jesus is to enter Jerusalem for the last time. Jesus has reached his point of no return. This new world order will come about not by a coronation or by a violent revolution but by an innocent man being put to death. And this is when Bartimaeus decides he is ready to give up his meager but safe existence for the Way of Jesus, that way that leads to the cross. And not only that, but joyfully so.
|from Rev. Brian Blogs|
And then there’s the name Bartimaeus itself. The author of Mark sounds like he’s repeating himself by saying “Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus”. If you know anything about Hebrew, you know that the word “bar” means “son of”. Literally it should read “Son of Timaeus, son of Timaeus.” It’s as if he doesn’t have a name of his own. If we go a little deeper into the language, there is a choice to be made in the translation.
Timaeus can mean either something highly prized or something that is unclean, depending on whether Greek or Hebrew is used for the root word of the name. Bartimaeus is either the son of something highly prized or the son of something unclean. Or is it both? Something or someone who is unclean, unworthy needs to be reclaimed as something, someone highly prized. Eyes wide open. Right on the road to doom.
Bartimaeus is in it for the long haul, rather than the short term gain. It’s the bottom of the 9th, 13-0, the Cubs’ last game of the season, and he begs the coach to put him in. He’s getting on the train right before the wreck. He’s the last one to get into an overcrowded boat of Syrian refugees. He’s the last disciple to join the throng the last week of Jesus’ life. With his eyes wide open.
Bartimaeus is on the event horizon of a black hole, at his own point of no return. He has no idea what lies ahead of him, but the science is looking pretty grim. All signs point to certain destruction. And yet he signs on anyway. With his eyes wide open. And an alleluia on his lips. Because he’s in it for the long haul. Because he wants to see how it comes out on the other side.
By all appearances, Jesus looks as though he has failed in his mission, that he is headed for the poop storm of the century. He has failed in the eyes of those who expected a messiah who would come in glory, who would overthrow the Romans, and violently so, who would reestablish the Davidic dynasty and give justice to God’s people. Instead, faithful to his mission of compassion, forgiveness, restorative justice, and unconditional love, Jesus continued to walk a road that would inevitably lead to his death. Jesus is the messiah of transformed lives—transformation that comes by way of suffering and the cross.
Sooner or later the way of the cross confronts us all, whether it’s our health—spiritual, physical, or mental—or our aging bodies or our families or a friend or a broken relationship or the loss of a job or we’ve hit bottom or the bottom drops out. Or someone needs our help or a whole bunch of someones. Or #BlackLivesMatter and white privilege. Or climate change. By all appearances we’re headed for the poop storm of our lives. The science isn’t looking good. It’s the bottom of the 9th and we’re on the losing side. We cry out, “Have mercy!” And Jesus stops what he’s doing, opens our eyes, and keeps going.
Where in our lives and in our life together do we need our eyes wide open? Are we in it for the long haul? Are we ready to toss off our cloak of meager subsistence so we can have it all at resurrection? Is there an alleluia poised on our lips? Have we reached our point of no return? What would it look like for us to have a changed life? Why are we waiting? Let’s get on board. Amen.