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.
They came to Jericho. Then Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho. That’s how this Gospel passage begins.
I have Bible question for all of you. I don’t want to put the confirmation students on the spot now on their big day, even though I know they could handle it. Yes, I realize, some of you take a lot of pride in how you were quizzed in front of the congregation during your confirmation service. I’m not sure I believe the mythology about that, but, in any case, it’s a new day. So I’m going to quiz all of you about your biblical knowledge. Just shout out your answer to this question. What words come to mind when you hear about the city of Jericho?
Whether we learned it from the Bible or from a song, Jericho is famous, to most of us, for a battle. The book of Joshua tells us that priests circled the walled city blowing their trumpets and on the seventh day all the people shouted, and the walls came a-tumblin’ down.
Don’t worry if your recollection of that biblical story is a little hazy. It’s a problematic, violent episode, anyway. It’s one of those stories that give the Old Testament a bad reputation because what the people do to those residents inside the walls of Jericho is, well, pretty terrible.
But I want to bring to mind the battle of Jericho today because I think that our Gospel today is a kind of revision of that biblical story. It’s not intended to replace it but it refers to it in order to draw out a new message for a new time and place. That’s what biblical scholars do, after all, from the ancient prophets and rabbis of Israel to Martin Luther and his fellow reformers to confirmation students during Sunday morning classes. We, students of the Bible, aren’t just interested in what happened long ago. Instead, we ask, “what is God’s living Word saying to us now in our own lives?”
When Jesus and his disciples were leaving that famous city of Jericho, they encountered a man named Bartimaeus, who happened to be blind, and because he was blind, sadly, he was made to sit on the side of the road and beg for his survival. Now, right away, I want to say that I do not think that the big problem here is blindness. Bartimaeus was a perfectly capable person who could walk, talk, and speak his mind. The problem is a society that prevented him from living a full life. And we have more evidence that that is the real issue because as Jesus came by, people were trying to silence Bartimaeus. As if it weren’t enough that he had to beg for food, they tried to keep him from having any voice at all. Even in Jericho, a place that is well known for crumbling walls, the wall of privilege was intact, and it was even reinforced by Peter, James, John, and the others. Bartimaeus was walled off from his community.
So how would this Jericho wall come down? There were no trumpets in the city that day; and there were shouts from only one man calling out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And yet it was enough. Jesus stood still, turned toward Bartimaeus, and asked him the same question he had asked his own disciples just a few verses earlier, “What do you want me to do for you?” “I want to see again,” he said. “Go,” Jesus said, “your faith has made you well.” Your faith has saved you.
Now, again, I want to say that this is about so much more than just physical sight. Bartimaeus was a complete person even without that particular ability. What is miraculous is that he had the confidence that he was more than how others had defined him. He could see through the artificial walls in his life. He boldly shouted out when others silenced him. His name means “son of Timaeus,” but he knew that first and foremost, before anything he did or didn’t do, before any condition of his life, he was a beloved child of God. Where did that trust come from? It could only have been a gift, maybe nurtured by some other community. In any case, that confident trust made Jesus stand still in his tracks. He commended Bartimaeus for his faith, for his unswerving trust in God’s promises. He had a saving faith, a faith that made him well.
After that, Bartimaeus did not go away. He followed Jesus. His faith continued to inspire him to action. André Resner, Jr. reflects on this passage by saying, “Faith sits, leaning forward, ready to leap at the opportunity to answer God’s call…” That was Bartimaeus. He immediately let go of his cloak, all he had, and went with Jesus on his way into Jerusalem.
These confirmation students this morning also reflect the faith of Bartimaeus. They are ready to respond to God’s call. They are young people committed to service and justice and to be the church, just as they are right now. Isn’t that right? Let me see you lean forward a little in your seats. You’re ready to spring into action, I can see it. I know this about you. And that’s one reason for all of us to celebrate.
At the same time, you may have already found, there will be moments when you feel that your faith isn’t always quite as strong, when you have some doubts and persistent questions. Maybe you will have trouble identifying with the bold faith of Bartimaeus who knew just who he was and what he wanted from Jesus and was ready to follow him into Jerusalem. Well, don’t worry too much when you feel that way because you are still a child of God, and God will still use you.
You see, some of the time you’ll be more like the disciples–those disciples who had a wandering, self-serving, anything-but-perfect faith. Jesus nevertheless got them involved in this wall-demolishing healing. He told them to bring Bartimaeus to him, though he certainly could have walked to the side of the road himself. They did go to him and said, “Take heart; get up, Jesus is calling you.” And they were also blessed by this grace.
Confirmands, as members of the Church of Christ, this is part of what you are called to do: to offer the invitation, “Take heart; get up, Jesus is calling you.” Sure, you may not use those words exactly, but it’s the same task nonetheless. So when you see that classmate who has been bullied to the point of internalizing the hate he has experienced so that he really believes he is inferior, then you will convince him in your own unique way that he is in fact a beloved child of God. Take heart; get up. When you see a policy in your school or your government that is harmful to a group of people or to the creation God has made, then you will gather others together and you will, in your own unique way, assure them that God desires something new. Take heart; get up. When you see a friend grieving, you will sit beside her to remind her that she is not alone. Take heart; get up. When you yourself are being silenced either by others’ expectations or your own sense of unworthiness, for any reason, then you will remember this invitation for yourself. Take heart; get up. Jesus is calling you because you, too, are a child of God, with a voice that is very much needed in this world. You are loved and ready to serve Christ in your own unique way, just as you are.
The church, in its meandering path through history, has sometimes forgotten the call to listen to the diversity of voices within God’s family. Too often the church worries about imaginary walls—who’s in and who’s out, who’s got their doctrine right and who doesn’t, who’s the most moral or most generous or most pious, who’s the servant and who’s the one being served? But God isn’t interested in walls of separation. God invites us along the way of grace together, just as we are.
Confirmands, that’s the kind of church that I hope you will not only experience but the kind of church you will be, now and in the years ahead: a church without walls, a church made whole and set free by the grace of Christ to boldly share God’s love.