Blind Bartimaeus

A sermon for the Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost, October 24, 2021

Today’s Gospel lesson speaks to us about the power of faith. The power that our faith holds personally for us. The power that faith unlocks around us. The power that faith can access for us, to support us, to build us up, to bring us into something new.

Just two weeks ago, we heard Jesus proclaim that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich person, a person of wealth, to enter heaven. And as his followers scoffed at such a claim, stating that it is an impossible barrier to access, Jesus responds that it is true for us mortals that it is impossible, at least it is seemingly impossible, but not for God. For God, all things are possible.

But, the question remains, how do we go about accessing this tremendous power of God?

How do we access heaven if it is impossible for us?

How do we learn to trust that for God, all things are possible?

Today’s Gospel points the way.

Bartimaeus serves as the perfect example of how we can access this impossible gift given to us by God. It is his story, his example, that helps us come to grasp what Jesus has challenged us with in the past couple of weeks. It is his story, his example, that helps us know that for God, all things are possible.

Bartimaeus is a blind beggar.

Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, is the named son of Timaeus, literally, his name Bar-Timaeus is “Son of Timaeus.”

It is interesting that he is named thusly. 

While it was certainly within the naming conventions of the time, to name this blind beggar as “son of,” is perhaps an intentional action. It is a piece of detail in the Gospel of Mark, a gospel writer who only included those details that were crucial to any given story in order to drive forward the narrative events of Jesus’ life and ministry among us.

By utilizing this naming convention we’re left wondering if Mark is making a deeper point about Bartimaeus’ condition and the miraculous healing that is about to occur.

It was not uncommon during the time of Jesus to attribute illness, disability, demon possession, even blindness to one’s own sin and/or the sins of the parents passed on to the next generation, paying some form of debt to the society for what a person or their parents had done to offend. By naming Bartimaeus as the son of Timaeus, we are pointed to a generational sin, a belief that Bartimaeus’ blindness is either the direct result of the sin of his father, or that his own capability of sinning that has led to his blindness was inherited from his father. And therefore, Bartimaeus has been punished, deemed unworthy, and been outcast by the society around him. Bartimaeus is a beggar on the side of the road. Bartimaeus is incapable of accessing the temple, of accessing the inner sanctum, of accessing the holiest of holies, because he is not in that upper echelon of society, he is not worthy because the sins of his father have manifested themselves in the condition that he has been forced to live with throughout his life, casting him to the side to subside only on the pity of what others might give him as he begs.

And yet, Bartimaeus makes his cry to Christ.

The people around him try to sush him, how dare he call out to this great teacher, healer, miracle worker. How dare he insert himself into this moment.

Bartimaeus cries out even louder, drowning out the disapproval of those around him.

“Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus is stopped dead in his tracks.

Standing still in the midst of the gathered crowd, Jesus calls out to the man who has cried out, ordering the crowd to send him forward.

Bartimaeus leaps up, throwing off his cloak, his only protection from the outside world, and comes before Jesus.

“Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”

Bartimaeus is healed today by his faith, and his faith alone.

This is an important distinction in the many accounts of healing that Jesus performs.

For one blind man, Jesus spits on the ground to make a balm of oil for the man’s eyes.

For another, he sends a group to go and perform a ritual washing and only one realizes that he’s already been healed.

But for Bartimaeus, it is his faith alone that heals him, and heals him instantly.

“Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.”

Bartimaeus’ faith in Christ, faith in the power of God working through Christ, the recognition that placing his faith in Christ will gain him access to the power of God that is working through Christ, is what enables his healing.

It is in that faith that Bartimaeus then is inspired to fall in with Christ and follow him on the way. The healing is simply the recognition that Bartimaeus is ready to express his faith by following Christ.

For God, all things are possible, even healing a blind beggar, even healing a blind beggar that is carrying the sins of generations.

We have the story of blind Bartimaeus in the middle of a stewardship campaign where we are being called to plant a new church into being by daring to dream the vision promised.

Blindness and vision.

What is keeping us blind to the vision promised?

What is preventing us from daring to dream?

What stands in the way of our planting a new church into being?

The story of blind Bartimaeus today calls us to living our faith that through God, all things are possible. Through God, all visions promised are possible. Through God, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church is possible.

We have a call today to remove the blindness inducing fears, anxieties, apprehension that spring up from existing within our modern society. The realities of the challenges that face churches in today’s society, and the particular challenges we face in being church in the Pacific Northwest. The fear and anxiety of having enough: enough people, enough ministries, enough money to fund it all.

We can remove these blindness inducing limitations.

We must remove these blindness inducing limitations.

And we do so, through a clear declaration of faith in what God is doing in this place that we call St. Stephen’s. 

We must live the faith of blind Bartimaeus, who recognized the power of his own faith, knowing that through God all things were possible, and in asking to be healed of his blindness, was made able to see again purely through the power of his faith and his faith alone.

In removing our blindness, we live into a faith that promises that through God all things are possible.

In removing our blindness, we are called into living a faith that emulates this reality in all that we do, including in the support we offer to our church community through our time, talents, gifts, and our financial support of the various ministries, worship, outreach, and more that is made possible through the existence of this gathered body of Christians in the Old West Side.

Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.”

Let us now go in the knowledge that our faith makes us well and enables us to access the power of God through whom all things are possible. And in going, we follow the way of Christ, the way of love, a way that is embodied in the people and place that we call St. Stephen’s, a way that we must share with our neighbor, a way that we must invite our neighbor to share with us in this place, a way that we must support through our stewardship today and always.

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