The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost E. Bevan Stanley
October 24, 2021
Proper 25, Year B
From the Gospel: Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. In the Name of the one, holy, and undivided Trinity. Amen.
Today I am going to offer a commentary on the Gospel reading. It is a compact story that contains more than meets the ear. Jesus and his disciples are on the way to Jerusalem. It is not clear to me why they went by way of Jericho. Galilee is to the north of Jerusalem, and Jericho is to the southeast of Jerusalem, so going by way of Jericho is out of the way.
Be that as it may, we are told nothing about his time in Jericho. This story begins as Jesus, his disciples, and a large crowd are all leaving Jericho. Already there is a sense of excitement and energy. It is not just a preacher and his entourage leaving; there is a whole parade.
A blind beggar is sitting by the side of the road. We are told his name—Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. This sounds almost comedic. “Bar” means “son of.” Bartimaeus means son of Timaeus; one does not need to explain it. It is if someone were to introduce some one as Johnson the son of John. Or even “This is “Walter Junior, the son of Walter.” Is the narrator just trying to add a little humor, or does he think that his audience will not know what “Bar” means?
The story goes on: When he (the blind man) 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!” We are not told what the crowd thought about Jesus. Was he just entertainment? A preacher from the back country come to town? Bartimaeus is told that he is Jesus of Nazareth, a neutral designation indicating the preacher’s origin. Bartimaeus instead calls him “Son of David.” This is a term loaded with political implications. This a term for the long-awaited Messiah. The Hebrew Bible said that God had promised to put a descendent of David on the throne, and Israel would once again be a sovereign nation. To call Jesus Son of David can be heard as a hope that Jesus would go to Jerusalem and kick out the hated Roman government. It is a cry of revolution. It is a dangerous thing to say. That is why many in the crowd told him to shut up. “Stop that revolutionary rhetoric or the police will come and haul us all off to jail.”
This naming Jesus as the Son of David raises a question for us this morning: Who do we say Jesus is? Is he a great teacher? Or is he the one to turn our world upside down? Do we want our world turned upside down? What price are we willing to pay to have the Kingdom of God actually come among us? What risks are we willing to take to establish God’s commonwealth of peace, justice, and compassion?
But Bartimaeus does not stop. He cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” He persists in his prayer. In the Gospel of Luke, one of the parables is introduced by saying “Jesus told this parable to teach his disciples that they should pray always and not give up.” And Job after thirty-seven chapters of asking God for an interview finally has a face to face with the Lord. He says, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.”
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.” Here is a little puzzle. Usually when Jesus or God calls someone the word in Greek is καλέω (kaleo). Here the word is φωνέω (phoneo). It means to make a sound, to utter a sound, sometimes to name. I wonder if it is because Bartimaeus is already making a ruckus that the narrator has Jesus use this odd word. Or maybe it is just that the whole scene is noisy and this word emphasizes that. Anyway, it seems like Jesus is saying something like, “Yell at him to come here.”
So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Again, we sense the energy. He throws off his cloak; he springs up (the Greek is more like “he surges to his feet.”), and he comes to Jesus. When in the midst of the clamor of our busy days, Jesus calls us, how do we react? Do we throw off what may be our only shelter against the winds of the world and come to Jesus unprotected? Or do we clutch our meager defenses more closely about us?
Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” At first, this may sound like the dumbest question in the Bible. What do you think a blind man would want? On the other hand, how many times have been in distress of some sort, and a friend asks, “What do you really want here?” Or I am praying and laying out a concern or pain to Jesus, and he says, “What do you want?” It is often a terribly frightening or freeing question.
The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” He has lost his vision and wants to see again. In the story the seeing is literal. However, for many of us there are times or seasons when we have lost our vision and we yearn for it to return. We used to know where we were going, and somehow we have lost our way. Or we used to be on fire with a sense of purpose, and now we have grown lukewarm. “My teacher, let me see again.”
Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Actually, the Greek says “Go; your faith has saved you.” In any case, Jesus does not do anything. He does not pray; he does not lay hands on Bartimaeus. He gives all the credit to Bartimaeus who chose to get up, let go of his protection, and come to Jesus.
Immediately, he regained his sight and followed him on the way. I would translate it a little more literally: Immediately, he saw again and followed him on the way. Jesus has just said the Bartimaeus’ faith has saved him. Part of that is to see again, and part of that is to follow Jesus. In fact, can we see again and not follow Jesus?
This is a rich story. What do I want or need? Who is Jesus to me? Will I keep asking for and pursuing my salvation? Will I throw of my cloak and come to Jesus? Will I follow him on the way?
Jesus and his disciple came to Jericho.