The healing of blind Bartimaeus
Sermon points from this morning’s message
It was an important, high-pressure time even for Jesus’ important, high-pressure ministry. He was on his way to Jerusalem to confront the authorities who, he had already told his disciples, would reject him and ultimately have him killed. There was much to teach the small band of loyal followers who traveled with him. Somehow, he would still have the victory. After all, his mission was no less than saving the world. His disciples, in some measure, knew this. After all, just a short while before (vv. 35-45) there had been disputes among them about who would get the most important jobs in the upcoming Jesus administration.
In the face of such an important mission, on the part of the most important person the world had ever seen, the needs of one of society’s least productive members hardly seems to warrant much attention. But here was this blind man, dependent on the generosity of others for his daily bread, sitting by the side of the road begging. Panhandling, we would call it.
There were lots of blind men, lots of beggars in the ancient world. Their only means of support depended on an ethic of generosity, such as that fostered by the instructions of Moses: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.” Jesus’ paraphrase of this, that “the poor you will always have with you.” is sometimes misapplied as a way of saying that the problem of poverty is so intractable that it need not be addressed; and surely there were some in that day also who thought that God was perhaps a bit unreasonable in giving his people responsibility to be generous to the needy. What would feeding one blind man do, after all, but put (as we might say) a temporary Band-Aid on the problem? Wouldn’t he be back, and many others like him, next day with his begging bowl? Since his problem is chronic, isn’t it somehow less deserving of attention than the important matters the master must deal with?
But he called out all the more, and Jesus for his part responded. First point: Never think that your need is too insignificant for Jesus. The NT elsewhere encourages us to “come boldly to the throne of grace, so that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
Second point: Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The encounter is personal, and it goes beyond the expectations of the crowd. Rather than assume that he wants money, Jesus looks to see if there is a deeper need. And indeed there is, because this blind man has already seen clearly enough to identify Jesus as the Son of David, that is, the Anointed, God’s messiah and he addresses him as Rabboni, My Teacher. This spiritual vision gives him the courage to ask also for his physical vision. Jesus confirms that the greater miracle has already taken place: “Go; your faith has made you well.”
Thirdly: Jesus imposed no condition on him for his healing, but released him to do whatever he wanted to do. Sight restored, he need no longer sit at the roadside panhandling, but could work with dignity. Wisely, he uses his freedom to choose the path which keeps him close to Jesus: he “followed him on the way.” Would that we who have been set free would choose such a path, though it lead to Jerusalem, to confrontation, to the cross.