Sermon Sunday October 28th
Job 42: 1-6,10-17
‘So I saw in my dream that the man began to run. Now he had to run far from his own door, but his wife and children perceiving it began to cry after him to return: but the man put his fingers in his ears and ran on crying, “Life, life, eternal life!”
So he looked not behind him but fled towards the middle of the plain . . .’
John Bunyan: The Pilgrims Progress
Captivated by Bartimaeus
Every Sunday we publish the readings for the week to come on the news sheet, along with some study questions on my blog, which can be accessed through the church website, and my fervent prayer is that more and more people will join with us in contemplating the readings for the coming Sunday, that we might as it were come HUNGRY for Christ, the living word as we approach his table.
This past week as I have sat with the readings, my attention has been held captive by Bartimaeus, blind Baritmaeus, son of Timaeus, and I was strongly reminded of a friend of mine. I had been witnessing to Paul about Christ for some considerable time. One Sunday there was a visiting preacher at our church, Richard Bewes, and I took Paul along. He preached from Ecclesiastes – For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; etc. you know the passage.
I can’t remember anything about the sermon, it didn’t particularly speak to me, or better I was deaf to the LORD’s word that evening, for he is Always speaking. But my friend, as soon as the service was over leapt from his seat, I have to have that! he said and ran to speak with the preacher.
We have this short, almost unremarkable incident in the life of Jesus from Mark. We are so used to Jesus doing all these things – we come to church one week and we hear of him healing a haemorrhaging woman, another he raises Lazarus from the dead, another he walks on water. We have heard all these stories so often before and this week, well Jesus heals a blind man. And it strikes me that when we hear of these things, we are all too often like I was listening to that preacher, or like the crowd in the gospel, still milling around Jesus – hey look another miracle! But perhaps waiting to go home, after all the excitement can’t go on for ever. And we go home too, and we pick up our lives as if nothing has changed. Perhaps we can be like the crowd – we’ve seen it all before – but have we?? What Have we Seen??
In our gospel reading, there as in all of Mark’s gospel is ‘the crowd’ following the miracle worker – looking for more signs, but uncommitted. Not mentioned today there are the disciples, those whom Jesus has called, but who don’t get it. And along the way Jesus encounters one individual after another, the woman with the flow of blood, the rich young man, the ruler of the synagogue, the syro phoenecian woman. These individual encounters with Christ are all as it were opportunities for us to step out of the crowd, to be confronted by Christ. And now it is Bartimaeus turn to come face to face with Jesus, and through him, another opportunity for us. And this week I couldn’t take my eyes of Bartimaeus.
There is the crowd, all milling around but Bartimaeus – he’s different . . . and as I contemplated this reading a very strange question came into my head . . . ‘Why does Bartimaeus want to see . . .’
As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. There are many fascinating contrasts between Bartimaeus and the rich young man of two weeks ago. The man who had many possessions was entirely self sufficient – Bartimaeus was entirely dependent. He survived purely on the generosity of passers by. Indeed his blindness may well have been a help to him. With so many destitute and poor, his affliction would have driven some to pity him more than others. He would have been used to listening to what was going on around him, crying out for help – but this time is special 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!” Bartimaeus will not back off – like the Syro-Phoeneician woman, he will NOT be put off in his effort to encounter Jesus, and his persistence pays off. 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. His cloak would have been so valuable to him. he needed it to keep warm, he would have spread it on the ground to collect alms1, but it has to go, he Has to get to Jesus
Bunyan’s Pilgrim, runs from his family who would hold him back crying ‘life, Life. eternal life!’ My friend Paul had to have that Life he heard in the preachers words – Bartimaeus Has to get to Jesus. He is the blind man who sees. ‘Jesus, Son of David!!’ ‘Son of David, have mercy on me’ He is the blind man who sees. As Jesus told the pharisees, there are those who can see who are blind, and those who are blind See!
The rich young man doesn’t see who Jesus is – he asks the wrong question. He is So used to doing it for himself, he just wants to know the answer to the final question, what must I do to get eternal life., he says to Jesus. He sees Jesus as a means to his end, a means to fulfill his life. Tell me the answer and I won’t trouble you anymore He can see but is blind, he cannot see that Jesus IS eternal life. Bartimaeus cries out ‘Jesus, have mercy on me!!’ Jesus asks “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” My teacher – Rabbouni! The cry of faith from Mary Magdalene in the garden of the resurrection on the lips of this blind beggar – My teacher – my all – my Life, my death my every waking breath. Bartimaeus Knows that Jesus IS his life
Why does Bartimaeus want to see?? He wants to see Jesus. Wouldn’t we, Do We?? Have we yet awakened to that Burning desire to See Christ, to be with him, to worship him? Are we hungry for Him?
Martin Luther would say to his students, I wish I could get you to pray like my dog goes after meat ! ‘I wish I could get you to pray like my dog goes after meat!’ I don’t know how many folk have got dogs, but if you have one you don’t leave the Sunday joint lying around!! For the dog will go for it!! and it’s no good saying to the dog – don’t do that! be a good dog!! He IS being a good dog.2 That is what dogs do – they cannot contradict their dogginess – but WE can contradict our humanity. The crowd are all milling around Jesus, curious, wondering, perhaps getting a little bored, they will soon cry out CRUCIFY!! Their indifference is their sinfulness, they cannot See who Jesus is – Bartimaeus in contrast is becoming Fully Human – he Springs up – he Comes to Jesus, like a dog after meat is a man pursuing God in Christ – and having been healed he follows him on the way. The most Truthful human response to Jesus, is to go after him like a dog goes after meat.
Jesus called the rich man to follow, but he went. Jesus told Bartimaeus to Go, but he followed . . .
But where, where is he going?? It doesn’t matter, I have to be with him, says Bartimaeus. And where is Jesus going? We come to the end of our reading through Mark. When we return to it in a couple of weeks time we will have skipped the next chapter, where Jesus enters Jerusalem. Jericho which Jesus is leaving is just down the road from Jerusalem. When we imagine the crowds with Jesus as he enters Jerusalem, Bartimaeus is there crying out, Hosanna to the Son of David – giving Glory to God.
This week I have used Psalm 24 in our worship – it is the Psalm of entrance into the Temple – Christ comes to the Temple. The Psalmist Cries out as a herald
Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
The cry comes back, we might imagine from high on the ramparts?
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates!
and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.
We may imaging Bartimaeus crying out – ‘The Lord of hosts, He is the king of Glory!’ For as the Psalmist tells us
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts,
who do not lift up their souls to what is false,
and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the Lord,
and vindication from the God of their salvation.
Such is the company of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Who go after him like a dog after meat.
I began by speaking about how we are invited to prepare each week – to read the scriptures, to study them, that we might come HUNGRY to church – hungry for Him who says ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
Bartimaeus was HUNGRY for Jesus – he wanted to SEE! And Seeing Jesus he followed him, his teacher. ‘My teacher, let me see again’
I conclude with some words of an early teacher of the church, Clement of Alexandria
‘Let us open ourselves to the light then, and so to God. Let us open ourselves to the light and become disciples of the Lord . . . Let us, then, shake off the forgetfulness of truth, shake off the darkness that dims our eyes, and contemplate the true God – after first raising this song of Praise to him: ‘All hail, O Light!’ For upon us buried in darkness, imprisoned in the shadow of death, a heavenly light has shone, a light of a clarity surpassing the sun’s, and of a sweetness exceeding any this earhtly life can offer. That light is eternal life, and those who receive it live.’ ‘Let us open ourselves to the light then, and so to God. Let us open ourselves to the light and become disciples of the Lord’3
Life, Life, Eternal Life!