I like to stumble onto a story that grabs me. I may try to push through and read on, but if my mind keeps pulling me back, then I know it’s time to stop and camp on that place. For the past month, I’ve been camping out with Bartimaeus. His story is in the tenth chapter of the gospel of Mark. There is no going on to the eleventh chapter for me, because I’m drawn like a magnet to a roadside in Jericho and I must stay awhile.
What was life like for a guy like Bart? He was blind and sat by the side of the road day after day begging. He survived on the mercy and kindness of people who would drop a coin in his cup on their way out of town. One day, however, he asked the right person for mercy and everything changed. You just have to know who to ask.
That day, the usual crowd was unusually electric. Bart couldn’t see with his eyes, but his other senses were sharp. He heard the words, “Jesus of Nazareth.” How did Bart know this was his chance? Had he heard stories about the traveling teacher/healer? Had Jesus passed this way before? How did Bart know that Jesus was the Son of David? He is the first person to use that term in Mark’s gospel. Had Bart been trained in the Hebrew schools as a young boy – before blindness came? Did Bart know that the Messiah would come from the line of David? Did he remember that the Messiah was foretold to give sight to the blind? Was a blind beggar the only one in the crowd to get that?So there he was, sitting by the road, shouting into the darkness, “Jesus! Son of David! I don’t deserve you, but I need you!” No amount of shushing would stop him. Those around him became annoyed with his incessant shouting. “Shut up,” they said, but it only made him yell louder. “Messiah! Mercy!” And Jesus stopped cold in his tracks. That’s the voice he heard above the din of the crowd. A plea for mercy. Were those the same words Bart used every day (“Please, sir, have mercy on me”) as he sat by the road listening to endless footsteps pass by? But this time the footsteps stopped and called for him. The crowd went from “shut up” to”cheer up”. Fickle crowd – you can never depend on the crowd.
Bart jumped to his feet, throwing off his cloak. That cloak wasn’t just for warmth. That cloak was what identified him as a beggar; it was his “city license” to sit by the road and beg for alms. That cloak had pockets that kept his coins protected. Throwing off his cloak was Bart’s great act of faith. He was saying, “As soon as Jesus heals me, I won’t need this old thing anymore.” He stopped defining himself as a blind beggar before he was healed. No wonder Jesus said, “Your faith has healed you.”
Bart told Jesus he wanted to see. In other words, “I want my life to change. I want to stop living in darkness and stop depending on people to keep me going. I want to stop begging and start living.” Bart’s encounter with the Son of God meant that going back to begging by the road was no longer an option. Now he would follow Jesus on the road. Wholeness and healing from Jesus got him off the side of the road listening to life pass him by, and put him on the road of life.