Encountering Jesus: A Blind Beggar

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Mark 10:51-52

And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Master, let me receive my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

Mark 10:51-52 rsv

Most of us enjoy every day the priceless gift of vision. We can see. Have you ever pondered what it would be like to be blind? Ever considered how life must seem to friends and acquaintances who are sightless? Sometimes the effort to put ourselves in someone else’s place like that can open up for us a new dimension in life.

I remember reading years ago a book entitled Black Like Me. It told the story of a man who had his skin so treated that he seemed, even to close observers, to be black. He wanted to find out how it would feel to be seen and treated as a member of a minority group. He wanted to learn first hand about racial prejudice. I’ve heard also of psychologists creeping on the floor for long periods of time in an effort to appreciate a small child’s view of the world.

My closest touch with the experience of blindness came once in what is called a trust walk. I was securely blindfolded and then led about by a guide. My instructions were to relax and commit myself completely to his care. I remember how I began to notice acutely the messages coming through my other senses and also how dependent I felt on the person leading me.

Experiences like those give us just a hint of what blindness must be. We discover that there are dangers of which the blind cannot be aware, beauties they cannot appreciate, and most of all, dearly loved faces they cannot recognize. We read today of a man who was so afflicted: blind Bartimaeus who lived in the ancient city of Jericho. He was a beggar. In our time, many blind people enjoy opportunities which he never knew. Especially since the days of Helen Keller, a number of sightless persons have been given the means to develop their skills and to live richly productive lives. But it wasn’t so for Bartimaeus. In his day, there was nothing a blind man could do but beg. Listen to his story told in the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Mark, beginning at verse 46:

And they came to Jericho; and as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great multitude, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 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!” And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; rise, he is calling you.” And throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Master, let me receive my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.

A CRY OF NEED

Sounds like an eyewitness account, doesn’t it? Look at Bartimaeus, sitting by a dusty thoroughfare outside the city of Jericho. He seems like just another beggar. But in the words we have just read, he’s somehow transformed for me. I see him now as a man in deep need who seized a great opportunity. Surely he had a need, didn’t he, an aching, poignant human need, one which he felt deeply, which every blind person must feel. I have read that once a mighty emperor, after having accidentally put out the eyes of one of his servants, offered to compensate him with royal gifts. The servant seemed unaffected. All he kept saying was, “I wish I had my eyes! I wish I had my eyes!”

Now here is a kind of need no friend, no doctor, no human agency can possibly meet. All of us have some needs like that, don’t we? We may be physically whole but yet we often miss the way in life and need to be forgiven. Or we crave release from some bondage, but we’ve been seeking it in vain. Perhaps we need a sense of meaning, some purpose in life which nothing around us seems to supply. There’s something in your life and situation you long to change but you feel helpless to do it.

One day, to this man Bartimaeus, there came a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was one of those rare occasions in an otherwise humdrum, routine existence when things can suddenly change dramatically, when life can be different, when something new can open up before us. Bartimaeus heard a commotion around him; he sensed excitement in the air and asked what it was all about. “It’s Jesus of Nazareth,” said someone. “He’s going by now.” The words went through Bartimaeus like an electric shock. He had heard strange tales of this man’s deeds, how the crippled had thrown away their crutches, how the deaf heard and the blind saw, how even funerals had been canceled. He trembled with excitement: “Here’s my chance,” he thought. Without a moment’s hesitation, he began to cry out at the top of his voice. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” When a group of bystanders tried to quiet him, he shouted all the more loudly.

Whatever else we may say about him, here was a man who evidently longed for help, cried out for it, and refused to be discouraged or intimidated. He believed that though others didn’t care about him, perhaps this Jesus would. And so this obscure, afflicted man becomes a picture for us of what it is to seize life’s greatest opportunity, what it is to act in faith.

A CRITICAL CROWD

Look for a moment at the crowd that tried to silence Him. Perhaps some were hostile to Jesus and resented the title of honor given Him, Son of David. “Shut up, blind man, you blasphemer!” they railed. They were sure that nothing could be done for this man anyway.

Others may have thought he was only after money. “Quit your begging,” they jeered. They didn’t understand his cry. They didn’t know what he really wanted. How easy it is for us to assign the worst of motives to people who cry out in their distress. Some interpret the appeals of welfare mothers, for example, only as pleas to be lazy and promiscuous. Some dismiss the prophets who call for social justice simply as troublemakers.

I suppose there were others who saw Bartimaeus simply as a nuisance. They were in the crowd to see the famous prophet, not to be disturbed by one more beggar. What did this man matter? What did his condition have to do with Jesus anyway? Perhaps even the disciples wondered about that. They were concerned for their master, eager to protect His privacy, to shield Him from being bothered. They knew that tremendous things were on His mind. Remember how at times they tried even to keep children away from Him?

In our day, the churches, at least some well-meaning people in them, often seem to act in a similar way. “Please, let’s not have anyone poorly dressed or noisy or disturbing here in church. They might be offensive to the Lord,” as though God would be less welcoming toward people who aren’t middle class, conventional and neatly dressed!

A CARING LORD

Note how Jesus reacts to the situation. Remember what He has been going through. His face has been set toward Jerusalem. His disciples are awestruck at this determination on His part. The cross is only a few days away. Gethsemane and Golgotha loom up before Him. His mind and heart are occupied with enormous issues. If ever anyone could be excused for being preoccupied, caught up in his own thoughts, it would surely have been Jesus at a time like this. And yet He heard the blind man’s cry. In spite of all the noise around Him, He heard. He listened to the cry of one man. He listened with a love that singled out that person.

More than that, He actually stopped. Think of it – a blind beggar could stop Jesus on His way to Jerusalem, on His way to accomplish the salvation of the world! No one else could have, surely not His enemies or even His well-meaning friends. But this poignant cry of need could. Jesus’ stopping said to the blind man, “I’m turning all My attention on you. You are an important person to Me.”

How much all of us need to know that! We crave respect, don’t we? We long to know that we’re persons of worth, that we matter to someone. And Jesus’ stopping on the Jericho Road says that to all of us. Imagine it: the Lord can be interrupted. Apparently the great issues can wait. The Lord of heaven and earth has time for us. Jesus demonstrated here that every kind of human need is His urgent business.

That seems strange to us. What is this incident by the road compared to the vast panorama about to unfold in Jerusalem? Nothing, it would seem. But yet it was something significant and crucial to Him. That’s good to know, isn’t it? It can almost make us believe that our own cries for help will be heard and answered.

Notice what happens when the blind man and Jesus get together. The Master says, “Call him.” He’s going to test his faith, his eagerness. And Bartimaeus is equal to the test. We see him throwing off his mantle, springing up and coming to Jesus. Have you ever thought of what an act of faith that must have been – for a blind man to jump up and start running?

Jesus’ first word to him was a question, “What do you want me to do for you?” That seems a strange thing to ask, doesn’t it? The need of this blind man must have been obvious. Bartimaeus could have been asking for money, of course. But the question of Jesus probed to a deeper level. Did he really want to be healed? Was he ready to leave his begging and step out into a new world of responsibility? That wasn’t a question to be shrugged off.

What about us? Do we deeply want to be healed, cleansed, set free? Sometimes we can hug those problems of ours to ourselves. We can become almost dependent on them. We can make them an excuse for copping out, hiding from the pressures of life. But Bartimaeus knew what he wanted. He asked for it. He received it. And then he gladly followed the One who had given him light.

Now it’s true that this man lived long ago and far away, but there’s something about his encounter with Jesus that is fresh and contemporary. People wonder today, and maybe you do too, what the church really is, what’s it all about. What’s the point of all these religious organizations, these evangelistic efforts, these gospel broadcasts? What do they all say to people nearing the end of this century, this millennium?

JESUS IS PASSING BY

I suppose that most of all, we who present the Christian faith want to say what someone said to Bartimaeus that day, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” That’s the heart of our message. The One who died once for us is alive again and is here right now. Wherever Christians gather, in cathedrals, in chapels, in homes, in caves, wherever the Word is preached or gossiped, wherever the good news is offered, wherever God’s people walk and witness, oh, believe that Jesus Christ is there, passing by. And He is still the living Lord, the present One, mighty to save.

But the presence of the Lord is never obtrusive. Jesus doesn’t force Himself on you or on anyone else. He stands and knocks, He says. He waits. He calls. And as here, He passes by. And when you hear the Good News of His great love for you, when His gift of new life is offered to you, then out of the deepest need you feel in your life, whatever that may be, call on Him. Here, Oh believe it, is your day of opportunity, right now!

There may be people around you to discourage you, pressures to distract you, voices that seem to say, “This is not for you.” Or maybe you hesitate because you feel unworthy or just insignificant. Don’t worry about that. Lift your prayer to Him anyway. Jesus Christ will hear you. Remember Bartimaeus. He’ll stop for you. Why, He would suspend the stars in their courses to listen to one person like you!

O friends, if we could only realize that it’s life’s biggest moment when Jesus passes by! For you, it’s right now. This is the time. The word of grace is sounding in your ears. Jesus of Nazareth is very near. Wherever you are, in your heart of hearts, call on Him right now. As surely as you are hearing the Word of this message, Jesus is passing by. Let Him hear now the cry of your heart.

Prayer: O Lord, let everyone hearing this program today know how near You are and call on You in this day of great opportunity. In the name of Jesus. Amen.