A Day on the Road
New Revised Standard Version
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
It’s a normal workday. You hurry down the street so as to not be even a minute late. Your boss watches the clock like a hawk. You see the same things on the sidewalk as always – the hot dog cart, the man selling knock off Rolex watches, the people waiting for the bus (some are even recognizable now), and the guy playing guitar with his case open and a few coins in it. Nothing unusual or unexpected. Just a day on the road like any other.
The Bible has many stories about people being on the road. Some go from one place to another. Others are just on the road. The Israelites who regularly traveled to Jerusalem for the festivals. The Good Samaritan who was walking the road, found the man who had been beaten, and cared for him. The story of the Prodigal Son where the young man took his inheritance to go out on the road to find his way in the world. When he learned he couldn’t, he returned to his home and his father who ran down the road to when he saw him approaching. Jesus and the disciples plus others who supported them walk down dusty roads as they travel from place to place.
Something always happens on these roads. Have you noticed that in the Bible? Rarely does a person just walk down the road and keep going. Invariably, they encounter someone or a group of people to interact or travel with. The Israelites met others on the road to Jerusalem, joining together in caravans singing psalms as they traveled. Others travel from place to place for a purpose – Mary and Joseph on their important journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Travelers on the road help those in need, particularly Jesus. He often stopped to talk with or heal a person he encountered. You never know who or what you will find when you travel on the road.
On this particular day, Jesus and the disciples are leaving Jericho after having spent time there together. They were on a well-traveled road that led out of the city. As they walked, the disciples formed a protective group around Jesus – a Secret Service detail if you will. They wanted to keep those who didn’t belong in their group out while demonstrating that they were the “in” group. As they traveled, they saw the nameless and faceless crowds like the ones they had seen on many roads near many towns. The disciples had become used to the crowds surrounding them and calling for their Teacher, so they were easily able to tune out the indistinguishable cascade of voices. They just wanted to keep Jesus moving. There were places to be and things to do after all. We don’t have time to stop repeatedly.
How often are we like those disciples surrounding Jesus? We have our agendas and priorities. We hurry from place to place to get everything on our list done. You might hurry through the grocery store trying to finish shopping in 15 minutes so you can be home before the storm hits. You grumble about the people clogging up the aisles making it difficult to get to the item you want to add to your cart. Or at those paying for their groceries at the pharmacy counter. You get annoyed by the person at the front of the check out line who waits until their order is all scanned and bagged before getting their credit card out of their wallet. Then they can’t find the card in the wallet or, horrors, they decide to pay with a check. Who writes a check in the grocery store anymore?
You might be in such a hurry that you miss the older woman who can’t reach the item she wants on a high shelf. You could easily have gotten the item for her without wasting much time if you had only been paying attention to recognize that she need help.
There’s a story told about several seminary students who were given an assignment in class to read the story of the Good Samaritan and then go to the library for resources to prepare a short interpretation of the passage for a 5-minute talk.
Along the way the passed a man sitting on the side of the road who looked like he was homeless and had a cup in front of him asking for money. Each student was in such a hurry to get to the library to complete the assignment in the allotted time that missed him all together. When they returned to class to present their talk, the students were told they all failed the assignment because the point was whether they noticed the man on the side of the road and cared for him as the Samaritan had cared for the man he encountered on the road.
Even those who we think should be particularly attuned to the needs of others can miss the obvious.
Imagine yourself in the crowd that day on the road leading out of Jericho. It was hot, dry, and dusty. But you were close enough to Jesus that you could almost touch him - maybe like being at a Bruce Springsteen concert near the stage as he comes close to the crowd and then recounting to friends that you could almost touch his jacket. Wouldn’t that be something to tell your friends that, “I saw the great Teacher in person and was this close to touching his cloak!”
There were those in the crowd, so the disciples thought, who could be a nuisance or potentially be dangerous which is why they felt the need to surround Jesus like a protection detail. You are among those waving their arms in the air shouting, “Pick me, pick me!” Then you watch Jesus go to this blind man, this sinner (people thought someone who was blind, lame, or deaf must have sinned to be punished with such a condition). You’re thinking, “That’s not right. He wasn’t close enough to Jesus to even be seen.” Yet he was the one Jesus picked. The man who won the Jesus lottery that day even though you believe you deserved and need Jesus’ attention more than that man who had been sitting there for years on the side of the dusty road.
Often our own need to be recognized, to be acknowledged, to be cared about trumps everyone and everything else. We ask, “When is it my turn? When do I get the attention? When do I get my needs met?”
We may not intentionally shut out or ignore someone in need as we walk along the road or navigate the aisles at the grocery store. We are focused on ourselves, on what is going on in our own life, or what it is we need to do for us.
The question we ought to focus on is the one Jesus asks the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” – the same question Jesus asked James and John in the passage we considered last week. The question Jesus poses in one form or another to everyone he encounters here in Mark.
The blind man longs to see again. He remembered the bright colors, the expressions on faces, and the sunny days. Now he was bound by darkness. Everything he knew had been obscured by his lack of sight. Yet, he knows there is more. More than dust and darkness. He knows what is missing.
While many sat quietly waiting, he did not. Others waited for someone to notice them and get them food and water and pay attention to them. If no one did, they kept waiting there on the side of the dusty road. The blind man stepped up and took matters into his own hands. He shouts out to Jesus with words that convey his belief in who Jesus is. Words that tell Jesus, “I believe you can help me.” The blind man knows what he wants Jesus to do for him and clearly states his request, “Let me see again.” And Jesus did.
We all have things that get in the way, obstacles that prevent us from seeing what is right in front of us. Ones that prevent us from becoming the people God wants us to be. That clouds our vision in a way that is like having blinders on that don’t allow us to see anything but the direction we want to go. You look at our to-do list, checking off number one and then number two. To complete number 3, I must work my way to the other side of this crowd in front of me. You elbow your way through saying, “Excuse me. I have to get through so I can check number 3 off my list.”
Your to-do list may be your calendar. You have to be at the doctor at 3 p.m. so you yell at the car in front of you, “Get out of the way! I’m going to be late!” You have a coffee date with a friend. Then you can’t find a parking spot, so you know you are going to be late. And you are so busy parking that you don’t notice the person who can’t find the change to put in the parking meter while you have a quarter or two you could drop in the meter for her.
You may know that there is something missing in your life. Something you can’t quite put a finger on but know that you don’t have what we need for your life to be more than it is.
What if Jesus were to ask us the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” could we even answer? Are we aware enough of who we are, what it is that is missing from our life, what it is that we can’t see?
Can we answer like Bartimaeus did – I want to see. Open my eyes so I can really see the world around me and people as individuals rather than part of an amorphous crowd that parades through life. Jesus, help me to see. To get out of this murky and unsettled time that seems to be never-ending. Help me to see the possibilities for the future instead of being caught up in the darkness and the dread of being unfulfilled.
Think about what you might gain if you were able to answer Jesus’ question by asking to see, to improve my sight so I am able to recognize what you want me to see. If we could see better, we might notice the blessings God has given us, detect God’s presence, discern the Holy Spirit’s movements, distinguish between truth and falsehoods, and perceive paths of justice and righteousness. You could see with God’s eyes and God’s wisdom.
When we see clearly, we can follow Jesus closer.
One of the most interesting parts of this story is that Bartimaeus, after having his sight restored, followed Jesus. In most of the healing miracle stories in the gospels, Jesus tells the healed person to go but don’t tell others about what happened, or he walks on leaving the person to their new life. Bartimaeus gets up and follows Jesus.
He follows Jesus into Jerusalem. He sees the crowds waving palms and calling Jesus the king. He watches as Jesus turns over the tables of the money changers in the temple courtyard. Bartimaeus watches Jesus continue to teach, to spend time in prayer, and go into the house for that last meal with his disciples. He sees Jesus led down the mountain in chains after being arrested. He sees Jesus as he walks to the cross.
Bartimaeus follows Jesus, learning that the way of Jesus is complex. The way to the cross is one of suffering and selflessness. We might say that he sees the true picture of who Jesus is and what Jesus does for people. Bartimaeus isn’t blinded by the experience of spending three years on the road encountering endless crowds of people, listening to Jesus’ message over and over, seeing too many miracles to count. Instead, his eyes were opened to see that last week of Jesus’ life, the summation of his earthly ministry, and the beginning of his resurrected life.
Imagine if that was all you knew of Jesus, what you saw during that last week. How might it change your picture of who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do?
What Bartimaeus sees is how Jesus earthly ministry ends and how the new way of following Jesus begins after the resurrection. He witnesses the power of God. He recognizes that there is still much more to see. He knows he has only seen a snippet of all there was of Jesus life because he has heard the events from others. He realizes at the resurrection that there is more to believe and a new road to walk.
How well do we see what Jesus has done for us and continues to do? How well do we recognize that there is more to see, more to believe, and more to tell?
Jesus asks us, through this story, to open our eyes to see clearly what he sees so that we can be those on the road who notice the people in need and take action to help them.
Let’s go out and walk on the road and find out who we encounter.