Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:48)
I love the story of blind Bartimaeus. He’s an unlikely ‘hero,’ a simple blind begger alongside a dusty road on the outskirts of Jericho. A ‘no one in the middle of nowhere.’ It’s a tragedy of any society that such people seem to be overlooked. We disregard the notion that they may have value, or worth, or that we may all learn something rare and precious through their experience. They fade into the background, because it’s more comfortable for us that way – we don’t have to acknowledge that they are, after all, visibile examples of universal human frailty.
He was no doubt familiar to the locals, a landmark, as it were, something – rather than someone – who could be ignored beyond the few pennies one might toss into his begging bowl with the rather satisfied feeling of having been generous to those less fortunate. It is unlikely that anyone would stop to chat or pass the time of day, yet this blind man absorbed an essential truth through simply listening to those around him. He learned that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of David, the Messiah, the one anointed to heal and deliver and set the captives free.
There must have been many stories circulating. Blind Bartimaeus no doubt heard them all, and over days and weeks the knowledge crystalized into truth, and truth became faith. When he hears that this same man is right there, there is no moment of hesitation. His faith becomes action. He knows this is the chance he has been waiting for and he seizes it with both boldness and humility. There is much we can learn from this ‘no one in the middle of nowhere.’
Note the reaction of the crowds. Tell warn him to be quiet, as if a blind begger had no right to cry out to God of his salvation. How often do we find this same reaction among us, a subtle judgement that places outside the grace and mercy of God because of their status in society? It is hard for many Christians to remember and to accept that Christ came for the worst of sinners, for the lonely, the broken, the outcast and the diseased. It is not for us to discern either the need or the condition of another’s heart. There is no difference between the begger and the king, the prositute and the politician, the athlete and the lame.
The real truth is that there are no ‘levels of sin,’ no invisible ranking of sinners according to their place in society. Sin is sin, and our sovereign God will have mercy on whoever He desires. Most times, the only significant difference is that those who are ‘worse’ on society’s list are usually the first to acknowledge their need. It is the blind, the lame, the broken and the bound who have the courage to confront their individual condition and turn to the only source of hope.
From Bartimaeus, we learn two critical things – boldness and humility. The two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they should always go hand in hand. Yes, we should draw near to the throne of grace with boldness, but it should always be in the humility of our true condition. Bartimaeus possessed the kind of boldness that should inspire all of us in seeking God. He knew who Jesus was. He knew that He was the only answer. And He knew that he could allow nothing and no one to stand between him and his saviour.
Realistically, the chances of a blind begger being noticed in the crowd were slim to none. That didn’t stop him. He was, most likely, used to being intimidated and treated as less than worthless by the people. He ‘knew his place,’ but that didn’t stop him either. He seized the moment with a boldness born of faith and desperation, and pushed through the limitations and the disapproval to the one thing that mattered: reaching Christ. Instead of listening to those around him – his so-called ‘betters’ – he raised his voice and shouted all the louder.
What a transformation. Imagine the blind, shuffling, insignificant and possibly even utterly self-effacing beggar suddenly energised and loudly demanding. He had seen Jesus in the spirit, and nothing could hold him back. But in all that boldness there is a humility that recognises his true condition. His cry emobodies the one thing that would call to Jesus’ heart, that would set him apart from the crowd and bring him directly to the throne of grace.
“Have mercy on me.” Oh, that we could keep hold of the lesson in this. There are moments in our lives when nothing less than the boldness and humility of Bartimaeus will suffice. This is the prayer of desperation, a reaching out of body, mind and spirit, a unified cry of the whole man or woman to the infinite compassion of God. He did not care what people thought or said or did. He did not care how he might look. He did not care that there were those who would hold him back, who considered him not worthy. He knew his unworthiness, and it was that which spurred him on to an ‘all or nothing’ cry that embodied the bold humility that will always touch the heart of Jesus.
It is easy it take hold of the grace of God that assures us grants us the boldness we require to draw near to the throne in prayer. But we often lose sight of the infinite mercy and compassion that enables grace. Mercy comes first. God’s mercy towards us opens the door to infinite grace. Taking hold of both grace and mercy acknowledges our true condition. This is the place of humility and boldness – a boldness that comes from knowing that the blood of Jesus is our only defence. This is what defines seeking God with all our heart.
The moment of transformation did not come when Bartimaeus was healed. That was the outworking of his transformation. It did not come when he threw aside his garment in his response to Jesus’ command that he approach. That was the manifestation of his transformation, an act of obedience. His transformation came in the moment that the recognised the true identity and nature of Jesus and determined to reach him, no matter what.
Sometimes, we should let the blind lead the blind. If we could follow the example of our unlikely hero and reach out to Christ with our whole heart, determine to reach Him as never before, come before Him with the boldness and humility that defines a total commitment, we can be assured of a transformation beyond human ability. It is the all or nothing He desires, a casting aside of all worldy considerations, a pressing through despite the things that hold us back, a stripping away of all pretence, all preconceptions, all expectations. A focus on Christ and Him alone. All of Him and nothing of me, no matter what.
Father, forgive us for foolish judgements and preconceived notions. Help us to come to You with humility and boldness, casting aside the things of self and the things of the world that hinder and hamper our relationship with You. Grant us a hunger and thirst for You, and You alone, and stir in us the attitude of ‘no matter what.’ In You and You alone lies our hope, our strength, our life and our future.