They came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ 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.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 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.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus has just asked the same thing of two of his signed-up followers – but they gave the wrong kind of answer.
Now he puts the same question to someone who seems unable ever to become a follower. All that Bartimaeus can do is to sit by the roadside, calling out hopefully but probably not too confidently, while life passes him by. The crowds who have been following Jesus out of the city tell the blind beggar to keep quiet: so far as they are concerned, Jesus is for people like them who can keep up.
But they quickly change their tune when Jesus hears, stops, and responds. One moment it’s “Keep quiet!” The next, it’s “Take heart!” It’s as if just to be in the presence of Jesus, just to walk alongside him, allows the emergence of human sympathy and compassion that being part of a crowd can so often drown out.
It’s as if the question “What do you want me to do for you?” is being put not just to the blind man at the side of the road, but also to the onlookers. Not only are they wondering what his response is going to be, but also what kind of answer they would give. Bartimaeus it seems answers better than the sons of Zebedee – but then, for the physically blind, to ask for sight is a pretty obvious choice.
But for others around, what might they ask for? What might we ask for today? And can we envisage such a total change-around experience, that like Bartimaeus we too might leave everything behind and “follow him on the way”?
Lord Jesus what we want for ourselves and what we want for others and what we want for this world in all its need makes for an impossibly long prayer list. Help us to recognise the one thing that will change our life’s direction – and grasping it as your gift let us set out with you on the journey ahead. Amen
The Rev’d John Durell is a retired minister in the Northern Synod.