St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Amarillo, TX

"Bartimaeus the Disciple," Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 25, Year B

Bartimaeus, the blind man whom Jesus heals in today’s vivid and wonderful Gospel lesson, is not a name familiar to most of us.
We don’t normally think of Bartimaeus as a disciple, and yet Mark portrays him as an almost ideal disciple.

The people we normally think of when we think of Jesus’ disciples, such as Peter and James and John and Andrew, are not portrayed by Mark as ideal disciples. They are flawed, often slow to comprehend what Jesus is teaching & showing them.

In the recent days before Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus, these familiar disciples, these close friends who love Jesus dearly and follow him closely have been bumbling: they hae argued among themselves about who will be the greatest, and they have tried to prevent an unfamiliar but effective person from ministering in Jesus’ name.

For us who follow along with and in the wake of these stumbling disciples, we can receive comfort, encouragement, and hope that their mis-steps and errors did not cripple them, but their long-term faithfulness, their commitment to communion & conversation with one another and with Jesus led them to a maturity which has borne living fruit for the last 2,000 years.

We current-day disciples can learn a lot from & be inspired by Bartimaeus, even though we know him only through this brief, 7-verse reading.

Bartimaeus makes 4 key moves which can inform our own discipleship, our own walks with Jesus today.

These moves are important to consider, because, as with Bartimeus, with these moves we place ourselves more surely in positions to see and encounter the reality of Jesus who heals & saves.

First move: Bartimaeus is persistent. Bartimaeus is of such little account, that he must make whatever living he can by begging outside the city gates of Jericho.

Bartimaeus knows one thing well.
He knows his need. His vast and desperate need.
Bartimaeus knows that restoration of his sight will restore his name, restore him to family and to community and to work, restore him to a level of life beyond that of desperate begging. He yearns for restoration.

So Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus. Many around him tell him to hush.
They don’t want Bartimaeus’ interruption. They try to protect both themselves & Jesus from Bartimaeus’ annoying, vast need.

But Bartimaeus will not be silenced. Even though blind & destitute, perhaps because he is blind and destitute, he recognizes Jesus as Savior, and persists in his crying out to Jesus for the gift of mercy.

Bartimaeus is persistent.

Second move: Bartimaeus can recognize & respond to Jesus’ call to come to him, even though this call is given through the very same people who tried to silence him.

Jesus hears Batrimaeus, but Jesus is not the one to call Bartimaeus to him. In delicious irony, Jesus tells those who have just tried to silence Bartimaeus that they must be the ones to call Bartimaeus to him.

Bartimaeus knew Jesus was nearby, so he had good reason to trust those who had abruptly changed their behavior and were now encouraging him to go to Jesus.

What about us today? How do we discern today Jesus’ call to new life and new steps toward such life when it comes through those who previously may have knowingly or unknowingly been thwarting that call?

Are we confident in our abilities to recognize the offer of abundant life in Jesus, even when it comes from unlikely sources? This is an urgent question since the call to abundant life in Jesus often or even primarily comes through glorious but flawed human beings.

Bartimaeus can hear Jesus’ call through imperfect people.

Third move: Bartimaeus participates in his own liberation. Before his sight is restored, Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and springs up to go to Jesus. He literally unwraps himself, unbinds himself, and doing so allows him to spring into action.

It’s possible that the cloak Bartimaeus throws off is the only piece of clothing he can call his own. Most likely, he springs vividly and nakedly up to Jesus. Bartimaeus has no ego to lose and his whole life to gain.

Bartimaeus participates in his own liberation.

Fourth move: Once his sight is restored, Bartimaeus wastes no time following Jesus in a wholehearted way. He does not turn back to complete any unfinished business. He does not question how or why the crowd who had just tried to silence him, now encourage him. He knows in his body, in his eyes, in his bones, that Jesus’ way is the way of life & restoration. And so he gets moving, walking with energy and purpose in that life-giving way.

Bartimaeus quickly become an integral part of the Jesus movement, and he likely brought other peripheral persons into the healing & saving work and way of Jesus.

Thanks to Mark the evangelist, Bartimaeus continues to spread the Good News of God in Christ, showing us crucial moves in discipleship, moves which we can enter & perform any time, and moves which we can inhabit again & again, after inevitable mis-steps and falls.

The order of these moves in discipleship is not so important as the moves themselves. Engage any one of them at any time that is right for you.

First, Persistence - not allowing others, not allowing our own shame or hesitation or reticence, or our own inner critic to squelch our journey to Jesus and to the health & salvation he freely offers.

Second, the ability to recognize Jesus’ call to renewed life, even when it comes through flawed humans.

Third, active participation in our own liberation to throw off whatever binds us to old patterns of living and destructive habits.

Fourth, once healed, once renewed, once restored, get moving on the way with Jesus, participating in & sharing with others his wide-ranging, indiscriminate, active, and glorious love.


Accompanying Image:
Sculpture in Matyas Church, Budapest: Lord, that I might see! from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54181 [retrieved October 24, 2015]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenr/2296612588/.

Richard A. Horsley, the annotations to the Gospel of Mark in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th edition, Oxford: 2010.

Felix Just, S.J. Bartimaeus in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, ed. David Noel Freedman, Eerdmans: 2000.

Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, A Lot of the Way Trees Were Walking: Poems from the Gospel of Mark, Wipf & Stock: 2015.

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