Show me mercy

Blind Bartimaeus Receives His Sight. Mark 10:46-52

46 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. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Last week there was a documentary on ABC called Life at 7, tracking the lives of young children every few years as they grow up. One particular family stood out from all the rest – not because it was the perfect family with wonderfully behaved children – in fact quite the opposite. This family lost one of their children in a drowning accident, while expecting their third child the marriage broke down. The mother was left to raise a young boy and a newborn baby – a single mum who also happened to be nearly blind. The hardship took its toll on the family’s happiness and the young boy’s behaviour became quite difficult as a result.

As the story goes on we find out that the mother’s eyesight was degenerative – she was losing what eyesight she had and decided to have a risky operation in the hope of restoring it. Thankfully, the operation was successful but only partial eyesight was restored.

When she was interviewed by the documentary film makers she was asked ‘what was difficult about raising children’she said it wasn’t that difficult, you’ve just got to have fun! Such a statement would cause many of us to weep. The other parents who were interviewed complained about the challenge of parenting, especially the freedom they had lost when they became parents. But for this single mum – who only had 10% eyesight in one eye – her hope and positive attitude was her only defence against the hardship of life.

The suffering and difficulties that are caused by those who lose one of their senses represents a loss of freedom – they are no longer able to care for themselves or provide for needs. There are two ways to that people deal such a loss; despair and hope.

Those who have physical disabilities must have some faith and hope that things will get better, somehow. Others have to deal with tragic life circumstances, they lose family or their possessions and it seems there is no hope for the future. This is something that is close to all our hearts, because we all suffer. But such is the life of the blind beggar named Bartimaeus.

Bartimaeus stood out from the crowd, not just because he was a blind beggar sitting in the dirt, but because he refused to believe that there was no hope. He called out to Jesus, despite those around him wanting to silence him. Despite his physical blindness, he could hear that Jesus was coming toward him – and it gave him hope. He calls out in into the crowd:

‘Jesus, Son of David – have mercy on me.’

Jesus has so many names and titles. For a Jew, the name Son of David was absolutely loaded with meaning. God chose David to be the King of Israel, they were waiting for a Son of David to succeed him.

But it’s not just about family heritage, this was their hope for a better future, God’s promise to restore Israel. In Jesus, this restoration was not a physical one, but a spiritual one.

Imagine Bartimaeus yelling into the crowd using Jesus’ Royal name, to the Jews he may as well be yelling ‘Your majesty, King Jesus, Messiah – the one who came to save us from our sins, help me.’ Bartimaeus is proclaiming Jesus as the long-awaited Saviour to the whole crowd. He was causing a bit of a ruckus.

Who was in the crowd anyway, what does the bible tell us about them?

Towards the end of his ministry we know that Jesus had a huge following and by what we read in Mark Ch.10 of the way they protected Jesus from approaching members of the public – even children – Jesus was treated a bit like royalty. There would have been so many thousands of poor and sick people coming to Jesus for healing, they were probably over it!

I remember living in Sydney in the lead up to the 2000 Olympics, there was a concerted effort by Sydney City Council to clear the homeless people off the streets so that visitors would not be put off by the poor living on the pavement. I remember growing up in Sydney I would often walk past homeless people, at a young age it was a very scary and confronting sight. I often wondered why they were in that situation. Was it drugs or alcohol abuse that had caused their problems – what had they done wrong?

When I first experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness for myself – my perception of the homeless changed a fair bit. I had a sense of God’s compassion for them regardless of what wrong they might have done. But I was tormented by the fact that I couldn’t help them and felt guilty for walking straight by. If I gave them money, would it feed their addiction? Why couldn’t our charities or social services keep them off the street? I can relate to the crowd who walks by; feeling powerless to help the needy.

There was a belief among the Jews during that time; that those who had serious disabilities had obviously done something wrong to provoke God’s anger and they were cursed. A beggar on the street received no mercy.

In Jericho on this day when Jesus and his followers went past; the people in the crowd heard Bartimaeus cry for mercy – they shushed him. They didn’t want this man to get Jesus’ attention.

Why didn’t the crowd help Bartimaeus?

It was well known that Jesus could heal and raise people from death to life – why didn’t the crowd pick up Bartimaeus and carry him to Jesus for healing? Was Bartimaeus not good enough to enter Jesus’ presence to ask for his sight? Didn’t they believe that Jesus could heal him? Or did they feel guilty and ashamed, (as I did), that they could not provide for his needs; and instead wanted to sweep the homeless under the carpet, silence him on the sideline?

This crowd of people leaving Jericho were on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. Now, Jericho was a bit like a holiday resort in Jesus’ time, it even had tropical palm trees – many Jewish Priests spent their time-off there because of its warm climate. So when it was time to go back to work at the temple for Passover, there would have been a huge crowd of religious people taking the journey along with Jesus and his disciples.  So, this is the crowd of people that tell Bartimaeus to be quiet; this crowd of religious people did not show him any mercy.

But God is merciful; and he listens to our call for help.

Even though Bartimaeus can’t see, he can still see Jesus.

Bartimaeus could hear the whispers in the crowd that Jesus of Nazareth was coming. He calls out again ‘Jesus, Son of David – have mercy on me!’

Jesus stops in his tracks and asks the crowd to call him.

They say ‘Cheer up, on your feet, he’s calling you.’

Nobody helps him up, they don’t need to – he jumps to his feet, throws off anything that would weigh him down – he throws off his cloak and goes straight to Jesus. Jesus does a remarkable thing by asking him ‘what do you want me to do?’

It is obvious what he wants – but Jesus wants Bartimaeus to ASK, IN FAITH for the miracle of healing. If we look at the account in Luke (18:43) it says ‘Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.’ If we were to pray in faith for such a thing and we received immediate healing – imagine the impact on our families and friends who witness it, praising God for what he had done. The miracle gives glory to God.

Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if that amazing mother raising her children alone and nearly blind could have had her sight fully restored to her; but she was grateful to the surgeons for what they were able to do. It is hard to understand why some people are healed and other continue to suffer.

Bartimaeus is so grateful to Jesus for fully restoring his sight, bringing him out of poverty, and giving him the freedom to live as he chose to. What he chose to do was to follow Jesus all the way to Jerusalem. Bartimaeus asks for mercy; is healed and is then called into God’s service. The miracle gives glory to God.

This shows us that it is not enough to come to Christ for healing, but, when we are healed, we must continue to follow him, all the way. I wonder how far did Bartimaeus follow Jesus? To Jerusalem, to the cross, during times of despair and abandonment? After the resurrection, Jesus would rise to heaven. Surely Bartimaeus will follow him there too.

In Isaiah 35:5 it says ‘The Son of David, when he should come to save us, would open the eyes of the blind’. Those religious people in the crowd, upon witnessing this miracle would have known this Jewish prophecy. Jesus’ purpose as Saviour of the people would have been revealed to them through this miracle. When they reached their destination in Jerusalem, this purpose was fulfilled in a way they could never have imagined. Not freedom from blindness, sickness or oppression; but freedom from sin and death.

In the gospels, Jesus heals both physical and spiritual blindness. You might recall the account of Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:18), when he came to know Christ it was described as ‘something like scales falling from his eyes, and he could see again.’

Saul was a ruthless person who enjoyed persecuting Christians – during his dramatic conversion he suffered temporary blindness that was healed when he came to Christ. Saul became Paul, the founding father of the early Christian church – proclaiming the gospel to everyone, bringing people in need to Christ.

In this case, it was the crowd in Jericho who were spiritually blind. Many of them would follow Jesus but would not bring the needy to him. Are we like the crowd where we know Jesus, we know what he can do – yet we only bring people to Jesus when they ask.

To be healed of spiritual blindness is to be able to see that people need Jesus and to then bring them to him for healing – not leaving them in despair.

Jesus has compassion for the weak and poor, but he also has grace and mercy for those who are struggling because of the wrong things they have done.

Jesus has mercy for people with physical and spiritual needs. This message gives me hope. It’s a wonderful message of hope that is for everybody.

The purpose of the miracle was to proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God, just as he was about to enter Jerusalem and face death on the cross. So that many would turn to him and praise God for what he had done. It was not just to teach us to show compassion or to give to the poor – whatever Jesus did was to give Glory to God. This is the example that Jesus gives us, to obey God in selfless acts of love – to the point that he gave up his life for us.

Isn’t it just like Jesus to see past our physical weaknesses, to look at our inward attitude? Just like the single mum who is practically blind, caring for her children in love and finding joy in each day. Hope is a precious thing for those who suffer. Our faith in Jesus – who suffered death on the cross – is what heals us of our spiritual blindness and gives glory to God. Our hope is eternal.

Shouldn’t we bring that message of hope, by not silencing the gospel message to those in need; but deliver it with love and compassion? We are able to help people up, on their way to follow Jesus – but only he can heal us.

Lord help us to show your love and compassion to those around us. Help us to see people’s need for Jesus to heal them and give them hope for their lives. Help us to follow you with thankful hearts, all the way to eternal life. Amen.