With lottery fever in the air, a desperate guy named Joe thought that if he could only win, all his problems would be solved. His business has gone bust and he was in serious financial trouble. He was so desperate that he decided to ask God for help. So he prayed long and hard. He decided he was going to have total faith. He was just going to believe that he was going to win!
But the night of the drawing came, and he didn’t win.
Again Joe prayed, “God, please let me win the lotto! I’ve lost my business, my house and I’m going to lose my car as well. I’m putting all my faith in you God!”
The drawing came, and still no luck.
Now completely desperate Joe prayed… “My God, why have you forsaken me?? I’ve lost my business, my house, and my car. My wife and children are starving. I don’t often ask you for help and I have always been a good servant to you. PLEASE just let me win the lotto this one time so I can get my life back in order.”
Suddenly there was a blinding flash of light as the heavens opened and Joe heard the voice of God: “Joe, meet me halfway on this. Buy a ticket.”
I guess faith does involve a little action on our part.
Jericho is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world. It dates back 11,000 years. By way of contrast Jerusalem is “only” about 4000 years old. It is fifteen miles from Jerusalem, but those miles are torturous on foot. The region is mountainous, and to add insult to injury, largely uphill. But pilgrims made this journey to the holy city every year, and Jesus and his disciples were among them. It was as they were leaving the city that a blind man heard Jesus was in the crowd, and cried out to him.
The name “Bartimaeus” is not a first name. It is two words, Bar and Timaeus, meaning son of Timaeus. The author of Mark gives the Greek translation, which just repeats his name. Timao would have been Bar Timaeus’ father’s name. It means “honor”. But Bar Timaeus’ life would not have been one of honor, because at some point in his life, he lost his vision.
There were many causes of blindness in the ancient world. A common infection spread by flies blinded many infants and children. Other eye diseases and illnesses that attacked vision existed, many of them conditions that would be treatable today. Among older people cataracts were a common cause of blindness. We don’t know when or how Bartimaeus became blind, but if he was a teenager or adult at the time it happened he would have gone from being a productive member of society to living on the fringes in a relatively short period of time. No one hired the blind. The only means of earning an income was through begging.
The son of Timaeus sat by the road begging. This was major festival time, and because generosity to beggars was considered to be helpful to one’s spiritual standing with God, a lot of people gave at this time. Beggars could make a good income off a crowd like this and tuck the money away for leaner times. Bar Timaeus, however, was less interested in raking in some extra cash than he was in having his life completely restored. He heard that Jesus was coming, so he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Ignored, bullied and insulted by his sighted peers, he refused to be intimidated when the crowd told him to shut up. They probably called him a few choice things too. He could have believed their slurs. He could have given up, shrunk down by the side of the road, and accepted that he had no right to exist, much less ask for a miracle. But he did not.
Bar Timaeus had no one to take his side. As far as society was concerned he had no worth whatsoever. He was just another beggar. But he refused to give up. Instead, he got louder. And Jesus stopped. He told the crowd to tell Bar Timaeus to come to him. And the very people who a moment earlier had been the barrier to Bar Timaeus’ healing had to change course and help guide him to Jesus. Insults changed to encouragement, as they told him, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” “Cheer up” is a little lame as translations go. The word really means to have courage or be strengthened from the inside.
Bar Timaeus was on his feet in an instant. And then he did something very significant. He cast his cloak aside. A blind man’s cloak was an essential part of survival. It kept him warm by night, and he spread it before him during the day to catch coins as people passed by. Letting go of the cloak wasn’t an accident. This was a deliberate act of faith. Bar Timaeus was saying, “I’m not going to need this anymore.”
When he finally stood before Jesus, Jesus asked Bar Timaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Rabboni,” he said, “I want to see.” The word is anablepo. It means to recover sight. He wasn’t born blind. Bar Timaeus wanted to have his sight restored so he could live a normal life once more. With only a word, Jesus healed him. “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately Bar Timaeus received his sight. He then joined with the others and followed Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. He not only regained his physical sight, he became a disciple at the same time.
Bar Timaeus was blind, but his faith was not. Faith is often misunderstood and mocked today as if it were just irrational belief. People speak as though reason and faith were totally incompatible. But to have faith does not mean to believe blindly with no justification for our belief. Because the word “faith” has been so misused, however, a better way to understand this may be to replace it with another closely related word—trust.
If I had cancer I wouldn’t trust a middle school student to handle my treatment. That would be insane. Instead, I would do my research. I would check out the local hospitals and the doctors. I would find out everything I could. Then, at some point, I would choose which doctors and hospital to go to and choose to trust these people based on the evidence before me. It would still be a little nerve wracking because I would have no proof of the outcome of my treatment, but my trust would be based on logic.
We believe that there is a God and that God loves us because of the glory of creation, the witness of others in scripture and in person, and our own experiences in life. Then we make a decision to trust God, but it is an informed decision. Being a Christian does not involve parking our brain cells at the church door. There are many scientists who are Christians. Galileo, who ran afoul of the Roman Catholic Church because of his pursuit of scientific truth wrote: I do not feel obliged to believe that same God who endowed us with sense, reason and intellect had intended for us to forgo their use.” We do not have to choose between scientific truth and God’s truth, because ALL truth is God’s truth.
Can God heal? Yes. Bar Timaeus didn’t have an ophthalmologist available to him. The only way he was going to be able to see again was through straight up divine intervention. But God heals us directly and God heals us through medical treatment all the time. Faith can make us well. When we trust in a loving God we are open to receive. When we live with fear and suspicion we are closed. But although it is faith that opens the door and hardness of heart that closes it, only God can heal miraculously. One of the more infuriating, even if unintended, consequences of those who heavily promote faith healing is that those who are not healed are blamed for it. Clearly they did not have enough faith. Even worse are the frauds on TV who actively discourage people from going to doctors.
We might not understand why some people are healed and others are not, but we can affirm that those who are ill are not at fault for being sick. In every phase of our lives we trust God to work in and through us. Ultimately, we trust God to bring us safely home. Bar Timaeus’ faith brought him to Jesus. He received his sight, but even more than that, he received salvation, and a completely new life. Amen.
7 This is what the Lord says:
“Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, ‘Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’ 8 See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return. 9 They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.
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.