Bartimaeus and friends

A sermon from my rather limited archives, preached at St Peter’s Episcopal Church, Lakewood, OH, in October 2009

This morning’s readings are full of happy endings. Job’s fortunes are restored, and Bartimaeus, once blind, can now see. But these happy endings have consequences beyond Job and Bartimaeus themselves. Job’s entire friends and family are enriched by his restoration. And the people who witness Bartimaeus’ faith and healing are encouraged and inspired.

“Take heart; he is calling to you.”

Bartimaeus has been sitting by the roadside, camping out on the sidewalk like someone waiting for the sales to open, waiting for Jesus to pass by. The crowds around him probably didn’t take too much notice of him, until he began to yell.
He heard the train of disciples begin to pass by on their way out of Jericho. It was probably quite a spectacle; we’re told that Jesus left Jericho with a large crowd. He’d created quite a stir in that city. There was plenty of commotion.
But above all of this Bartimaeus could be heard yelling, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
And did the people around him say, “Take heart, get up, he is calling to you!”?

Well, no.
They said, shhh. Be quiet. You’re embarrassing us. Don’t bother him. Don’t bother us.

The crowd is enjoying a spectacle, a circus, a novelty. But Bartimaeus is a challenge. He is invoking the name of the Messiah, Jesus, Son of David, and he is making it personal, have mercy on me.
Bartimaeus’ faith is not in crowds or commotion, bells and whistles, smoke and mirrors, or campaign rallies. Bartimaeus’ faith is in the person of Jesus, the man who embodies God with us. And person to person he prays, “have mercy on me”.

Bartimaeus knew that small voices can have a big impact. He knew that he as an individual was made in God’s image, was part of God’s plan, and that his life mattered in the story of Jesus. Was that overreaching pride? Or simply a marvelous gift of faith?

A couple of weeks ago, some of us had a conversation upstairs in the lounge with [some people] about the way in which their faith influences and supports their work, and what struck me about each of them was their faithfulness. They know that they can’t solve society’s problems, or even the problems of all of the individuals whom they personally serve. But they also know that by faithful persistence they do make a difference. Sometimes they know when they achieve a breakthrough, and make things better for someone. Sometimes they have to have faith that they have done their best, and leave the rest up to God. They know that their part is to persevere with faith, with faithfulness, knowing that they are part of God’s plan, that their work matters in the bringing of justice, mercy and peace to this world.
Today, we gather in the fruits of the Share the Blessings initiative. How much difference to the city of Cleveland, we might ask, does it make to buy a pair of pants, some shirts, a winter coat? I don’t know about the city, but to some child, one cold day in January, one winter coat, offered in faith, will be making a big personal difference.
And a few weeks ago, we heard about a parish committing themselves to feed 5000 children, following in the way of our Lord to feed God’s people. They know that it’s a drop in the ocean of child poverty! But they also know that the children they feed will sleep better on a full tummy.

And that brings me back to the gospel story. Because already since we heard about that parish in Texas a few weeks ago, we have heard about people who have been inspired by their simple act of faith to offer what help they are able. Like a drop of water running down a window and gathering in the other little drops and growing bigger as it goes, this drop in the ocean of child poverty has gathered other drops, and inspired who knows how many other hidden acts of faithful giving.

What does that have to do with Bartimaeus? Well, as far as I can see, Bartimaeus is not the only person who is healed in this story. Certainly not the only one who is changed. Because look again at the crowd around him. They are shushing him, pushing him down, until Jesus stops and says, “Call him to me.”

Jesus stops, and says, “Call him to me.”

And now, the crowd says, “Take heart! Get up! He is calling to you!”

Their whole demeanor has changed. They are astonished; Bartimaeus was right. Jesus, the Son of David, the anointed of God, the Messiah, cares abut such individuals as these. Cares enough to ask, “What do you want me to do for you?” Cares enough to give the gift of sight to the blind man.

And we’re told that Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way, as his disciple, just as Jesus heads off toward Jerusalem and Holy Week.

Bartimaeus has had faith all along, since he started camping out at the side of the road, waiting for Jesus and his entourage to pass by. He knew that Jesus would hear him, and he would not be silenced. When Jesus calls out to him he has no hesitation in casting off his coat and running to stand before him. And his reward is that his faith makes possible the recovery of his sight.

But the crowd, they’re something else. They have been touched by this encounter, too. When they see Jesus’ action in this man’s life, they are moved from “Don’t bother the man, don’t yell at him,” to “He is calling to you!”
They are moved from “What difference can it make, anyway,” to “Get up! He’s calling to you!”
They have gone, I think, from “Who are you to call upon Jesus” to “Wow! That could have been me.”

“Take heart, he is calling to you.”

The faithfulness of one man, Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, gave Jesus the opportunity to demonstrate God’s mercy, God’s healing, God’s love to a whole crowd of people on that road out of Jericho.
When we are faithful in our actions, when we reflect in our lives what God has done for us, then maybe Jesus can use us to show God’s mercy, God’s glory in ways we may never know or imagine.

Whether it’s showing up to tutor a child, or sharing a meal with a stranger. Whether it’s donating a winter coat or pledging a tithe. Whether it’s a kind word to someone in distress, or prayers for the dying, we don’t know when our own acts of faithfulness, our own drops in the ocean, may become God’s windows to revealing God’s glory to the world.

So as we go out into the world this week, may we remember always to call upon Jesus, the Son of God, to have mercy on us, and trust that we are heard.
As we call upon God, may we be ready to answer God’s call to us.
May we persevere in faith and hope, even when the happy ending is beyond our sight or imagination.
And when we have faith and hope to spare, may we remember to encourage one another: “Take heart. He is calling to you.”

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing (Upper Room Books, 2020). She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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