2021-10-24 22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
That old saying “blind faith” is an interesting one. It means that someone believes something just because. There is no perception involved. No understanding. No discrimination. This is the faith of young kids. If you tell them the sky is blue, they believe it. If you tell them that 2 + 2 = 4, they believe it. If you tell them that Jesus loves them, they believe it. It is a pure faith. Some may say that it’s gullible and easily led astray. Maybe. But they still have that kind of a faith that simply trusts and believes, no matter what. This is the kind of faith demonstrated today as our Lord Jesus was walking by the old town of Jericho. There was a crowd of people following Jesus, as there usually was. They were making lots of noise, chattering away as they walked. A blind man, obviously hearing all this as he sat begging by the road, inquired about it.
In hearing that the commotion was all about Jesus of Nazareth, this blind man – who St. Mark tells us is “Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus” (10:46) – starts to yell and shout, overtop of the noisy crowd. The crowd tells the man to shut up, most likely because the beggars always were carrying on like this and they were sick of it. Like listening to a bunch of spoiled rotten whining kids, you eventually reach that breaking point where you snap and might even do some jail time, who knows? But ol’ Bart is undeterred. He shouts and shrieks all the more: “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Why? Why does he do this? What does he know about this Jesus that the rest of the crowd doesn’t? His blind faith has instilled in Him that child-like trust. He believes that this Jesus, this Son of David, is the Messiah. He is the One promised of old Who the scriptures speak of: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened” (ISA 35:5). This is Bart’s one big chance to see! He can’t clam up. He can’t keep silent. This is it! So he shouts all the more.
And it works. The beggar’s arrow hits its mark. Jesus stops in His tracks. He commands that the blind man be brought before Him. “What do you want me to do for you?” (10:51) Jesus asks, much like a “how can I help you?” question you get asked at Tim Hortons! It’s fairly obvious though, isn’t it? You’ve got a blind man begging at the side of the road at a time where there is no social safety net or government food stamps. This guy is a blind beggar! It’s a dire situation. He most likely wouldn’t be there begging if he could see. But it is interesting how Blind Bart answer’s Jesus’ question. He doesn’t ask for a million dollars, that his poverty be relieved. He doesn’t ask Jesus for a box of Tim Bits and a large double-double. He asks for his root issue to be healed: “Rabbi, let me recover my sight” (10:51). Let me see again. Let my life return to the way it was before. Restore me. Heal me.
The need was fairly obvious. But Jesus allows the blind man to hang on to what shred of dignity he has left. Jesus doesn’t only care about doing a miracle for the man in the seeing eyes of the crowd. Jesus cares about this man himself. The crowd saw a stinky, blind, whining, beggar. But Jesus sees a man made in the image of God. He gives him the dignity of patiently being heard and listened too. When all the world around him could say was “Bart, why don’t you just shut your big yapper!” Jesus, on the other hand, listens to the man. ‘I want to see again!!!’ the man cries. “Go your way; your faith has made you well” (10:52) Jesus responds. And boom! Immediately the man can do just that. “Your faith has made you well” Jesus says. For not only is the man made well physically, but he is saved and made whole spiritually for his faith and trust were placed solidly on Jesus, the merciful Messiah, the Son of David.
The day that Martin Luther died, the people around him at his bedside found a hand written note on a small scrap of paper. It said “Wir sind bettler, das ist wahr.” “We are beggars, it is true!” He was referring to all of humanity when it comes to our salvation. It was a deflated message from someone deep in repentance and humility. This is so completely opposite of the world’s pride- filled, ego-saturated, ultra-narcissistic, self-made, self-esteemed, self-absorbed, selfie-flaunting, personal-glory parade message we are so accustomed now to believing. The message that ‘we are all beggars’ is unpalatable to most. You don’t see this proudly displayed with that fancy word-on-the-wall calligraphy art. It’s a message that we in our sinful nature hate to hear. But Luther was right and is right. Not only in death, but also for everyday life. We must in repentant faith realize that we bring nothing to God. We have nothing that He wants or needs. Instead, we need everything that He in His grace is rich to give us.
Blind Bart becomes for us all the very image of what it means to be a Christian, the likeness of a follower of Jesus: a blind beggar who has received spiritual sight in the waters of Holy Baptism and who are saved by faith. We never “give our hearts to Jesus” – what would He want with a sinful beggarly thing like that anyways? Instead, He gives Himself to us. “For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise” (LK 18:32). The Lord of all glory and power embraces humility and service. This He does for us and for our salvation precisely because we in our sinful blindness cannot do it for ourselves. We are the lowly blind beggar. Nothing more.
This deeply humbling message is so different from the what the world teaches. It is even quite different from the majority of TV preachers I’ve seen (who you shouldn’t watch)! They are almost always telling you that God wants to make you rich and wealthy and prosperous and powerful and ridiculously good looking. And then, they promptly ask you for your monetary support! When was the last time you ever heard them say you should become a beggar?! They never tell you this. They never tell you to seek a lowly repentance. They never tell you to delve into the depths of humility. They seldom point you to the Lord Jesus who has the power to heal and to save. It’s just more encouragement to become the best you you can be, reaching your full potential of what you are capable of. Climb the ladder of spiritual success by what you do. But the person who can do all these things has no need for God. Why would you need a Savior if you can save yourself?
Instead, we need skip this kind of thinking that embraces pride and personal ability and power. Instead, we humble ourselves like Blind Bartimaeus did. When he received his sight, he followed Jesus. He was glorifying the God who restored his sight and saved him. He walked with Him on the road up to Jerusalem – a road that led ultimately to the cross. For it is there, in that old rugged place where the promise of sins forgiven and paradise opened will come. The heavenly blessing Jesus gives to His followers assures us that there will one day be no more blindness, poor hearing, arthritis, paralysis, clogged arteries or cancer. Sin and death itself will be eradicated and there will be limitless joy and peace. But first must come the cross. The Great Physician of both body and soul must first suffer and die. And this He does, willingly, for you and your salvation. To connect you to His divine work and promise in your Baptism. To be present with you and for you in the bread and wine of His Supper. As we prepare for Him to come again, we follow Him like the blind-but-now-I-see beggars we are. We are all beggars, it is true! And thanks be to God for that. Amen!