The camp-out with Bartimaeus continues… The last sentence of the story is on my mind. “Immediately he regained his sight…”
It doesn’t seem that anything happens “immediately” in my relationship with God. I don’t get immediate answers to prayer, but instead often labor long and hard on my knees. I don’t see immediate changes in my bad habits, but rather, I tend go over and over the same ground. I don’t know immediately what I’m supposed to do when perplexed, but usually approach decision making in slow motion. Of course, while Jesus was on earth, he was time-bound. This encounter with Bart occurred just before Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world. If Bart was going to get healed, it was going to have to be right then and there.
Now, however, the Spirit of God has moved inside us, and there seems to be no hurry. He has all the time in the world, literally. I suppose that if all my prayers were answered immediately, then I would begin thinking of God as my go-fer and we would miss all those sweet hours together. If all my bad habits were dispelled in moments, I would become prideful in my perfection. If all my decisions were easily made, I would stop learning how to reason and discern.
So I accept the terms. Bart had his lucky day. Jesus heard his cry and healed him. But I have a blessed life. Jesus hears my every thought and is constantly and forever at work in me.
Did you catch that word in the last sentence of this passage? Regained. Bartimaeus regained his sight, so it says in the ASV (American Standard Version). So, it’s true that at one time Bart could see, but somehow lost his sight. He knew what he was missing and desperately wanted it back. Perhaps I’ve lost sight of something. Did I have better focus early in my journey with God on what it means to be a Christ follower? If I went back and read my journals from 35 years ago, when I was a new creation, would I be surprised at who I find? Lord, I want to see.
Jesus asked Bartimaeus the question: “What do you want me to do for you?” Did you catch that? He said “want”. Want. Shouldn’t He have asked, “What do you need me to do for you?” After all, Jesus takes care of our needs. (“And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need…” “And God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches….”) I would be much more comfortable with the question, “What do you need?” But want? Is that really what He asks? Why does that make me so uneasy? That is a question that’s very hard for me to answer.
I try to make my response sound spiritual. I say, “What is it You want me to ask for Lord?” I am afraid I will want the wrong thing, have my shallowness revealed, sound selfish. If He would just tell me what to want, I will want that. But such a response rings hollow. If I asked my kids, “What do you want for Christmas?” and they said, “What do you want me to want?” I wouldn’t accept that. “No,” I’d say, “what is your desire? I need to know what’s in your heart.”
It seems to be a dangerous place – this whole idea of wanting. Just before going into Jericho and healing Bart, Jesus was approached by two of his disciples: The Sons of Thunder. James and John boldly came to Jesus with this ultimatum: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Can you imagine the nerve of those two? Jesus calmly responded, “What do you want me to do for you?” Same question He asked Bartimaeus. Very different situation. But same question. After voicing their ridiculous request Jesus told them that they didn’t know what they were asking. And that was the end of that.
I fear doing something Sons-of-Thunder-ish and being abruptly dismissed. I don’t want to mistake arrogance for boldness. I don’t want to make a request that is totally out of line. I really don’t know how to answer that question. What do you say to a Savior that stops, singles you out of the crowd, and, although you can’t see clearly, you feel the warmth of his breath as he says, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bart was ready with his request. He didn’t have to stop and think about that for a moment. Jesus asks me, “What do you want me to do for you?” I’ll have to think awhile before I answer. Can I get back to you?
Honestly, I didn’t mean for that to sound like a take-off on “I Am Spartacus”. “I Am Bartimaeus” is a much more humble declaration. I am admitting that I am often a blind beggar sitting by the road, wrapped in my cloak of insecurity and brokenness. I have nothing to offer and am much too dependent on the good graces of others. I am aware that when I beg for my needs to be met by people, it is an irritation. “Please make me feel good about myself.” “Please tell me I am a significant person.” “Please give me some attention.” I continually hold out my empty cup, hoping someone will fill it, only to start over again the next day. It is annoying. People can’t be expected to meet my needs like Jesus can.
What does it take for me to be insistent in my cry for mercy? Only the chance to be heard by the Savior.
What does it take for me to keep it up in the midst of shushing? Only the determination to be found by Him.
What does it take for me to throw off my beggar’s cloak and jump to my feet? Only the sound of His voice calling me to come.
Jesus answered Bart’s cry for mercy, but not by putting coins in his cup. Jesus answered by getting Bart up on his feet, getting him healed and getting him on his way. So, be careful when you cry out to God, especially if you are simply looking for sympathy. He may tell you to get up and live a life you never thought was possible.
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.