“Believing Is Seeing”

A sermon on Mark 10:46-52
preached at the Reformed Church of Port Ewen, New York
on the Fourth Sunday of Lent 2021

On the surface of it, we have a rather mundane story. Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem. The real action — the drama of the arrest, trial, suffering, and crucifixion of Jesus — remains far off in the future. This story is just another healing in the gospels, like so many of the healings before. Nothing really to see here. 

But underneath the “this-worldly,” [1] everyday surface of things, our passage this morning is packed with meaning. Jesus is not just out for another stroll. He is on the way. And he is on the way up to Jerusalem. And he is not just strolling through any old town. He has come to Jericho, that ancient city whose significance is not lost on his disciples. And it is not just another healing. No healing is just another healing with Jesus. The blind Bartimaeus is made to see. But he saw before he saw; he knew, he was able to see with deep spiritual insight, even while he was blind. And those that can see — the disciples, the crowds — well, they are spiritually blind. 

[Jericho, Joshua, and Jesus]
In the Old Testament, when Moses died, Joshua became the new leader of Israel. Moses, the man chosen by God to lead His people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and into the wilderness, never saw the Promised Land. It is Joshua who triumphantly leads God’s people into their new home. As Joshua led God’s people into the Promised Land, Jericho was the first city captured by the Israelites — famously falling when its walls came tumbling down by the sound of trumpet blast — and it became the staging ground for the rest of the conquest of Canaan (Joshua 6). 

Jesus, like Joshua, passes through Jericho. Jesus, like Joshua, has come to lead an invasion of Judea. Jesus, like Joshua, has come to conquer the forces that resist God and God’s people. Jesus, the new Joshua, the conqueror of evil and sin, leading God’s people out of slavery and toward their promised land, their place of rest, begins his invasion of Judea by passing through Jericho on his way up to the holy city, Jerusalem. Jesus is leading an invasion of this world. He has come armed with love, armed with healing and redeeming power. He comes not armed with armies. He comes not to shed the blood of others, but to shed his own in sacrificial love. He comes armed with the holy love of God that heals and redeems the cosmos. His holy, redeeming love heals and redeems blind Bartimaeus. And it heals and redeems you and me. 

[Powers of Opposition]
But as we have seen with Jesus, there is opposition. The liberating, healing, redeeming love of God is opposed by forces of satan, opposed by powers of death and decay. Bartimaeus cries out for healing but the crowd sternly orders him to be quiet. Literally: they rebuked him. That word, rebuked, is used throughout Mark in relation to demonic forces and powers at work in this world opposing Jesus, opposing God (Marcus). It is the same word used when Peter rebukes Jesus; the same word used when Jesus rebukes Peter in return: “Get behind me, Satan” (Mark 8:33). 

What on the surface appears to be a this-worldly, everyday healing is layered with meaning. The history of God and His redeeming love with Israel is layered into this healing. Powers and forces beyond what we can see are at work. The surface of our story masks the titanic struggle that is occuring. Jesus, the liberating God, has come roaring through Jericho like a new Joshua on his way up to ‘conquer’ Jerusalem; and along the way he is defeating the forces of sickness, demonic and satanic powers, the forces death and decay, that threaten us, and the world that God made. Now, as with Moses and Joshua, God is creating a way through the wilderness, leading his people back to Zion (Jesus) in holy war (the cosmic battle with the forces of death and evil). 

[The cloak]
This deeper reality is symbolized by Bartimaeus as he throws off his cloak. He throws off his old life. He throws away his possessions to follow Jesus. Nothing will encumber him as he runs to Jesus. The old is gone, the new has come in Jesus. He is now clothed in the healing, redeeming love of God. 

[Believing Is Seeing: Bartimaeus’ Confession]
Bartimaeus, though he is blind, sees.
He sees Jesus for who he is. 
The Son of David, the messiah. 

He is blind, but he sees. 
He sees Jesus for who he is: the one to whom we must cry out to,
ever louder, with all the urgency we can muster.

He is blind, but he sees.
He sees Jesus for who he is: the one to whom we must cling,
letting nothing stand in our way.

He sees Jesus for who he is. The crowds can see. But they don’t see. They don’t see Jesus for who he is. They don’t see what is really going on. The disciples, James and John, just before this, didn’t see Jesus. They saw him, but they didn’t see him. They wanted power and glory, but not the cross. But Bartimaeus sees. And his prayer is answered.

Believing is seeing. Faith seeks understanding. We must believe in order to see. We live in a world that tells us seeing is believing. That we must understand before we believe. It is a world of the critical gaze, a world of skepticism and disbelief. 

But God invites us to have faith. To trust even when we can’t see. To believe in order to know. Faith leads to knowledge. Believing is seeing with God. 

This morning, maybe you are struggling to believe. You want to see before you commit. You feel critical and skeptical. You want proof. You want to understand in order to have faith. Jesus is inviting you to believe. He is calling you to faith, to trust God even when you cannot see. Faith seeks understanding. Believing is seeing with God. Faith means we believe, we trust God, in order to see, in order to understand. 

This is how knowledge and understanding works. Love leads to knowledge. Love and knowledge are deeply woven together. We can’t know what we don’t love. If you want to know God, if you want to see Him, you can’t stand apart from Him with a ten-foot pole, squinting with eyes half shut. No. Like Bartimaeus, we must trust. We must enter into life with Jesus. And then we will see. And then we will understand. 

[“Go Home”]
Jesus heals Bartimaeus, and then he tells him to go home. “Go” Jesus says. This command from Jesus occurs throughout the Gospel of Mark at the end of many stories. It is almost always a command to go home, to go away, to return from where you had come.

But Bartimaeus doesn’t go home. He doesn’t go anywhere. He stays. He stays with Jesus. He gets up and follows Jesus on the way. Is Bartimaeus disobedient? Is he as hard of hearing as he was blind?

Here again, Bartimaeus sees more deeply, more truly. He sees, he knows that his home is Jesus. Jesus is our home, our promised land, our place of rest. Jesus is the promised land, the place where God’s people belong, the place we make our home. He is our place of refuge and our peace. Bartimaeus, told by Jesus to go home, follows Jesus on the way. Jesus is his home. Jesus is our home. 

[Beside the way]
Our story begins with Bartimaeus sitting by the roadside. Literally “beside the way”. And it ends with Bartimaeus following Jesus on the way. Maybe you find yourself sitting on the side of the road this morning. You are beside the way, sitting along the roadside waiting…waiting for something, for someone. For Jesus? For healing? Tarry no longer. Jesus has come. Cry out to him. Let nothing stand in your way. Join him on the way, as he leads God’s faithful home.

Or maybe you find yourself among the crowds this morning. None of us like to admit it. But maybe we are the ones who are silencing those crying out to Jesus. Maybe we are among those busy gate-keeping, making sure those on the margins, those who are not important enough, are kept out of the way. Maybe we are caught up by the power(s) that resist the work of God and we are embarrassed to confess it. But there is good news for those of us who find ourselves here! Bartimaeus is not the only healing in this story. He is not the only one whose life is radically changed by encountering Jesus. Notice that the crowds are converted! Where they had originally told Bartimaeus to keep quiet, they are now employed by Jesus to welcome Bartimaeus. The crowds are the ones who say: “Take heart; get up, he is calling you” (v. 49). The crowds who originally resisted the work of God, who were caught up by the powers of death and decay, of sin and evil, that resisted and rebuked the work of God are converted! There is gospel hope for those of us among the crowds this morning.

Or maybe identify with the disciples. We, the church, are part of the inner circle of Jesus. We belong to him. We know him. We follow him. And yet, throughout the Gospel of Mark, the disciples are consistently shown to not get “it.” In face, just last week we listened in as James and John demanded seats of power and glory in the resurrection, even as Jesus plunged on ahead to his arrest, suffering, and death. The inner circles, the disciples, are blind to the way of Jesus. And blind Bartimaeus, marginalized and outcast, pushed off to the side — he is the one who gets it. It is a warning for me, for us, who think we know Jesus, who think we’ve arrived because we are on the inside. God is often working in and through those we are busy dismissing, those we have pushed off to the margins. It is Bartimaeus, and those like him, who God chooses to teach us about Himself. It is Bartimaeus through whom God chooses to reveal Himself. 


[Jesus is leading us home]
Jesus is leading us through the wilderness of this life. He is leading us home. He is our home, he is our promised land. Our place of refuge and rest. He is the one who heals us. He is the one who rescues us from the forces of death and decay. He is our conqueror, our victor, our savior. He has invaded this world, he has conquered the world, with the holy love of God.

As the prophet of Isaiah says:

The wilderness and dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom . . . Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God . . . he will come and save you!’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. . . . A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way. . . . And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads. (Isa 35.1-10)

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

[1] I am indebted to Joel Marcus for this phrase and line of thought. Joel Marcus, Mark 8-16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. The Anchor Yale Bible, Vol. 27A (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009). 

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