They 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. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then 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.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
It has to be one of the best known, oft-preached sections of the gospel narrative. It is also the prototypical story upon which the Orthodox Jesus prayer is based. That oft repeated phrase prayer of the Hesychastic tradition, “Jesus, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.”
Come to think of it the entire account is transformative.
We are told the band of Jesus followers are leaving town. They are setting off on another leg of their journey to Jerusalem. As with all travelers setting off there is an impatience to get going and to keep going. There really isn’t time for distraction and disturbance. The group is focused on the journey.
Then there is this interruption.
Bartimaeus. Well known in the community, he is the son of old Timaeus. Bartimaeus has a place in society. His role is that of the blind beggar. As a beggar he has the role of reminding all passers by that they have an obligation to give alms. What Bartimaeus doesn’t have though, is the right to be too obtrusive. Bart may beg, but he may not badger the teacher. After all we will tolerate the poor as long as they don’t become too demanding.
Bartimaeus oversteps this social register with his loud appeals. Appeals so heart wrenching and profound that they have been captured as the words of transformation used by thousands of Christians in the East. “Son of David have mercy on me”.
We are told that these words stop Jesus. He stands still and calls the man to himself.
It is this moment that we see an amazing transformation begin. Bartimaeus does two uncharacteristic things for a blind beggar. He throws off his cloak and he springs up.
Living in Africa, one doesn’t have to look for poverty and begging. It is everywhere.
Beggars, especially blind ones, do not throw off their cloaks and spring up. Not if they know their place and their craft, or graft. Beggars cower and cringe. The fact that Mark records this unusual behaviour suggests to me that the transformation of Bartimaeus has already begun.
I wonder what cloaks and cows us and keeps us from approaching Jesus? Our propriety, our poverty of trust or our politeness?
Cloaked and cowering, we assemble Sunday by Sunday watching the gospel parade go by, never once raising our voices or our expectations that anything could uncloak us and put a spring into our lethargic liturgy.
Perhaps we are so acquiescent because we fear the other who would tell us to be quiet and not make a fuss.
Thank God for this boisterous, blind, beggar, Bartimaeus.
He not only stops Jesus in his journey, he also elicits the strangest question from Jesus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Hello?! Blind beggar! Isn’t it obvious what he wants?
Well perhaps not. Sometimes we call out to Jesus wanting only some small alleviation of our discomfort but without wanting complete and revolutionary change of life.
That is why Jesus checks.
Uncloaked and springing Bart want the real change. He wants more than alms. He wants life.
Did you notice the interesting detail in his request?
“My teacher, let me see AGAIN”
Blind Bart it seems had not always been unsighted and benighted.
He had seen he once knew colour, depth and shape. He wanted it again.
So do we, don’t we?
Jesus doesn’t seem to do much for Bart except remind him that it is his trust that has restored his vision.
I wonder if our oft repeated Jesus prayers could uncloak us, put a spring back into our lives, and restore our vision?
Repeat loudly after me, “Lord Jesus Son of God, have mercy…”