Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost

Readings: Jeremiah 31:7–9 | Hebrews 7:23–28 | Mark 10:46-52

Text: Mark 10:46-52

“But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”  The Gospel last week ended with this ominous statement from Jesus.  While thinking about the rich young man who refused to benefit the poor with his wealth, we might hear it similarly to Mary’s inspired words, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:53)  That is, there is going to be a great reversal for those who are comfortable now with their prosperity, and those who have forsaken material status will be honored in the sight of God.  That’s certainly true.

It also paves the way for what happens in the Gospel lesson for today.  As Jesus, His disciples, and a great crowd are leaving Jericho, who should join in the throng, but a blind beggar.  In terms of society, this man has a lot working against him.  He’s blind, which means he either can’t or isn’t expected to do the things seeing people do.  This is a time long before the efforts of Louis Braille and Helen Keller, where it was more common to disregard the disabled.

He’s also a beggar, meaning all his daily necessities depend on others’ charity.  If he has a good day, he eats; but if it’s a bad day or there’s widespread famine, he’s even more out of luck.  His father, Timaeus, is mentioned, but perhaps he isn’t able to care for his blind son.  For this reason, he is probably malnourished and sickly.  His name is Bartimaeus, and he is certainly thought of as one of the last.

So, when he learns that Jesus is passing by, and he starts hollering, people tell him to cut it out.  To them, not only is he a visual reminder of poverty, wretchedness, and misfortune that might befall them, now he’s making a racket.  It’s one thing if he just sits there quietly, like the panhandlers of today, where you don’t want to make eye contact because you’re half ashamed you aren’t helping them and half are afraid of taking on their problems.  But now this guy is making quite a noise after Jesus.  No, buddy, get in the back of the line where you belong.  The Good Teacher is just for those who are a little bit messed up, for those who just need some life coaching to get them back on track.  He’s not for hopeless cases like you.

Except that the Good Teacher just finished saying in the verse before: “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  He didn’t come for the capable, for the rich in things, for those who get by on their own.  He came for those in need, and blind Bartimaeus is the epitome of one for whom the Kingdom of God has come.

As a beggar, he is before men what we all are before God.  We have no resources of our own, no merits to claim.  The image of children which Jesus used recently tells of our inability to earn God’s favor, but the image of a beggar adds that we are also filthy because “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6), and “by nature are children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:4).  In light of God’s righteous judgement, we deserve whatever bad may happen to us.  It is only the “goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior” (Titus 3:4-5) that sees us in our condition, has compassion on us, and saves us because that’s what He has decided to do.  We are the man left for dead, on whom the Samaritan has mercy. (Luke 10:36)

Also being blind, Bartimaeus can only learn of Jesus by what he hears about Him.  In that way, he is a great model for Christians in generations to come because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).   His great outburst is not because of free bread or a miracle worker has come to town.  He cries out after Jesus because the word of Him has reached him, so that Bartimaeus can recognize Jesus for who He actually is.

Listen to His confession: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Despite the earthly factors that are against him—his blindness, his condition on the edge of survival—he makes a rich theological statement in his cry.  “Jesus” – He is calling out after the Man who is walking by on two feet, who is journeying from Jericho to Jerusalem, who stops to eat, grows sleepy and rests, has a mother and brothers and sisters.  “Son of David” – Not simply any other man, but the One promised to King David by Nathan the prophet: “I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” (2 Samuel 7:12-14)  The Son of David can only be He who fits the bill, of whom David said, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” (Psalm 110:1), and this is He who fulfills all the gracious and eternal promises from the Lord. He is the Son of God, “one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2)

And then to cap it all off, lowly Bartimaeus says, “Have mercy on me.”  This is what a beggar and a sinner prays, but one with whom God has brought into His gracious covenant.  Kyrie, eleison! is what the faithful have prayed, even before this day when it was directed toward Jesus.  From Psalm 31:9 [Septuagint[1] Psalm 30:10]:

Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble;

My eye wastes away with grief,

Yes, my soul and my body! (NKJV)

Or from Psalm 27:7 [Septuagint Psalm 26:7], which expands on the prayer,

O Lord, hear when I cry with my voice!

Have mercy upon me, and hearken to me!

So blind, begging, outcast Bartimaeus makes a marvelous confession of faith: In this Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, he is seeking the mercy which only the Almighty can show to poor, miserable beggars. 

48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Like the children whom the disciples tried to prevent from being brought to Jesus, they tried to dissuade Bartimaeus, but he would not be hindered because faith revealed to him just Whom he was running after.

49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.”

His faith is not misplaced.  Joyfully responding to the Lord’s call, Bartimaeus leaps up and Jesus gives him an open audience.  Here in what he asks, we also see what he believes about Jesus of Nazareth, Son of David.  He believes that He is able to open the eyes of the blind—something which another blind man in John 9 points out, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:32-33).

This is a huge request of Jesus, borne out a belief in Who He is.  And this teaches us about coming to Jesus with our prayers.  From His Word, we have come to know and believe who our God and Savior is.  In a nutshell, we confess it in the Creed: Our God is the God who made heaven and earth; the Son of God who conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary—fully God and fully man; and the Holy Spirit who gives us life and faith and resurrection from the dead.

Because of who our Lord and God is, we come to Him with big requests.  But what does it look like if we don’t?  Listen to this illustration from the Large Catechism:

Imagine a very rich and mighty emperor who bade a poor beggar to ask for whatever he might desire and was prepared to give great and princely gifts, and the fool asked only for a dish of beggar’s broth. He would rightly be considered a rogue and a scoundrel who had made a mockery of his imperial majesty’s command and was unworthy to come into his presence. Just so, it is a great reproach and dishonor to God if we, to whom he offers and pledges so many inexpressible blessings, despise them or lack confidence that we shall receive them and scarcely venture to ask for a morsel of bread.

58 The fault lies wholly in that shameful unbelief which does not look to God even for enough to satisfy the belly, let alone expect, without doubting, eternal blessings from God. Therefore we must strengthen ourselves against unbelief and let the kingdom of God be the first thing for which we pray. Then, surely, we shall have all the other things in abundance, as Christ teaches, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be yours as well.” For how could God allow us to suffer want in temporal things when he promises that which is eternal and imperishable?” (Large Catechism, III 57-58)

Behold, this is the God we stand before!  This is why we pray in the liturgy, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”  We are not praying alone, but with the faithful of every age and tongue, with our brethren throughout the world today.

We are not throwing our pennies in a wishing well, but bringing our needs—both great and small—before the King of the Universe.  He has invited and commanded us to pray, and He has promised to hear and answer.  “Everyone who calls upon the Name of the Lord will be saved.” (Joel 2:32)  Not simply saved as in “go to heaven” but saved as having our prayers answered by our gracious and loving Master, who says to Bartimaeus and to us, “Your faith has saved you.[2] Go your way.”

So don’t be shy, don’t be unbelieving, but pray to the Lord in simple faith. It doesn’t have to be elaborate words, but in a trust that God is who He is and He is able to do all things.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

[1] The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures which was spread through the Greco-Roman empire after 132 BC. It was the most familiar translation to Jews, and is quoted by Jesus and His apostles several times (e.g. Acts 2:25-28).

[2] The Greek word translated “made you well” is σῴζω which means save, deliver.