In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“What do you want Me to do for you?” Jesus asked the blind beggar, Bartimaeus (Mark 10:51; cf. 10:36). What do you want Jesus to do for you? Do you want Him to heal you of some affliction? Do you want Him to give you some benefit or blessing? Will you follow Him whether or not this life brings either healing or the blessing you seek? Will you follow Him with fear? Will you follow Him with joy? Will you try to hold onto earthly wealth while you walk on this way? Will you try to hold onto anything on this way? Will you simply hold onto your Father’s hand, like a little child? Will you ask the Lord for the positions of glory, in which others might serve you? Will you beg from the Lord simply the sight by which you can see the way in front of you, even if it leads to the cross? These are some of the questions that Jesus puts to each one of us and all of us through St. Mark’s Gospel. And all these questions come to a single point through the prism of Jesus’ question, “What do you want Me to do for you?”
Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem, where He is going to do what He told His disciples three times He would do: He is going to be delivered into the hands of sinners, suffer, die, and rise from the dead. On His way to Jerusalem, He passes through the city of Jericho, and some walls are going to come tumbling down. As Jesus is walking with His disciples and a large crowd, they pass a blind beggar sitting beside the way. Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus. Perhaps Bartimaeus or his father were known to the congregations to whom Mark was writing, or perhaps one of them is the eye-witness source of this account. Either way, Mark says he was a blind beggar: helpless, dependent, totally reliant on the mercy and charity of those passing by. But when he hears that Jesus is passing by, he calls out, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is sort of a strange thing for him to say. “Son of David” is a loaded title, bringing together all of the hopes and desires of Israel. Bartimaeus is calling Jesus the promised Messiah, the one whom God would send to shepherd His people. But the crowd tells Bartimaeus to be quiet, much like the disciples rebuking the people bringing little children to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t have time for blind beggars, the crowd think. But Bartimaeus only shouts louder, “Son of David, mercy me!” And Jesus stops, and tells the crowd to call him. This crowd, which moments before was telling Bartimaeus to shut up, now says, “Take heart, get up, He calls you.” So Bartimaeus throws off his beggar’s cloak, and comes to Jesus, probably guided by those in the crowd. Jesus says, “What do you want Me to do for you?” “I just want to see again.” “You have it.” Your faith receives My Word, and you are saved. Go in peace. But Bartimaeus doesn’t go in peace; he stays with Jesus in peace. He immediately sees, and follows Jesus on the way. Bartimaeus may not have heard, as the disciples have, that the way will lead to death, but he does not seem to care. All he can see is Jesus; all he knows is that he is following the Son of David to Jerusalem where he will bless the coming of David’s eternal Reign (Mark 11:10). Before, he was a blind beggar sitting beside the way. Now he is a seeing beggar, following Jesus on the way to the cross. He hasn’t suddenly become rich; he’s still a beggar, but now he’s with the one who gives mercy to blind beggars.
Blind beggars. Martin Luther’s last words were written on a little scrap of paper and left on his bedside table in February of 1546. He wrote in German: “Wir sind Bettler.” And in Latin: “Hoc est verum.” We are beggars, this is true. We are all blind beggars. We are all Bartimaeus, waiting on the side of the road for someone merciful to pass by. We are all helpless, dependent, incapable of saving ourselves. If there’s anything that this life should teach us, it’s that nothing we have is earned, nothing we have is from ourselves, everything is grace; everything is gift. We came into this world with nothing; even our names were gifts; and out we will go just the same. We, all of us, are beggars And Jesus comes walking by each one who waits beside the way, and tells those gathered around Him: “Call him. Call her.” And someone does. Maybe a parent, maybe a friend, maybe a child. “Take heart, rise, He calls you.” He calls you. Don’t let anyone or anything keep you from the only mercy there is for sinners. Don’t let anyone or anything keep you from Jesus. He not only has time for blind beggars, they are the only kind He’s interested in. He’s on the way to the cross, and He’s gathering a bunch of blind, helpless beggars to follow Him there. He’s taking sinners to the cross with Him, and giving them eyes to see Him in faith. To the cross, and from the cross: He’s raising them from the dead. Here—in this Jericho—Jesus is stopping today to give out His mercy to beggars. How blessed we are to be in just this place at just this time! To be here when Jesus of Nazareth travels His way! He is the mighty fortress within whom His Church hides. He is the one who keeps you steadfast in His Word. He is His Church’s one foundation. He is the Rock on which the Church can and must stand.
If what you want from Jesus is glory or money or an insurance policy against Bad Things Happening; if you’re in this place for something other than the Gospel: for a little self-help, or some nice religious words, or to put in your time with God, then this is going to get old pretty quickly. Because you’re going to hear essentially the same thing every single week. But if you’re here because it’s all you can do to cry out with all the saints, “Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy,” then this is the place for you. There is mercy for beggars here. There is a place behind Jesus for every single sinner, even me, and even you. Here He is continuing to lead His Church through death and into life, and His Gospel is free of all cost, except Jesus’ own blood and death. In the end, that Gospel is all the Church has to offer sinners, and it cannot be gotten anywhere else in this world. Call him, He says. Call her, He says. Call them to My Word; it alone kills and makes alive. Call them to My Supper, so they will be refreshed with My Body and Blood along the way. Call them to rest in Me, in grace that will not let them go. Beloved, “The commandment of the Lord shines clearly, enlightening the eyes. Receive Christ, receive power to see, receive your light, that you may plainly recognize both God and man. More delightful than gold and precious stones, more desirable than honey and the honeycomb is the Word that has enlightened us. … For upon us buried in darkness, imprisoned in the shadow of death, a heavenly light has shone, a light of clarity surpassing the sun’s, and of a sweetness exceeding any this earthly life can offer” (St. Clement of Alexandria, Mark, ACCS, 145).
So follow Jesus on the way, like St. Bartimaeus. You cannot know where He leads you in this life, whether over rough road or smooth. You can only know this: Jesus’ way leads to the cross, to death, but even and more so, it leads inevitably and without a doubt to resurrection. So it does for you. This is what we want Him to do for us. In the midst of both your joy and your fear, take heart, because Jesus calls you again and again to Himself. Weekly! Daily! And, hearing His voice, go on your way after Him; your faith, placed firmly in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension for you, will not only save you, but it will also heal your body completely and finally.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 10/23/15