The ministry training program I went through required my classmates and I to go to class on Tuesday evenings and every fifth Saturday. To be honest, these Saturday’s got long sometimes, especially when the professor wasn’t an animated speaker.
Occasionally, a professor would let us out of the classroom and take us on a fieldtrip. Once our class was told we would take a day and look at the problems facing the inner-cities. We would either go to New York City, Philadelphia or Allentown. I quickly spoke up and said, “Let’s go to Allentown.” At the time, I lived 100 miles from New York City, 60 miles from Philadelphia but only eight miles from Allentown. I really didn’t think there was any way we would go to Allentown since the other cities are so much bigger. But that’s where we went.
We met with a representative of the Mayor’s Office of Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships. He told us about many of the obstacles the city faced in meeting the needs of the poor and homeless. Once a month, he meets with pastors who minister in the city. When they meet, the pastors spend more time debating theological differences than they do trying to help come up with solutions.
We also met with representatives from other inner-city congregations and agencies. They shared the challenges they face. In one church, we served lunch to some of the city’s homeless and then ate with them.
As our day in the city came to an end, I looked at a classmate and said, “I wish we’d have gone to New York or Philly.” At that moment, in one important way I was like Bartimaeus after his encounter with Jesus in Mark 10:46-52.
This Bible passage says, 46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
In this short conversation, we see the healing power of God flow from Jesus to Bartimaues. We also see three distinct attitudes. The crowd was nonchalant about Bartimaues. They simply didn’t care about his condition. “Be quiet.” “Don’t bother Jesus with your problems.” “You’ve been blind so long you’re probably used to it.”
They were on their way to Jerusalem. Perhaps this was the Passover season when Jesus was going to claim the throne as the king and Messiah of Israel. They didn’t want anything to slow them down – especially someone living on the fringes of society.
Jesus’ attitude was different. He was nosey. Jesus didn’t walk up to every blind or lame person he saw and heal them. However, every time one of them asked Jesus for healing, he did. If we look at this passage carefully, we see that before Jesus healed him, he asked an interesting question – “What do you want me to do for you?”
As outsiders reading this story, we might think, “Why are you asking this question? Isn’t it obvious he wants to be cured of his blindness?” There are at least two reasons the answer might not be that simple.
The first reason is because of a conversation Jesus just had with his disciples. In Mark 10:33-34, he tells the disciples they are going to Jerusalem where he will be arrested, killed and come back to life after three days. It’s clear the disciples didn’t understand what he was telling them based on what happened next. “35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Mark 10:35-37)
The disciples simply couldn’t comprehend who Jesus really was. They thought he was going to restore Israel to its former glory and rule as a powerful and rich king. Sitting on his right and left in the throne room was reserved for very high ranking officials. James and John wanted these positions.
When Jesus asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” they basically said, “Give us wealth and power.” Perhaps Bartimaeus wanted the same thing.
Jesus also had to contend with the fact that perhaps Bartimaeus didn’t really want to be healed. Although he was extremely poor and lived a difficult life, he was able to live on whatever others gave him. He was a victim and he could exploit it by playing on the sympathies of others. If he received his sight, he’d have to quit begging and go to work.
We all know people who choose to live in dilapidated houses, drive old run-down vehicles and live below the poverty level so they don’t have to work. Perhaps Bartimaeus was like this too. Jesus needed to find out.
This brings us to Bartimaeus. He was a nobody to those around him. The crowds had their own dreams to accomplish and problems to solve. Very few people, if anyone, really cared if he lived or died. He didn’t have the power to overcome blindness on his own. Until the moment Jesus walked by, he had no hope anything would change.
But Jesus did come his way. This was his one chance to be healed. Bartimaeus didn’t want to be a poor, blind outcast any longer. He wasn’t going to let anyone keep him from calling out to Jesus for help.
When Jesus summoned him, he threw his cloak aside, jumped up and went to Jesus. While the phrase “throwing his cloak aside” could mean several things, the most likely interpretation is he had spread his cloak on the ground in front of him so people could throw coins on it for him to use. Throwing it aside indicates he wanted to move away from this type of life. He wanted to see. He didn’t want to be a victim any longer. As a result, his strong faith allowed Jesus to heal him. Bartimaeus wasn’t a nobody to Jesus.
Before our Saturday fieldtrip, I was blind to many of the problems in Allentown. Numerous times I’d driven by the buildings which housed inner-city ministries without knowing what happened inside of them. Since I was blind to the suffering around me, I didn’t have to help alleviate it.
My eyes were opened that Saturday. I could see, at least partially. I knew God didn’t open my eyes just so I could say, “Oh, those poor people” and then go on as though I was still blind. God wanted me to get involved in some ways. Vision requires action. Bartimaeus had to quit begging and go to work. But what work did God want me to do regarding the things he’d just shown me about the misery happening in my own back yard?
Jesus is walking among us right now. Do we really want him to cure our blindness?
Do we really want to see the hurts and miseries of those around us? Or, do we want to stay blind to them so we don’t have to get involved and help? If we stay blind, we don’t have to do anything. We don’t have to help those on the fringes of society or those who are suffering. It doesn’t take much effort or compassion to be nonchalant about others.
Do we want to see our sins so we can repent of them? Or, deep down, do we want to hang onto them because we really don’t want to get any closer to Jesus? God doesn’t show us our sins just so we can laugh about them with our friends. He shows them to us so we can repent.
We will keep on sinning if we don’t come to terms with what sin actually is and how much of it is actually in our lives. The sad truth is being nosey about our own sin might show us we’d rather have power and wealth over faith in Jesus.
Do we truly want to be healed of our diseases, problems and hurts? Or, do we really want to hold onto them so we can be a victim and play on the sympathies of others? While there’s only so much we can do about certain physical and mental conditions, we can overcome our past hurts and bad decisions. This only happens if we’re willing to give them to Jesus and work through the pain they’ve caused. Sometimes it’s easier to be a victim than it is to be healed. The problem is the pain associated with being a victim lasts a lifetime.
There are benefits to staying blind. Vision requires action but blindness excuses apathy and laziness. Jesus doesn’t want us to stay blind.
My Saturday class in Allentown led me to get the congregation I served involved with two inner-city churches. We collected food for one of them to distribute and helped the other one serve meals to the poor and homeless. It wasn’t always easy or pleasant. We knew what we were doing was only like a few drops in the ocean. But to someone who’s dying of thirst, a few drops can mean the difference between life and death.
So, when Jesus comes your way and asks, “What do you want me to do for you?”, how do you answer? It’s easy to find out. Just think about your prayer life. What do you pray for Jesus to do for you? Let’s ask ourselves two questions: Are my prayers more focused on receiving vision to help the poor and hurting, to overcome my sins and hurts, and to walk closer to Jesus? Or, are my prayers more focused on receiving wealth and power?
Jesus didn’t go to the cross so we could be rich and powerful. He went to the cross so we could be set free from the penalties of our sin and be healed of our hurts and diseases. Cry out to Jesus. Ask him to do this. Throw aside your cloak and run to him for help. Have faith Jesus can give you vision and the strength to do the work that vision requires.