Blind Bartimaeus’ Cloak

October 28th, 2018, Pastor Galen

Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Mark 10:46-52

Jim Elliot, a missionary to South America who gave his life for the sake of the Gospel, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”

The truth is that everything we have here on this earth is temporary. As much as we may try, we cannot hold onto the things of this life forever. But gaining eternal life with Christ, knowing Jesus, and being in God’s presence, is what will last forever. Gaining eternal life with Christ is something that cannot be taken away from us.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have nice things here on this earth. But the problem is that so many people spend their whole lives trying to amass as many things as possible. But we can’t take it with us when we die. (When I was growing up, my pastor used to say, “I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul behind it!”)

Our readings from the book of Job this month remind us that everything we have can be gone in an instant. Job was a good man, a righteous man (Job 1:1). He had a wonderful family, a nice house, and many expensive things. But when tragedy struck, he was left with only his wife, a few close friends, and his faith and dependence on God. In the end, Job’s fortune was restored, but along the way he learned to depend completely and utterly on God. He learned that God was all he needed.

Blind Bartimaeus

In our Gospel Lesson this morning, we see an example of a man who consciously chose to give up everything he had in order to follow Christ. Bartimaeus was a blind beggar, and in truth, as a beggar he didn’t have much to begin with. But as we will see, he gave up even the little bit that he had in order to gain what he could not lose.

The story of blind Bartimaeus concludes a fascinating string of events in Mark Chapter 10, that began with the story of Jesus welcoming little children. Although his disciples tried to prevent them from bothering Jesus, Jesus said that “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14) and that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15).

There is then a would-be follower of Jesus, a rich young man, who, because of his great wealth, passes up the opportunity to follow Jesus. Was it fear, anxiety, or just a general ambivalence that prevented him from giving up everything he had in order to follow Christ? We may never know, but it leads into an acknowledgement that Jesus’ core disciples had in fact given up everything, and Jesus promising them that it will be worth it in the end, that according to Jesus, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Jesus tells his disciples that he himself will give up everything – that he will give his life for the sake of those who believe in him. Jesus said that he would “give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus’ disciples  want to be great in the kingdom of God, and two of his disciples ask to sit on his right and left when the kingdom of God is established, but Jesus reminds them that those who are truly great are those who serve others.

And now we come to the story of blind Bartimaeus. Once again, people try to silence him, to prevent him from bothering Jesus, just as they tried to silence the children. But just as he welcomed the children, Jesus welcomes blind Bartimaeus. Jesus stops right where he is, right in the middle of the road. He tells the bystanders to call Bartimaeus to him, turning the rebukers into active participants in bringing Bartimaeus to Jesus.

Bartimaeus’ Cloak

And then Bartimaeus does something that is amazing, surprising and astounding. Blind Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, jumps to his feet, and runs to Jesus.

Now why is it amazing that he throws off his cloak? Well, for most people living in first century Palestine, a person’s cloak was their most valuable possession. Cloaks were expensive, thick, heavy garments, and the average person could only afford one. Cloaks weren’t simply outer garments meant to be worn outdoors, nor were they fashion statements. Cloaks were functional, multipurpose garments. In addition to functioning as a coat in cold weather, they were also used as a blanket at nighttime. And, for a blind beggar like Bartimaeus, he most likely spread his cloak out in front of him during the daytime to collect any coins or loose change that passerbys might toss his way.

Bartimaeus’ cloak, then was all that he had. It was his source of protection from harsh weather, his blanket at night, and the tool of his trade. But when Jesus calls him, Bartimaeus casts his cloak aside, jumps to his feet, and comes to Jesus.

Bartimaeus had an enormous amount of faith. In an instant he tossed aside his most valuable possession, without any care or concern. As a blind man in the middle of a crowd of people, it would have been understandable to hold onto his cloak, just in case. Just in case Jesus can’t or won’t heal him. Just in case his sight is not restored. Just in case he returns after his encounter with Jesus still unable to see. Just in case he needs to continue begging for the rest of his life.

But Bartimaeus is confident in Jesus. He trusts that not only Jesus can, but will give him sight. He believes he won’t need to continue begging. He knows that his life will be forever changed because of this encounter with Jesus.

In throwing off his cloak and jumping to his feet, Bartimaeus displays a child-like trust and dependence on Jesus. Like a toddler who jumps up and down when their parent walks in the door, Bartimaeus leaps to his feet. And like a child who doesn’t need to worry because they know that their parent will take care of them, Bartimaeus places his full trust in Jesus.

Jesus does in fact heal him. Bartimaeus’ sight is restored. We can only imagine the jubilation that Bartimaeus must have felt, to be able to see! But Mark does not dwell on this fact long — he simply tells us that Bartimaeus “followed Jesus along the road” (Mark 10:52).

In choosing to follow Jesus, Bartimaeus does what the rich young man chose not to do. Bartimaeus leaves it all behind to follow Jesus. No mention that he searches around for his cloak or went back home to tell his family goodbye. He doesn’t bother to stoop down and scrape together the loose coins that he had collected through begging, or even to look smugly at those who had formerly rebuked him for bothering Jesus.

He simply follows Jesus along the road. So simple, and yet so profound.

Gaining What We Cannot Lose

You see, Bartimaeus discovered the truth that Jim Elliot talked about —  that “he is no fool” who gives up the things that he cannot keep anyway, in order to gain what he cannot lose.

Bartimaeus knew that there was nothing more valuable, nothing more significant, than being with Jesus. He knew that nothing in this life matters as much as gaining Christ.

Many of us here in this room, like the disciples, and like blind Bartimaeus, have given up much in order to follow Christ. Many of you consistently give of your time, your talents, your resources to support the work and the ministries of our church. For some of you, following Jesus has been costly when it comes to relationships with your friends and family members.  Even coming to church on Sunday mornings is a sacrifice of your time, but you have chosen to be here, to worship God, to participate in the life of our church community. You have chosen to cast everything aside, to come and follow Jesus along the way.

Some of you may wonder if it’s worth it? Has your sacrifice been in vain? Have the hours and resources that you have poured into serving God been a good use of your time and talents?

I want to tell you this morning that your sacrifice has not been in vain. That what you have given up will be more than returned to you — if not in this life, at least in the age to come (Mark 10:30).

I believe that blind Bartimaeus was able to see something that so many people cannot see — that the most important thing in this world is to be in God’s presence. Job learned it when he lost it all. The children knew it instinctively. The disciples finally got it after several years of being with Jesus. But Bartimaeus understood it right away. Being with Jesus is worth more than anything else in this world.

The “Jesus Prayer”

One of the ways we can be with Jesus is through prayer. Prayer is simply communicating with God. In prayer we express our dependence on God and our devotion to God. And when we pray, God expresses God’s love for us.

The words that blind Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus when Jesus was passing by have often been called “The Jesus Prayer.” “When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:27). “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” This is a prayer that we can pray daily, even throughout the day. It is a prayer that expresses our need for Jesus and our dependence on God. It is a prayer that can be prayed when we are in a time of trial and testing like Job, when we are feeling desperate like Bartimaeus. It is a prayer that we can pray while driving in our car, while walking down the street, while lying in our beds at night. It is a prayer that we can pray when we don’t know what else to pray. It is a prayer that reminds us that we are all like children, in need of God’s mercy and provision.

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” I would encourage us to pray this prayer frequently, and to remember that it is not foolish to give up the things that we cannot keep anyway, to gain what we cannot lose.