Lectionary Text: Mark 10:46-52
They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
I am a ‘big picture’ guy —
my default setting is the view from 10,000 feet.
That drives ‘detail’ people crazy, I know.
But today, right now,
we are diving into the details.
The Gospel of Mark
is the shortest and most dramatic
of the four authorized gospels.
Mark is not only the first and earliest
of the four gospels,
he creates the pattern for the others.
But most importantly,
he is the best story-teller.
Now this specific story from Mark
is not much to bark at,
just a homely little story
composed of only ten sentences,
and yet, somehow
a critical gem of cosmic wisdom
is embedded in it.
We should not think this
burlap and canvass story
is unique because it is only
one example of
how littered the Bible is
with juicy little nuggets.
So come with me
on a brief journey
into the details and guts
of one small and plain little story.
The ten sentences we just heard
are the hinge,
literally the pivot
upon which Mark’s whole Gospel swings.
Mark takes ten chapters
to tell us about three years of Jesus’ adult life.
Mark does not bother to include
all that mythology surrounding Jesus’ birth,
and in fact,
as the earliest Gospel,
Mark does not seem to know
anything about those Christmas stories. Hmmm.
Instead, Mark begins with a fully-grown
and matured Jesus
who is suddenly swept up
into am amazing spiritual awakening
and radical relationship with God.
It just starts, BAM,
all of a sudden,
on one day
that is spectacularly different
from all his other days.
Whack, suddenly a new and improved Jesus.
Then Mark takes ten chapters
chocked full of stories that
lead up to Jesus’ fateful decision
to take his road show to Jerusalem.
I am giving you the 10,000 feet perspective
on Mark right now,
and it is important to understanding
what we will uncover in the details.
Mark takes TEN chapters
to tell us about three years in the life
of the adult Jesus.
he takes SIX chapters
the last WEEK
of Jesus’ life.
So, ten chapters for three years
and six chapters for seven days.
between these two episodes,
is the story of Blind Bartimaeus.
This ten-sentence story
is a microcosm
of everything in the ten chapters
leading up to it;
and it is a foretelling of everything
that will be told in the next six chapters.
as if it needed any more juice
to be brimming with juju,
YOU and I are in this little ten-sentence story too.
Here are the pertinent bones on the skeleton.
First, the story of Blind Bartimaeus
takes place on a stage dripping with drama.
Jericho was an incredibly opulent resort city.
It was, in Jesus’ day,
home to the summer palace for King Herod.
We have descriptions of several palaces
and even just the homes there
with their sunken gardens
would make Donald Trump look like a chump.
It is no accident
that the hinge
upon which the big story swings
takes place in Jericho.
Jericho was also
the intersection to the whole world in those parts.
at Jericho two important Roman roads
met like cross hairs in a snipers scope.
There were only a few roads in the world
that could host chariots
and heavy traffic in those days.
It was not like today
when you need a GPS
to decipher which varicose vein
will take you where you need to go.
One Jericho road
went straight to Jerusalem and Damascus,
while the other Jericho road
went all the way to Rome.
You see, Jericho was the intersection –
the point of decision –
for Jesus and his followers.
It was the moment that split
past and present
safety and danger
control and vulnerability.
and they could go home
to the people and places they knew best:
the smaller cities,
villages and towns
where Jesus’ rural images
and down-home zingers
aimed at the principalities and powers
would take them to the people among whom
he was popular and well loved;
it would be safer and wiser.
OR he could turn the parade toward Jerusalem,
that urban citadel
of Roman occupation
and central religious authority.
In that caldron of political and religious power,
Jesus would be viewed with suspicion,
and it would be dangerous,
because trouble-makers and agitators
were rubbed out
like bugs on a picnic table.
So the stage could not have been
more dramatic or evocative:
opulent playground of military
and political power
where the past and future intersect.
It was the moment,
we could say,
where Time stood still.
There are such moments
in human history,
with a longer hang time
for its momentous events
that seem to stand still
just a little longer
and just a little more pulsing
than the moments that surround it.
So, that is the background of the story,
the place where it all happened.
Lurking in this thickened moment
are several of Mark’s central actors
who I want to talk about now.
These are important characters
who actually tell the story
throughout the chapters of Mark’s gospel.
You have heard me talk about this before,
but the Roman Empire
is always lurking around between the lines
in all of Mark’s stories.
It may not have a line to deliver,
but it is always there
just like the foreign occupying force
that it was,
making every day miserable
for Jesus and every other peasant in the world.
Then there are ‘the disciples,’
Jesus’ students and close associates.
We know the twelve famous ones
who were important enough to give names,
but there was also a bigger group,
sometimes numbered at 70.
In Mark’s stories
the disciples are almost always present
and, whether an individual or group,
they serve as a foil
or the brunt of humor.
Mark caricatures the disciples,
as those bubbleheads
who should know better, yet never do.
The disciples, above everyone else,
should “get it”
but they just don’t.
‘The Crowd’ is another feature of Mark,
a character even,
a legion of faceless, nameless, odorless people
who are dependable in their demeanor.
You can see it in this Bartimaeus story.
Jesus and his disciples
AND a large crowd
were leaving Jericho, it says.
as in many of Mark’s stories,
serves here as a narrative witness to the events.
But the crowd,
whether in Jericho, Nazareth or Jerusalem,
share common characteristics.
Usually they are hungry and thirsty,
if not for food then
for a miracle or a magic trick.
And ‘the crowd’
won’t take “no” for an answer.
In this sense ‘the crowd is also a foil.
Jesus, according to Mark,
routinely tries to FLEE“the crowd”.
So, there are the bad guys:
the Roman military authority,
who is a stand-in for the vast Roman Empire.
There are the clueless guys:
who reveal every sorry characteristic
you and I wear in our heads and hearts.
And no Gospel story would be complete without
the needy guys:
the self-centered crowds
focused on their own immediate needs
and clamoring for either a hero or a victim.
Then, just to make it a little more complex,
there is the marginalized guy,
in this case, Blind Bartimaeus.
There is always a Bartimaeus in Mark’s Gospel
but usually unnamed:
a bleeding woman,
a woman with a dying daughter,
a quadriplegic carried on a mat,
a possessed lunatic exiled to a cemetery.
They are quite colorful,
and often these marginalized ones
are the key to the punch line.
So there they all are in these ten little sentences.
Every character appearing in cameo
in a scene so thick with drama
it is a bug in amber
perfectly preserved for us.
the urgently needy,
and the outsider:
All on the same stage of history
all at the same time.
But of course, there is one character
we haven’t named: Jesus.
Jesus represents God.
Not everyone agrees that Mark thinks Jesus is God,
the way Christian doctrine evolved Jesus anyway.
But in Mark’s story,
at the very least,
Jesus represents what is known about God.
We are about to see how that works in this story.
So, we have all the characters
in their places
on the same stage
where history and time are about to intersect.
Let’s see what they all do.
The bad guys,
representing coercive authority
The Romans merely observe the festivities
at Jericho benignly,
and only later,
in the days ahead,
when it perceives a threat,
does it take action.
But when it does act,
it acts swiftly
and with sufficient violence
to snuff out the irritant.
Mark is telling us,
does not risk its hold on power.
Not so distant,
and not lurking so much as
holding the moment,
moves around the scene
and gives definition to its edges.
Children kick up dust.
Some people jeer.
Some people cheer.
The crowd is content
so long as it has a good show.
Like the Buffalo Bills crowd,
it gets surely when it does not have enough
to feed its attention.
The crowd in this story
is following along
being fed and
holding like fingers in a fist
the bad guys, and
those dunderheaded disciples,
play the fool.
How many times
have the disciples witnessed Jesus
respond to people at the margin?
How many times
has Jesus lectured them
about their indifference to suffering –
indifference reminiscent of Coercive Authority?
How many times
has Jesus reminded them
that the first will be last and
the last will be first?
Still, even after ten chapters
and moving into the crescendo of the story,
their knee-jerk reaction
to Blind Bartimaeus
is to stifle him,
“Shut up!” they bark.
After everything they have been through
all they can see is their own parade
and that Jesus is too busy on the stage of history
and making history,
for them to stop for some
It is as if
all of Jesus’ words
have been to no avail, and=have not changed them one iota.
Insiders have a steep learning curve.
But the outsider, Bartimaeus,
will not shut up.
He may be marginalized
but he is not powerless.
He does not whine.
He does not fall back under his coat
or cover his face
or whimper, “Woe is me.”
He refuses to act like a victim
even though he has been victimized
from the top to the bottom of the social strata.
In fact, he takes a huge risk.
Here is one of those details
that can be easily missed
if we only read the story from 10,000 feet.
The only thing Bartimaeus owns
in the whole wide world,
is his coat.
That was standard for beggars
and just about any outsider in those days.
was your blanket to sit on in the day,
and to cover yourself from the cold at night.
It was priceless.
For those who had nothing else,
it was the difference between life and death.
Given that he was also blind,
for Bartimaeus to throw off his coat
and run forward,
where he may never find his coat again,
was an act of radical trust
or bold desperation.
It was an all or nothing kind of play.
it was an earth-shattering moment of decision –
just as it was for Jesus
in relationship to his future.
So what happens
now that everyone is in place,
and we are frozen in that moment
when history and time
hang like Labron for an extra second or two?
On the stage of history,
at the intersection of Past and Future,
Jesus stops for one lousy beggar.
Like the more ancient story of God
hearing the cries of puny Hebrew slaves in Egypt,
through the noise of the crowd
and through the protest of the disciples,
And like God
in that Exodus story of old,
once he hears,
Jesus turns his attention away from history,
away from the drama of the moment,
and asks, “What do you want me to do?”
Okay that is the drama acted out.
There are all kinds of possible conclusions
that could be drawn from this story,
and I hope that by diving into the details
it will inspire conversation around kitchen tables.
But among all the possible messages,
the one I think Mark wants us to hear,
as actors on our stage in history,
is that we should act
in our stories,
how Jesus acted in Mark’s story.
We need to be listening
as Jesus did,
and when we hear,
we need to be stopping
as Jesus did.
To act like Jesus
instead of the other characters in this story,
our focus needs to be,
not on our own parade,
but with keen ears listening to hear
the people and events
for which we need to stop our parade
I do not know what that looks like
in your life
any more than you know
what that looks like
in my life.
But both of us know
that in those rare moments
when we have listened
and when we actually stopped our own parade
then and there,
to whoever or whatever presented itself,
we suddenly found ourselves
on new avenues we never expected to travel.
That is an amazing ten little sentences.