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Not Just Healing, but Following: The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday, October 24, 2021
Hebrews 7:23-28
Mark 10:46-52

In this section of Mark that leads up to the Passion story that takes up about a third of the book, Jesus keeps informing and reminding his group of his impending betrayal (and all that will follow), and his closest followers keep proving, again and again, that they don’t get it. They argue about who’s the greatest. James and John ask to rule in glory alongside Christ. They are suspicious of someone who’s out there doing good, but isn’t a part of their group. And then, as this section ends and they’re about to get to Jerusalem, they come across a blind man who very quickly shows that he actually sees more clearly than the others. (Even before the healing proper takes place.)

There’s more here than things were bad, and then improved. Though that’s good, and we’ll take it when we can. Here, though, too, is a story that applies not just to Bartimaeus, but to all of us. Bartimaeus recognizes that things are not as they could or should be; he asks for help; he persists in seeking that help, in spite of the obstacles he encounters (which is other people); he takes action to get that help, by going to Jesus; he identifies and articulates his need; and then he is healed.

This is the last healing miracle in Mark’s Gospel. But that’s not the end of the story. (Not even the end of this little story.) Because after the healing, we read “he followed [Jesus] on the way.” So I’ll say that rather than being a healing story, this is really more of a discipleship story — a following Jesus story — that includes healing. (Maybe that’s more easy for us to relate to.) In these last several weeks in this section of Mark, we’ve heard hard words from Jesus, and exhortations to follow him to Jerusalem, and that’s when the spiritual blindness of the disciples was most obvious. But here from beginning to end — again, even before the healing happens — Bartimaeus show us (and the disciples) some of what following Jesus looks like. Realizing his situation; persisting to reach out for help, even when things get in the way; going to Jesus and being clear and honest about what’s at dis-ease; and then experiencing a sort of wholeness, and following Jesus on the way. It’s a lesson for all of us.

They’re in Jericho, about a day or half a day’s walk outside of Jerusalem. So that must be where Bartimaeus followed Jesus, and we know what happened there. It’s interesting that this blind man is named; one of the few tertiary characters that’s named in the Gospel. I didn’t read this in any books, but my guess is because he was known in the early church community out of which this Gospel arose. And not known just for that one moment of healing, but because he was someone who followed Jesus to the Cross. (Now, perhaps falling away for a time, as most of them did, but that, too, might be part of our story, too.)

So here we are today, on the precipice of entering Jerusalem. We have a powerful story of Jesus responding to human need. But more than that, what does Mark want to leave us with before the story becomes something of a fever dream or nightmare? ‘Bartimaeus followed [Jesus] on the way.’

And another way we can learn something from Bartimaeus here is in adopting his prayer as our own: “Jesus, have mercy on me.” We can sometimes get hard on ourselves as Christians or Anglicans for seemingly being overly negative about the human condition. (“We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table…”) But I know from what I’ve heard from plenty of people, that our weekly opportunity to confess (and hear words of absolution) is an important part of our Christian discipline. And some people, from time to time, find comfort in one-on-one confession (around page 165 in the Book of Alternative Services). And in a world gone mad with Instagram filters, and apologies written by public relations firms, and multinational companies jumping on boutique activist bandwagons to, I’d challenge, sell more stuff, I think that the grounded honesty of Bartimaeus is critically important.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.

This approach may well be the foundation for our healing, as individuals, and even corporately, as a people. And it certainly is an important part of following Jesus, and a proper response to standing before the cross. Amen.

© 2021 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter