They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again, he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise….”
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted even more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So, they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. (NIV)
“Irony” and “ironic” are terms describing when an outcome of an event is contrary or different from what would be expected. Here are a few examples of irony: The firehouse burnt down. The police officer got arrested. When I was a kid, my family physician’s name was Dr. Fail (really!).
There is an overarching ironic lesson to our Gospel story today. The people following Jesus with 20/20 vision are spiritually blind. Their great need is the same as blind Bartimaeus: to have their eyes opened to Jesus and to what God was doing around them. Bartimaeus was marvelously and miraculously given sight by Jesus – the others, however, remained unchanged and in the dark.
Irony #1: Many followed Jesus, but only a few were his followers.
All kinds of people physically followed Jesus around for all kinds of reasons while he was here on this earth. Some wanted to bask in the latest celebrity buzz that Jesus generated. Others wanted to see all the cool stuff Jesus did, like healing people. Some were plain curious. And a few were interested in being like Jesus by showing selfless compassion. Jesus continually sought to press the crowd following him into authentic disciples who would follow his teaching.
Many people desire to conform and go with the flow. That’s great if the crowd is good, and not so good if the group is going in a bad direction. In the Old Testament, a few unruly complainers got the Israelites all stirred up with the result of making a golden calf and turning away from God. However, sometimes it is right and necessary to go against the crowd, which leads us to the next irony….
Irony #2: Out of all Christ’s followers, it is a blind man that sees Jesus for who he is, the Son of David.
Spiritual blindness afflicted many people, yet Bartimaeus discerned it was Messiah who was walking by him. So, he went against the crowd and shouted to Jesus. Blind Bartimaeus didn’t care how he looked to others, and it didn’t matter to him that he stuck out like a sore thumb.
Sometimes we might forget that Jesus often avoided crowds, and that most of his life occurred away from the centers of power and influence. Jesus swam upstream of the prevailing notions of righteousness. Christ did not cow-tow to the crowd, but instead, paid attention to those in need and forgotten by others. Jesus did not “work the crowd” to get ahead and further his agenda. He did not cozy-up to the rich and powerful. And he deliberately avoided celebrity status. Jesus showed extraordinary love to an overlooked person. He used his immense power for one powerless person.
Irony #3: The ones following Jesus were the ones trying to keep a blind man from Jesus.
It seems to me one of the ironies about the church is that Christ’s own followers can be the greatest obstacle to others following him. I can imagine a group of gossipy church folk shushing Bartimaeus: “Don’t bother Jesus, he is such a busy man! He has important work to do!” I can also picture them standing next to blind Bartimaeus saying, “Just stop, man, you’re embarrassing yourself.”
But Bartimaeus would not stop. He shouted all the louder. True and genuine faith is a needy person crying out in desperation for Jesus to help. Jesus asked a beautiful question: “What do you want me to do for you?” “I want to see,” Bartimaeus responded. So, Jesus had compassion on him and gave him his sight. Here we have two men, Jesus and Bartimaeus, ignoring all the people around them, and having a divine encounter.
This all makes me wonder why it is so hard for us to simply say what we want. It could be that we don’t want to buck the crowd, or to look different. Maybe we don’t want to admit our need in front of others. So, we just stick to superficial conversations and insist that everything is okay, when it isn’t.
Jesus said, concerning the crowd, “Although they see, they don’t really see.” (Matthew 13:13) If we are concerned about how we will be seen by others, we will likely not be seen by God, and will miss Jesus when he walks right in front of us.
How might we raise our ability to see Jesus and truly follow him as he desires us to?
Listen to Jesus. Jesus was headed to Jerusalem and had a lot on his mind and heart with anticipating his passion and death. What made Christ attentive to Bartimaeus out of all the people around him was that he was listening. If we want to see Jesus and follow him, we must be listeners and attentive to compassion, like Jesus, to the needy and lowly among us.
I recently read a story from a Christian who lived during Nazi Germany. He said, “I considered myself a Christian. We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because what could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars! Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear those wheels because we knew we would hear the cries of the Jews in route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us. So, when we heard the whistle blow, we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church, we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly, and soon we heard them no more. Years have passed, and no one talks about it anymore. But I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. God forgive me. Forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians yet did nothing to intervene.”
Respond to Jesus. Once Jesus listened, he responded by asking a question. Christ took the time to heal Bartimaeus. Jesus could have simply healed him without even stopping. He could have even started a healing factory where everyone with a need just moved through a line and got healed. Jesus was doing more than giving sight; he was giving a blessing – the blessing of time and relationship.
The gospel is personal, which is why we ought to resist being non-relational in ministry to others. It’s about more than meeting a physical need. It is about blessing other people with the gift of relationship. It begins with recognizing self as the one who needs Jesus. It starts with having our own eyes opened to see our own need and then the great need of people around us.
God of all compassion, I confess that it is natural for me to do things my way. I recognize that I am limited, but that you know all things. I yield my spiritual eyesight to you so that my spiritual vision will be clear. Jesus Christ came to give sight to the blind and to open our eyes. I commit my ways to you so that I can see your ways and not my own. Amen.