Seeing Clearly

Mark 10:46-52, October 25, 2015

In Kids’ Power Hour the students and teachers have been journeying with Jesus in Mark’s gospel for more than a month. I’m going to review those lessons, because we will get a lot more out of today’s lesson when we understand what has preceded it.

Mark’s gospel doesn’t have much “filler.” I like to think of it a necklace with beads. The beads—stories—are right next to each other, so close you hardly see the string. Still the sequence of the beads is important, especially at this point in Mark’s gospel. Today’s passage ends on what we could call “Palm Sunday Eve.” It’s the last thing that happens before Jesus sends two of his disciples to find a donkey for him to ride up to the Temple.

Here are the stories that our kids looked at over the past few weeks. In the middle of the 9th chapter, Jesus was still trying to keep his miraculous healings a secret. Whenever he healed someone he told that person—and we never knew their names, only their afflictions—to keep it a secret. Sometimes he would separate the afflicted person from the crowd and perform the healing in private. He healed all the people successfully, but he failed utterly at their keeping the healing secret.

In the lesson from four weeks ago, Jesus told his closest followers “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” They didn’t get it. This was the second time he’d told them. Not only did they not understand, they were afraid to ask what he meant.

Two weeks ago in worship we heard Jesus encouraging people to bring their children to him. “To such as these,” he said, “the kingdom of God belongs.” The freshness, innocence, spontaneity and trust that small children have, Jesus told us, are ways that we can encounter and understand God’s kingdom. I mentioned two weeks ago that one way I like to imagine God’s kingdom is as a playground where kids are playing gleefully and unself-consciously. I believe the kingdom of God is filled with laughter and movement. That was the day we renewed the covenant between the church and the preschool.

Three weeks ago we heard a story about a righteous and probably wealthy man who wanted to be sure that he would inherit eternal life. This man, again we don’t learn his name, has kept all the commandments from his youth. He was well-educated and knew the law. He lacked one thing—Jesus told him to sell his possessions, give the money to poor people and follow him. The man was crushed. He had a lot of possessions. And he was too attached to them to do as Jesus said. The rich man was sad. The only thing he lacked was being able to trust Jesus. He just couldn’t do it.

Right after that Jesus took his disciples aside and for the third time told them that they were headed to Jerusalem where the religious leaders would condemn him to death, hand him over to the Gentiles who would beat, humiliate and kill him—and that he would rise again.

The next thing in Mark’s gospel was that James and John, two of the disciples’ inner circle approached Jesus with a request. Jesus asked “what is it you want me to do?” They wanted the best places, next to Jesus in heaven. The other disciples were angry that they had presumed to ask for that. He reminded them—and the other ten disciples--that they were not supposed to be like the Gentiles, that to be a great follower of Jesus is to be a humble servant.

Now we’re ready for today’s bead on the necklace of the Gospel of Mark. Jesus, the 12 disciples and a large crowd are leaving Jericho and headed up to Jerusalem. As I said, it’s Palm Sunday Eve. And they are literally travelling up. Jerusalem is on a hill and so it’s literally true that they were heading up. And this crowd passes a blind man, named Bartimaeus, next to the road. This is unusual—we know not only Bartimaeus’s condition—he’s blind, but we also know his name. When he hears that it’s Jesus passing by, he calls out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Did you hear that? Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” This is the first time that Jesus is called “Son of David.” Earlier in Mark’s gospel Jesus refers to himself as “The Son of Man.” Other places he is referred to as Jesus of Nazareth—which distinguishes him from men named Jesus from other cities. The blind man is the first one to address him as “Son of David.” That’s the title for the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one of God. Until this point, only Peter had called him “Messiah.” And as soon as Peter says that word, Jesus tells the disciples to keep it a secret. Peter’s calling Jesus “Messiah” is a turning point in the story. As soon as Peter makes that identification, Jesus tells his disciples, for the first time that he would undergo great suffering, be crucified and rise from the dead.

Peter, perhaps the closest, most trusted disciple is the first one to see who Jesus really is. Peter’s had a front row seat at all the miracles and moments of teaching and controversy with the religious leaders. The next guy to see this reality is a blind beggar.

And Bartimaeus is kind of a pest, like the parents who were sternly rebuked for sending their children to touch Jesus, Bart was sternly rebuked to pipe down. He didn’t. He called all the louder.

Jesus stood still. He’s in the middle of a big crowd, there’s a blind beggar calling out, making a scene, and Jesus stood still, and said, “Call him here.” And this is no ordinary word, call. It’s more than, “Tell the blind guy to come over,” it’s more like a call to service, a call to be ordained. We use “call” this way when we talk about serving the church as a deacon or ruling elder—Jesus extends that kind of call to Bartimeaus. People in the crowd told Bartimeaus that Jesus had called him and he threw off his cloak and sprang up and went to Jesus. I’m thinking people must have guided him.

You might not have noticed the contrast between the blind beggar and the righteous, rich man who came to Jesus in the lesson a few weeks ago. He was sad because he was rich and couldn’t give up his possessions and follow Jesus. Here’s a poor man, throwing into the crowd what might be his only possession. Who sees clearly?

And then it gets interesting. Jesus asks him “What do you want me to do for you?” This is the same question he asked of James and John. The two of them wanted special treatment—and Jesus could not give it to them—it wasn’t his to give.

I think it’s really interesting that Jesus asked the blind man what he wanted. Earlier in Mark’s gospel Jesus has restored sight to a blind man. He’s performed other miraculous healings. We all know he can do this…But Jesus doesn’t assume he knows what Bartimaeus wants. He has to say, “My teacher, let me see again.” And Jesus doesn’t even touch him, he simply says, “Go, your faith has made you well.”

This miracle is different for a couple reasons, first, we know the man’s name. Second, Jesus doesn’t ask anyone to keep it a secret. He doesn’t go off in private, as he did when he rubbed saliva and dirt in another blind man’s eyes and restored his sight. This is out in the open, where everyone can see. Where everyone can see. Third, Jesus didn’t invite Bartimaeus to follow him. But that’s exactly what Bartimaeus did. He is unique among the people whom Jesus healed in that he followed Jesus.

If this were a football game, an announcer would say something like “Momentum really swung Jesus’ way!” He’s got a crowd with him—a crowd who just saw him perform a miracle. He’s got his disciples with him. He’s a short walk from the Temple. And the formerly blind man sees very, very clearly. In fact, it is the blind man who sees most clearly. He’s the one who followed Jesus without being asked. He’s the one who threw away everything he owned. The most vulnerable one in the story is the one who gives the best example of trust and faith.

There’s a lot to notice in these few verses, and a lot to challenge us as we also, seek to follow Jesus. Amen.