Loving God, your light dazzles and confuses the arrogant, yet gives hope to the beggar and sight to those who live in shadows. Count us among the sight-impaired beggars, that by the word of Jesus we may see more clearly, share more generously the good things you have done for us, and by faith anticipate what more you have in store for us. Through this same Jesus of Nazareth. Amen!
Its Spring in Jericho, one of the oldest city sites in the world. Under a blue sky the palm trees are rustling in a slight breeze, the clear waters of the abundant springs are rippling through the town aqueducts and gutters. The shopkeepers are busy displaying their wares, people greet each other with "Salam" and gather in clusters to gossip or bargain, and a young Rabbi and his disciples set out on a fateful journey to Jerusalem.
As they leave the city, a blind beggar who is sitting in his favourite spot under a shady tree, cries out for some mercy. Some tell him to stop whingeing and to shut up.
Bartimaeus was a nobody!
Anyone in his day who was disabled or not quite right in some way was seen as unproductive, a burden to their peers and they were thought of as cursed by God. Disabled people couldn't mix in normal society; there were even religious laws that kept them out of the temple.
There were certainly NO paralympics in his day! No Equal Opportunity Commissions, no watchdogs or ombudsmen to make sure there was a fair go given to all.
With our current medical understanding and our hindsight we can see that people like Bartimaeus were outcasts through no fault of their own and had to suffer the double tragedies of disability with no help and being significantly cut off from society. But it was very different in his day!
We like to think that we know and do better in our enlightened times, but I'm sure we still categorize people and stigmatize those who aren't so well off. The roads still display the pecking order of society. At the top of the scale, money wise, are your Maybach, Ferrari and Rolls drivers Some one drives a Mercedes or a BM - they've been doing well enough,
Your average, doing OK folks in their recent Commodore /Falcon/ Camrys, those who are doing tough in knocked about old bombs.
But as we travel on our roads even today, who are the lowest ranked?
Who comes at the bottom of the scale?
The scruffy one at the side of the road hitching a ride. The sort that you'd think no one would stop for, This is Bartimaeus, he was the sort of person you wouldn't want disturbing the peace, tell him to be quiet, for god's sake, some in the crowd were saying, we don't want him distracting Jesus.
So it should be something of a surprise to us that Bartimaeus, the last person we'd expect anything from, Blind begging, Bartimaeus is the one who shows great faith.
His faith is in sharp contrast to the disciples. The disciples were, in many ways blind to Jesus, even still, but the physically blind Bartimaeus could in a sense, see the truth about Jesus, he was the one to share in the miracle of enlightenment.
Just before this episode the disciples, James and John had asked for outrageous personal favors from Jesus. And the contrast makes me wonder what would we ask for? Favors for ourselves or better sight.
Perhaps you would indeed ask for better sight: That you might more clearly see the path Christ takes through the maze of this complex and often confusing twenty first century.
That you might :have better insight into how to express the faith in word and actions?
Clearer insight on when to speak and when to be silent on moral issues?
When to stubbornly dig your heels in and when to compromise for Christs sake?
See how to be better stewards of your gifts, education, life experience and possessions?
How to best serve Christ in the cause of the needs in our society.
That you might see though all the hype, and be able to make the right decisions, on matters like euthanasia, genetic engineering, or even tax paying.
Who would cry aloud: "Rabbi Jesus, I want to see!"
This is the last of the healing miracles in Marks gospel.
Bartimaeus stands at the end of this aspect of Jesus ministry and shows us that it is those who exercise their faith in Jesus who see the truth and find the reality of the kingdom.
"Go, your faith has made you well"
It all seems to hang on faith. And faith has to be something deeper than the sort of optimism economists have that the stock market won't crash.
Faith is a central concept for Christians. I remember as a teenager trying to come to terms with what Christianity was really about.
One of the hardest things to get a grip of was this business of faith.
You had to have faith.
Even faith the size of a mustard seed was enough to move mountains - but I couldn't move mountains.
But then faith was a gift - did I have the gift??
The questions could go on and on.
There are some 491 references to faith in the Bible, according to my concordance, so there must be something important to be said about it.
I had to realize though, that there was no "one definition" or easy answer. When biblical writers speak about the nature of faith, there's most often a story, or the example of particularly faithful person.
A person like Job or an example like blind Bartimaeus.
Faith is not a set of knowledge which can be learnt, but there's much to be gained in leaning about faith.
Faith is not a possession which can be traded for or bought, but there's nothing wrong with seeking faith.
Faith is not just the same as having an optimistic outlook, but it should have a positive element.
Faith is not the opposite of doubt, but doubt can be a healthy element of faith.
Faith is a process, sometimes it's on-again, off-again, it's not being sure where you're going, but going anyway. It's something of a journey without a sure map.
Faith is something that is exercised as we live and trust. It happens as a the story unfolds and sometimes we don't even see the faith that we have until we look back with hindsight.
May our faith become more simple, like that of Bartimaeus.
May our faith become more firm and help us to know what we really need, to see with the eyes of faith, in Jesus, our Christ.