A Sermon for the Last Sunday after Trinity, October 28, 2018
St. Dunstan’s Anglican Church, Largo, FL
The Very Reverend J. Michael Strachan
For the past several weeks as we have made our way through chapters eight, nine, and ten of Mark’s Gospel, we’ve focused primarily on two issues: discipleship and the cross. I think we’ve covered those themes enough that there is no need to rehash here how they play themselves out over these three chapters. However, we still have one more thing to say about the so-called Way-section of Mark’s Gospel before we transition into the Markan Passion narrative.
You may remember that several weeks ago I preached a sermon about Jesus performing a healing miracle that took two steps. This event occurs back in Mark 8:22-26. Jesus comes to Bethsaida, and a man who is blind is brought to him. Jesus leads him out of the village by the hand, lays his hands on him, and asked him if he could see anything. The man had some vision restored, but not all of it. He responded, “I see people, but they look like trees walking.” So, Jesus laid his hands on him again, and this time his sight was fully restored, and he could see everything.
This account of the two-phase healing of a blind man is a transition story that moves Mark’s readers into the Way-section, and now, at the end of the Way-section, as we heard this morning, there is another transition and another healing of a blind man. This bookending is not accidental. This critical section of Mark’s Gospel in which Jesus tells his disciples plainly what’s going to happen to him when they come to Jerusalem, Jesus’s disciples seem to be trying there hardest not to understand what he means, and Jesus has to teach them repeatedly about the cost of true discipleship, begins and ends with accounts of Jesus healing the blind. It’s not accidental.
In contrast to Jesus’ disciples, who we just saw asking Jesus for the privilege of sitting at his right hand and his lift when he came to the city in his glory, Bartimaeus is a blind beggar on the roadside outside of Jericho. Bartimaeus hasn’t been walking with Jesus on the way. He hasn’t heard Jesus predict his coming passion. We aren’t exactly sure what he knows of Jesus, but he knows something critical. Bartimaeus knows that he needs help. He knows that Jesus is the one to whom he should cry out. And he believes that his cry for mercy will not go unheard.
Compare that to Jesus’ disciples. Peter rebukes Jesus the very moment he mentions the cross. The disciples argue about which one of them is the greatest, and then two of them come to Jesus privately asking for positions of power, privilege, and prestige when he comes into the city in glory. They are blind, but they don’t know it. Bartimaeus is blind, but he sees better than they do. They’re concerned with the things of this world, Bartimaeus comes to Jesus only looking for Jesus to heal him.
Don’t miss this. Jesus’ question to Bartimaeus is the same questions he asks James and John: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36; 51). Their answer: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37). Bartimaeus’ answer: “Rabbi, let me recover my sight” (Mark 10:51). I think it’s clear that if we approach Jesus looking for the things of this world, if we come to him looking for profits, power, prestige, and privilege, we are starting on the wrong foot. However, if we come to him recognizing our brokenness and our need for healing, restoration, and wholeness, then we are starting on the right foot.
I’m also struck by how simple this all seems to be. Sometimes I think that Jesus tries very hard to make the Christian faith very simple while we try very hard to make it very complicated. I can’t tell you what Bartimaeus knows about Jesus beyond the very basic. He knows that he needs healing. He knows that Jesus can make him whole. And he believes that his cry for mercy will not go unheard.
James and John get a rebuke from Jesus for their answer to his question. Jesus doesn’t rebuke Bartimaeus. Instead, he hears these words: ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε. “Your faith has saved you.” The ESV translates this “Your faith has made you well,” because they’re focusing on the physical healing and not salvation in the way it’s normally conceived. But this is σῴζω. It is the regular verb for salvation in the New Testament, and to think that Jesus only means “healing” and not “salvation” I think is entirely to miss the point of what Mark is doing in this section. Bartimaeus is the model for saving faith and not the disciples. Bartimaeus isn’t just an interesting contrast to the disciples’ pursuit of power and privilege; he is the model of saving faith in Jesus, the Son of David, in Mark’s Gospel.
You see, Jesus’ disciples had been walking with him “on the way,” but they hadn’t been following him. He had told them that whoever would be his disciple must take up their cross and follow him (Mark 8:34), but there isn’t the slightest hint throughout these chapters that they ever figured this out. And yet, what are the last words of this chapter, of this section of Mark’s Gospel? “And Jesus said to [Bartimaeus], ‘Go, your faith has saved you.’ And immediately [Bartimaeus] received his sight, and he followed [Jesus] on the way” (Mark 10:52).
Don’t let me, or anyone else, complicate this for you. Biblical studies, theology, church history, creeds, catechisms, liturgies, church calendars, morning and evening prayer – all of these things are beautiful and valuable. In various ways I’ve dedicated the rest of my life to these things, so please don’t think I’m disparaging them at all. But saving faith is so much simpler than all of that. I don’t believe there is ever a time in our lives that we no longer need to hear the Gospel, so let me give it to you again. Do you recognize that you are broken and in need of healing? Do you know for sure that Jesus is the one who can make you whole? Notice that Bartimaeus tosses his coat aside when he comes to Jesus. Most likely Bartimaeus used his coat begging and not for warmth. He’s so confident that Jesus is the one who can make him whole that he leaves behind his old way of life and rushes to his savior. And lastly, do you believe that your cry for mercy will not go unheard?
If that’s you today, then your faith has saved you. Like Bartimaeus, may we all continue to follow Jesus on the way.