The truth is that I cannot imagine being blind. I cannot begin to think what it must be like to have no eyesight; never to see the sky, or the trees, or other people. I once watched a blind man walking along the footpath. He came to an intersection and there had been some road works. With his white stick he tapped on the kerb, and then set off – into the middle of the road. Two or three cars came driving along and went round him. The blind man reached out with his stick but found nothing he recognised. He turned around, but could not find any landmark. In the end he shouted out, “Will someone help me get out of the road?” And someone walked out to him and helped him on his way.
Today we meet another blind man, Bartimaeus, the beggar of Jericho.
Jesus is on his way to his Passion, Death and Resurrection. He told his disciples three times that “the Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands and they will kill him and three days after being killed he will rise again.” But the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying.
They could not see what following Jesus meant. The could see the healings, the miracles, the teaching, but they could not see the salvation.
And now, today, they have reached Jericho, which is twenty kilometres from Jerusalem. It is a very steep and winding road from Jericho to Jerusalem, a dangerous road, for it is the road where the traveller in the good Samaritan parable fell into the hands of robbers. And at the end of this road lies Jerusalem, where Jesus will die.
Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho, and the blind beggar, Bartimaeus, hears that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. The amazing this was that although he was blind, he saw better than the disciples! The disciples were on the road to Jerusalem, but they couldn’t see why. But the blind beggar knew – this was Jesus the Son of David, the one who comes in the name of the Lord. And he began to shout, “Jesus son of David, have mercy on me.” The crowd tried to silence him, but he shouted all the louder, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.”
Of all the people in this section of the gospel it was an outsider, a blind beggar who could see best of all that Jesus was the one who could give him his heart’s desire. Bartimaeus could see salvation.
So when Jesus called him, he jumped up and came to Jesus. Now, in those days, professional beggars like Bartimaeus would have little place set up beside the road. Sometimes you see the same sort of thing in George Street. Bartimaeus had a place by the roadside, away from other beggars. He had a cloak that he wrapped around himself to keep out the cold at night, he might have had some food and drink, perhaps a begging bowl. This was his security. In his dark world, when he had his cloak, his bowl, his familiar place, he knew where he was.
But Bartimaeus sprang up and came to Jesus. That was a dangerous thing for a blind man.He left his place by the roadside – he couldn’t see to find his way back. He left his cloak – he could never find it again. He might have been going in the wrong direction, he might have tripped over a stone or he might have run headlong into some other person. Bartimaeus abandoned all that kept him safe and came to Jesus. His eyes may have been blind, but he knew exactly where he was going.
And Jesus tested him, asking, “What do you want me to do for you?” Quick as a flash the blind man said, “My teacher, let me see again.”
Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way. John’s gospel records that Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Here Bartimaeus, when you compare him to the disciples, knows that Jesus is the way and follows Jesus. Jesus did not ask him to follow. Bartimaeus is the blind man who could see, he could see better that all the others what it meant to be a disciple of Christ.
I wonder how clearly we see Jesus. If we are honest we will admit that we all have our blind side. None of us can see perfectly, St Paul says it is like looking in a murky mirror.
Every one of us likes to feel secure, safe, protected. It could be said that we too have our place by the roadside, with our cloak and begging bowl.
And, like Bartimaeus, we are calling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Let us pray that we may be more like Bartimaeus. May we see clearly the promise Christ has for us. May we see clearly the road in front of us. May we spring up with courage and take the road.
And when, at the end of our worship together, we say, …, let’s throw away our cloak, leave our place by the roadside, and with true sight restored, follow Jesus on the way.