There was a man who was looking for the kingdom. Sort of. He was blind. Nevertheless, with everything inside him, he was longing and looking for the rule of God to come. As a blind man in the first century, he was cast out onto the streets, perhaps because his family thought it was his sin that made God curse him with blindness. Either way, the blind in the first century were completely nonself- reliant. Society had done little to make basic survival possible for the handicapped. Pagans viewed them as weak, inferior to the healthy. Many Jews didn’t improve the situation. The blind, the cripple, the lame were also the poor, the others-dependent. They could do little for themselves. They were reduced to begging.
Such was the case for Bartimaeus. He was a beggar, completely dependent on others for his survival. Every day he sat by the side of the road hoping he would get enough … food, drink, money, clothes … to make it through another day. Then one day, a crowd was going by. He heard whispers of the name: Jesus. The Jesus from Nazareth? he thought. The rabbi everyone has been talking about?
Feet kept shuffling by him. Dirt was dancing around his skin. This was his moment. Bartimaeus cried out, “Son of David! Have mercy on me!”
Son of David. That was Messiah-talk. It referenced the ancient prophecy from Isaiah. Did Bartimaeus really think Jesus was Messiah?
His cry was met by the sound of angry voices. Male voices. Deep, gravelly barks. Be quiet! Enough out of you! Don’t trouble us! He had heard those voices his whole life. Voices that pushed him aside, told him where to sit, to stand, voices that kept him on the margins. Raising his voice was the only way he could feel alive. Sending out sound waves of his own and letting them bounce off trees and bodies and sand and water was how he groped through a world of sounds. So he raised his voice again. Louder this time. “Son of David! Have mercy on me!”
The shuffling feet stopped. A voice in the distance spoke. A male voice. But kinder, clear, and on purpose. Call him, the voice said. Then the gruff, male voices that earlier shoved him to the fringes spoke. Still deep and scolding. But the words were new: Cheer up. Get on your feet. He’s calling you.
Fumbling, pushing himself against the ground with one hand, reaching out with another, Bartimaeus stumbled to his feet. With trembling fingers, his hands stretched out like a vine growing to the edges of the crowd; his knees, folding under the weight of his body, clumsily carried him toward the soft, tender voice.
The voice spoke again. What do you want me to do? Why did Jesus ask that? Wasn’t it obvious? Well, not exactly. A blind beggar could have asked for temporary help. He could have asked for bread, for water, for a new garment to replace his ragged, dirtcrusted one. But anyone could have given him that. There was something only God—or a man of God—could give Bartimaeus: his sight.
And so that was what he asked for. Teacher, I want to see. Bartimaeus’ request revealed who he thought Jesus was. He couldn’t have known yet that Jesus was the fully divine Son of God. But he knew enough to know that something about Jesus was God-like, that Jesus was somehow in touch with God in a way that he wasn’t. And so he asked something of Jesus that only God could do. He asked for a miracle.
Jesus simply replied, “Your faith has healed you.” It was like saying, “Bartimaeus, because you have begun to believe in who I am, because you recognize the lack of self-sufficiency, because you have asked for something that cuts to the root of your need, because you know the depth of your dependence on God, you will enjoy a taste of the rule of God now.”
Healing is a foretaste of what the world will look like when God’s rule culminates. We want the foretaste. We long to enjoy God’s rule. But are we willing to confess our poverty, the bankruptcy in our hearts? Are we willing to admit that we are the blind, the poor, the beggar?
The words of Jesus to the church in Laodicea can be heard as they echo to us: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev. 3:17).
Lucky are the God-dependent, for they will enjoy and participate in God’s rule.
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