Blind Bartimaeus

Sermon Series: Imagine If

By: Donnell Wyche – April 22, 2018

Preamble and Welcome
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space this morning. As we gather together as a church, we do so in the active presence of God through our worship, community, and engagement with Scripture, which we hope will lead to transformational growth in our everyday life. As a congregation we want to experience belonging, cultivate tangible joy, activate hope, and know comfort as we learn to trust Jesus more and more, enabling us to reflect the welcome and peace of Jesus to those closest to us. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.

Introduction & Recap
We continue this week in our “Imagine If” sermon series wrestling with the question, “What Do The Oppressed Owe Their Oppressors?”

Your helpful engagement continues as well. I have to confess that this kind of active engagement is how I connect best with God. I learn so much about God (and myself) by hearing, considering, and reflecting on your stories. Thank you for your vulnerability, your transparency, your own wrestling and struggles. I’m so fortunate to be in this faith community with you. There continues to be a lot of dialog around what is “owed,” if anything, to our oppressors.

In last week’s scripture text, we were asked to consider what we would do if we had the power to act, if we hadagency. I invited you to consider the lack of agency of the injured man by using Lectio Divina, a form of praying and reading scripture. First, you were asked to read as the Priest, then as the injured man, you were asked to consider what it would take to move from the Priest to the Good Samaritan. Whether you are the Priest, Levite, or the Good Samaritan in the story, you are reading as someone who has power to act. This morning, I want to shift gears slightly, and ask you to consider:

What happens when you lack power?

What happens when you are in need?

What happens when you are dependent on others?

What happens when you need mercy?

On the Way
On his way to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, Jesus with his disciples pass through the ancient city of Jericho.

35As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”  (Luke 18:35-37)

38He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

This passage poses some difficulties because if Bartimaeus’s blindness is a form of oppression, then God is cast as the oppressor.

As we enter into this story, let’s remember that the ancients had a complex worldview, a mixture of beliefs that ordered and directed their daily lives. For instance, if you were disabled, the ancients believed this was God’s punishment for your disobedience, your unbelief, or your sin.

Remember what the disciples ask Jesus when they encounter a blind person, they ask,

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1-5)

Your disability could also be the result of your parents’ or grandparents’ sin. In particular, visual impairment was steeped with meaning; it could indicate a lack of intellectual or moral understanding; it could also be used as a warning for the lack of discernment, and blindness in scripture was a way to describe those who dwelt in the darkness of prison or captivity. In one sense, blindness was seen by the ancients as a curse.

When the disciples ask Jesus who sinned, they were steeped in their cultural understanding of blindness. Jesus answers his disciples in verse 3 this way,

3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:1-5)

Now, I wrestle with Jesus here because I want a little more understanding of the phrase, “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Immediately after giving his answer to the disciples, Jesus heals this man of his blindness.

When Jesus encounters Blind Bartimaeus on the road, maybe Bartimaeus has this story or other stories of Jesus’ healing in mind when he asks the crowd, “what’s going on?” Who is passing by? Learning that it’s Jesus, the miracle worker, Bartimaeus raises his voice,

38He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38)

As I make my way and unpack this passage, I want to show that “Bartimaeus goes from begging for mercy from a miracle worker, to encountering Mercy embodied in the person of Jesus.” It’s worth noting that neither the crowd nor the disciples were willing to entertain the possibility of mercy either in its general or its cosmic sense.

39Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet…”  (Luke 18:39)

Why does the crowd act this way? Like Bartimaeus, I’m sure they heard stories of Jesus, why wouldn’t they want someone already known in their community to receive healing, to be transformed?

Maybe it’s all wrapped up in folks not getting what they deserve. If his blindness was the result of sin, why should he be forgiven, why doesn’t he have to make amends and pay for this sin. Why should he get a break? Why should anyone get a break? How is that fair?

Those are good questions, but they don’t get to the issue of mercy, which is what Bartimaeus is asking for. If Bartimaeus has to pay for his healing, then it’s a transaction, it’s not mercy. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. There’s a part of us that are offended by mercy. It just doesn’t seem fair. That’s because we desire judgement for others, and mercy for ourselves. This happens when we allow ourselves to falsely believe that our losses are somehow someone else’s gains. “We don’t want to be taken advantage of,” we say, but we are not playing some kind of cosmic zero-sum game. Our gains do not come at the expense of someone’s losses. Bartimaeus knows this because he shouts all the more,

39…but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  (Luke 18:38-39)

There’s hope in what comes next. Over the complaints of the crowd, Jesus hears. Jesus stops. In hearing, stopping, and responding, Jesus says something about God. It’s been said “that God is fully present and discoverable in the person of Jesus.”

Jesus uses the very people who were trying to silence Bartimaeus by conscripting them into service for his healing. Their role is reversed, originally they are barriers, now they are being transformed into conduits of mercy and healing. When we allow it, God transforms us into agents of mercy and grace. This happens when we neighbor (Mark 12:30-31). When we love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). When we forgive (Matthew 6:14; Mark 11:26). When we do good to those who curse us (Luke 6:28). When we seek out the lowly places (Luke 14:8). When refuse to repay evil with more evil (Romans 12:17).

Then Jesus surprises us by asking Bartimaeus a question,

41“What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. (Luke 18:41)

As we push into the text here, we might be surprised by the question Jesus puts to Bartimaeus. Clearly Bartimaeus is blind, so Jesus could just assume that what he wants is to see. What else would Bartimaeus want from the Master? Wasn’t it Jesus’s own kingdom agenda that included the recovery of sight for the blind?

Now watch this…
When we read it, we assume this is all about the healing. Bartimaeus is blind, he wants to see, and Jesus is the miracle worker. I think Jesus is asking a rather serious question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Implicit in that question is another one, “Are you ready to accept the consequences of what you want?”

It’s like what Jesus says in Luke 17:33, if you want to live, you must be willing to die? It’s counter-intuitive, “Why do I have to die in order to have life?” Well, “the life that I’m offering,” Jesus says, “means you have imagine a reality that you cannot see, but already exists–a kingdom that is unfolding in your midst.” Are you willing to follow me into the unknown. If you are, I will teach you everything you need to know.

Do you know what you are asking for, Bartimaeus?

“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.

Then open your eyes and see.

42Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God. (Luke 18:42–43)

Now let me push in here for just a moment…
There is something significant that transpires when Bartimaeus realizes that he is seen. I can’t help but think of the exchange between Moses and God in Exodus 33:19-20

19And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exodus 33:19-20)

Instead of dying, Bartimaeus comes alive.

Did you notice that Bartimaeus changes the title with which he addresses Jesus? He starts his interaction with Jesus using the messianic title, “Son of David.” As he continues to engage Jesus, he shifts to Lord. It’s personal now. We may miss with our modern eyes what’s happening here, but when Bartimaues shifts to calling Jesus, Lord, it’s a recognition of exactly who Jesus is. Jesus is more than a miracle worker, more than a conduit for healing. Jesus represents the Creator God in the earth and this has become a Bartimaeus and Jesus moment. The kingdom is breaking out right in front of Jesus; it’s no longer academic, theoretical, it’s real. Bartimaeus is right at the edge of the kingdom, and his eyes are opened to Jesus as Lord, he has a vision of the kingdom, and he steps into the his new kind of “seeing.”

At the start of the sermon, I suggested that if Bartimaeus’ blindness is a form of oppression, then God is cast as the oppressor.

Bartimaeus was on the roadside, he wasn’t on the road with everyone else. He was literally in the margin. He was marginalized. Those nearest to him weren’t that interested in his liberation, but God was.

“I will have mercy on who I will have mercy.” Exodus 33:19

Jesus could have easily moved right on pass Bartimaeus. But when Bartimaeus called out, Jesus heard. He stopped. He responded.

“I will have compassion on who I will have compassion.” Exodus 33:19

Is that the picture of God you have? He doesn’t get a lecture. He doesn’t get dressed down. He doesn’t get reminded of all that wrong in him and with him.

When Jesus asks him what he wants… something happens… Bartimaeus is no longer just a beggar, he has agency. He’s someone of value and worth, he matters. He matters to the Jesus. He matters to God.

There’s something here in what Jesus does and what God says to Moses. It’s almost like there’s a reversal because in the face of Jesus, God is fully discoverable, instead of dying, we come alive.

As Bartimaeus receives his physical sight, his is also given the faith to see, what I like to call prophetic imagination–the realization of a reality we hope for. He steps in faith into Jesus’ kingdom, which bring the promised good news for the poor, the blind, and the oppressed into his reality. Bartimaeus is willing to give up his former self, his former way of life that was stable, known, albeit, difficult, to follow a King who sees him and knows him.

Do you need mercy that can transform you this morning? Do you need to be seen and heard that you may come alive? Do you need faith to activate your prophetic imagination–the realization of a kingdom that is unfolding in your midst?