Following the Way (A Sermon for Proper 25B – 2021)
St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church (Keller, Texas)
October 24, 2021
Bartimaeus was blind. Because he couldn’t see, he couldn’t work, and so he would wrap himself in his cloak and sit by the side of the road begging for his needs.
One day, there was more activity than usual in Jericho, where Bartimaeus lived. There were large numbers of people milling around, waiting for something. Bartimaeus couldn’t see what was going on, so he needed folks to tell him.
“It’s Jesus of Nazareth,” they told him.
As the procession of people with Jesus came near, Bartimaeus cried out, “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” Despite the people’s attempts to quiet him, he continued to cry out, and Jesus heard him and stopped the parade.
“Who is that?” Jesus asked.
“Oh, it’s only a blind beggar.”
Jesus said, “Bring him to me.”
Bartimaeus then does an unusual thing for a blind beggar: He throws off his cloak and leaves it by the roadside.
Now think about that: Bartimaeus is blind. He just threw off the only thing that protected him from the heat of the sun, the dust of the road, and any rain that might fall.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
“My teacher, let me see again.”
Jesus said, “Go. Your faith has made you well.” And Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed him on the way.
First, I think it’s important to note that passages like this get used and abused, and folks get told that their faith isn’t strong enough, or something is preventing them from being healed.
So, whenever we see stories of healing, we have to remember that Jesus heals in different ways.
Sometimes that healing is a physical cure, sometimes it’s a healing of the spirit.
Sometimes, the healing is visceral – Jesus spat on the ground and mixed his saliva with mud when he healed the other blind man.
Sometimes – a vocal command, as when he raised Lazarus from the dead.
Sometimes it involved touch, either on his part or on the part of someone who touched him, like the bleeding woman.
Sometimes, it was a simple statement. “Go, your faith has made you well.”
Jesus’ healing doesn’t always look the same. Jesus’ healing looks different for different people. And sometimes that healing doesn’t happen. At least not in the way we think it should…
But I don’t actually think the healing is the most important part of this story. At least it’s not the part I’m most interested in.
I’m most fascinated by what happens next…Bartimaeus follows Jesus along the way.
That could mean that he literally joined the throngs of people along the road to Jerusalem, but remember that the earliest followers of Jesus were called “Followers of the Way.”
Not Christians. Not Episcopalians.
Followers of the Way.
Followers of the way that Jesus taught, the way that Jesus lived, the way that Jesus died and rose again.
Are we willing to follow that way?
This is the last healing story in Mark before we make our turn toward Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week. So I think this story is put here to be a bookend, and a lens through which we can truly see earlier stories.
In most of the Gospel stories we’ve heard these past few weeks, there have been people who were unwilling or unable to see the true way of Jesus.
Peter declared Jesus to be the Christ. But when Jesus began to teach about his own suffering, rejection, and death, Peter rebuked Jesus.
Peter could not see how suffering and humiliation could be the way of Jesus (Mk. 8:27-33).
The disciples followed Jesus every day and saw healings and miracles with their own eyes. But then they argued among themselves about who was the greatest.
The disciples were unable to see that service, not power, could be the way of Jesus. (Mk. 9:35).
The rich man wanted to do what he could do to inherit eternal life. But he walked away when he was asked to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.
Hewas unwilling to see that it costs something – everything – to follow the way of Jesus. (Mk. 10:17-22).
Peter, the disciples, and the rich man all saw what they wanted to see. And didn’t see what they didn’t want to see.
They could only really see their way.
But Bartimaeus…this blind man…could see the way.
This blind man could see that following the way of Jesus meant risking ridicule by shouting out.
This blind man could see that following the way of Jesus meant giving up any thoughts of power.
This blind man could see that following the way Jesus meant leaving behind everything he had.
We can see what’s involved. We can see what it costs.
The only question left is…are we willing to open our eyes and take a step?