There’s no telling how many Passover Pilgrimages he had worked; no way of knowing how many times he had set himself up for maximum exposure. All Bartimaeus knew was that he wanted to be visible. He wanted to make sure that his begging was successful and that meant putting himself in just the right place so that the most people would have to encounter him on the Jericho / Jerusalem road. This may have been the best part of the year for him, more revenue that any other because thousands would come by as they made their way to the festival of Passover in Jerusalem.
I guess that I imagined, having told a Parable about this road, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus would probably stop and help. But for Jesus this was not just any trip. He was going to his death and the pilgrimage was one that many people took, so the road was crowded, not just with pilgrims but those like Bartimaeus who sought to prey on the hearts of those who were on their way to the temple. This small, all most inconspicuous story about a beggar, has many ways in which to understand and many lessons to be learned.
When I went to seminary, I knew that at some level I was wonderful. God called me and many people had affirmed that call; my parish, the Standing Committee of the Diocese, the Commission on Ministry and the Bishop had all agreed that God called me. I had grown up in the south but in a family who welcomed all and who taught me to value all people. One of the things that I found in seminary was how blind I was and still am. In seminary we began our first year with huge amounts of reading for every class, papers, test and social and spiritual obligations like chapel. We also had something called “tutorial”. This was sort of a one-on-one class. It required several hundred pages about one subject and then to write a paper, and present that paper to a tutor. The subject matter varied from session to session.
One of the tutorials was on liberation theology. The main author was James Cone. Liberation theology is about the oppressed and how God sees them. Coming from the south I wanted to make sure that my tutor understood how good and open I was. I wrote my paper and defended my self. Somewhere in the middle of reading this paper on how good and open I was, it occurred to me that maybe I was protesting too much, even for myself.
It all of a sudden occurred to me how blind I was. What came to me was the realization that I was prejudiced, not so much around issues of black or white, or male or female; my prejudice concerned beggars. On the street outside the seminary and throughout New York there were beggars. These people survived each day by getting money from those who had more. I realized that I had something they wanted; something they needed. I could give them some money, a dollar or two and they would be happy and I would feel pretty good about myself. But one thing had never occurred to me. It never crossed my mind that maybe they had something to offer to me. Their humanity, that which God created and loves never crossed my mind. How Blind?
Bartimaeus and the experience of the miracle that took place in his life can teach a great deal about how God works. There are several things that are truth about how God works in our lives. One truth is that Bartimaeus knew he was blind. Maybe that is as important as anything; to realize my blindness. No one can get well if they do not believe there is a problem. I want to suggest that each of you are blind, each of you, in your own way are blind to something. If healing, the healing that Jesus calls us to, is to take place, then the first thing you need to do is recognize your blindness. Where is it that you are not living out what God wants for you? Where in your relationship with God or with work or with family do you need God's healing touch? Each week we gather and each week we come to this thing called the confession. How many of you are ready when we come to that confession? Have you prepared in any way to go before God with what you have failed in?
Bartimaeus also placed himself in the right place. He was prepared not just by putting himself in the right place but also by crying out to the Lord. Jesus proclaims that Bartimaeus was healed because of his faith. Not some pie in the sky faith but a tangible faith; a faith of action. Bartimaeus was healed because he knew his need and he placed himself in Jesus' presence and he asked and in that moment he was healed.
Every person in this room needs healing. Maybe it is in your relationship with your spouse. Maybe it is in attitude, the way that the world affects you. Maybe it is in addiction or maybe physically. God's healing touch and God reconciling love is for you. “Go; your faith has made you well.”