You will recall from last week's gospel reading and sermon, that Jesus is walking to Jerusalem with his disciples to face his death. He is already suffering the emotional stress of what he is to undergo, so much that he is walking ahead of everyone, which was unusual for him, causing them to be anxious about what is going on. Because of the route he has taken, he is headed for Jericho, so he can approach Jerusalem from the East along the Jericho road. However many disciples may have been with him, by the time they get to Jericho, a crowd is gathering to go up to the city, for it is time for the Passover.
As was probably his custom, a poor blind man - according to Mark's rendition - was sitting along their route and as he heard the crowd coming, he overheard the mention of the name of Jesus, and he started to wonder if maybe Jesus was part of the crowd passing. He would have heard of Jesus and his miraculous healing - even to the point of healing a man who had been born blind. He may have thought that, if Jesus could heal that blind man, he could probably heal him as well.
Let's pick up the narrative, and as we do so, I will make comments along the way and then wind things up noting a few lessons we learn here.
46 And they came to Jericho. And as he [Jesus] was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Now Bartimaeus' cry is very important, for it reveals something of his faith, about which Jesus will soon speak. He, first of all, believes enough about Jesus' ability that he has hope that he may be healed. His persistence, in spite of the discouragements from the crowd, show the strength of his conviction, as well, probably, the depth of his longing to see again. I think it can be said that the deeper we feel our need, the stronger will be our faith and hope in our Lord's mercy and the stronger will be our cry to him. But notice also how Bartimaeus addresses him, "Jesus, Son of David." This is a very important Messianic title, for it represents the fact that Jesus is David's descendant and greater son, the one whom David called both his son and his Lord; he who bears this official title is the Messiah come to restore David's heritage and throne. How rarely do we see this title in the gospels! Mark has it only 3 times, and two of them are here. This man may have been blind, but he saw more than most. Like Peter, he was given grace by the Father in Heaven to recognize that Jesus was the promised Messiah. His cry for mercy and hope for healing was based, not only in the depth of his felt need, and in the conviction based on the stories he had heard, but on his own theological understanding of just who this person was - of course he heals the blind! Is not the Spirit of God upon him to bring healing, since he is the Messiah? And so he cries out.
And of all the things going on around him, this one thing stops Jesus in his determined tracks.
49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.”
Ah! Now here we may have a clue as to why Mark includes this story and why he names this beggar, elevating him to a point of recognition in the Church. Does not Jesus's question ring a bell? Had not Jesus just asked this question of James and John, as we read last week: "What is it that you want me to do for you?" James and John wanted positions of prominence in the kingdom. Bartimaeus could have asked for that, too; or for anything else he pleased. But his request was much more simple: "Lord, I just want to be able to see again." That's all. What a contrast between these two answers to the same question.
52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.
And here we have this beautiful end of this vignette. Bartimaeus could have ventured off now to go see everything he had ever wanted to see, as he had suffered through the years in his poverty and blindness. But what does he do? He just wants to keep his eyes on Jesus. Oh, friends, he who is forgiven much loves much, as Jesus said. And he who has been much comforted loves much as well. Do we, as Jeremiah in his Lamentation, remember the wormwood and the gall of our own past, and how we cried out to Jesus for mercy, and he gave his comfort to our afflicted souls. O friends, let us never forget how good Jesus has been to us, and let's keep him where he belongs in our lives and in our hearts, foremost, right out in front, the object of our chief attention, faith, obedience, and love. For he is worthy now and forever.
But now, having gone through this story, I want us to note for a few minutes a few particular lessons we learn from Bartimaeus' example for Christian prayer. When Bartimaeus, poor and blind, called out to Jesus to have mercy upon him, he was praying. Prayer is bringing our cares and needs to Jesus. And Bartimaeus was good at praying, for he received from the Lord what he asked for.
He thus gives us a good pattern for our own prayers. I find three lessons for us here:
First: if there's anything that he teaches us, it is his earnestness. As soon as he was aware of his opportunity, he cried out. He persisted when discouraged. And when he had his audience, he threw aside hindrance and "sprang up" to meet with Jesus. The apostle James tells us that The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. (James 5:16) and he gives Elijah as an example. James could have used Bartimaeus as well, for it was that earnest and repeated cry, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" that arrested our Lord's attention and resulted in the answer to his prayer.
Ah, friends, we don't have to be worked up into an emotional frenzy in all our prayers, but is there a particular request you wish to make of the Lord that you know is important. Then let us seek grace - perhaps adding fasting to our praying if need be - to have the earnestness in our petitions that is befitting the importance of our request, with the confidence that it will make a difference. The Lord's teaching is plain about this.
Next, Bartimaeus shows us the critical element of being definite in our requests. When Jesus asked him what he wanted, he went straight to the point: "Rabboni, or my Lord, that I may receive my sight." There is an excellent chapter in Andrew Murray's book, With Christ in the School of Prayer, to which I call your attention about being definite in prayer. He mentions a habit, with which we are all familiar, of being indefinite in our praying, simply asking God's will be done, whatever that is, and so be it. There will be times when we do not know what God's will may be in a matter, and so we pray "thy will be done," and trust that the Holy Spirit in us will offer the proper prayer, making up for our weakness (as we read in Romans 8:26). But how would that prayer have sounded in Bartimaeus' mouth? Jesus asked him, "what would you have me to do," and he replies "Rabbi, I don't know, whatever you want, your will be done." Would he not have instead received more of a rebuke for his little faith than healing from Jesus? The Lord bids us ask, seek, and knock that we may have the petitions we desire of him. When he comes to the door, we'd better know what we are there for.
Why does our Lord want us to be definite? Murray says, "He desires it for our own sakes. Such definite prayer teaches us to know our own needs better. It demands time, and thought, and self-scrutiny to find out what really is our greatest need. It searches us and puts us to the test as to whether our desires are honest and real, such as we are ready to persevere in. It leads us to judge whether our desires are according to God's Word, and whether we really believe that we shall receive the things we ask. It helps us to wait for the special answer, and to mark when it comes." (p. 56). I would love to quote Murray more from his chapter on Mark 10 and Bartimaeus' request, but we lack the time, so do look that up yourself.
Bartimaeus teaches us to be earnest in our prayer, to be definite, and finally to have faith. We expect this, do we not? Jesus was always responding to people according to their faith, "According to your faith be it unto you," he might say. We read in the book of Hebrews, 11:6: But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (By the way; note that final phrase "those who diligently seek him;" there is that earnestness of which we have spoken.). Yes, we know we must have faith. Bartimaeus believed that Jesus could and hopefully would heal him, but not at the very moment of asking. When Jesus says his faith had made him whole, the faith he refers to is the faith that he had already demonstrated in calling him the Son of David. Bartimaeus had the faith to be healed, he was simply exercising that faith in his prayer, in his request of his Lord.
How may we have faith when we pray to receive the answer we seek? Friends, there's no better way than to simply bring along with our requests the promises the Lord has already given us in his word - and they are abundant! They are not only expressly stated throughout the Scriptures - and to our minds especially in the gospels - but implied by everything the Lord tells us to do. Every promise, in all the Bible, in Jesus Christ, God considers a "yeah and amen" to our requests in prayer. And rest assured, the very act of going to Jesus in the first place - as Bartimaeus does here- is an expression of faith, whether we feel we have faith or not. Let's not pray looking at our feelings, but remembering the promises and looking to the merciful and loving hand of our Lord, who gives us all things richly to enjoy according to his will for us, as St. John says in his first epistle, I John 5:13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
So, dear friends, let us follow the example of our dear brother, Bartimaeus, and be earnest, be definite, and be believing in our prayers, as we keep our eyes upon our Lord, and follow him, carrying our daily cross after him, to glory, Amen.