October 24th, 2021

Mentioned by Name
by Rev. Dr. Kristin Philipson

Mark 10:46-52 – Proper 25

October 24, 2021

The story of the healing of Blind Bartimaeus is a remarkable story.  It contains a description of the miraculous, a man who has lost his ability to see suddenly regains his sight.  Then there’s the fact that his vision is not restored by a doctor, not through the latest technology available to him, not by completing a course of stringent exercises or antibiotics, but through a man named Jesus, known as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God.  “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him and Bartimaeus had answered, “let me see again,” and that was all it took: “immediately [Bartimaeus] regained his sight and followed him on the way.”
    At the end of the story Blind Bartimaeus can see again and it’s Jesus who helps him to do so, or, more specifically, Bartimaeus’ faith in Jesus.  One of the takeaways of this story is that faith can restore a person’s vision.  All of this is remarkable, but I want to argue today that there is something even more remarkable about this story.  When it comes to the stories of Jesus healings and the power of faith to transform are stories that actually get told about him in all of the gospels.  In the stories about Jesus miraculous healings are actually commonplace.  “But,” you might be thinking, “a story like the healing of Blind Bartimaeus is remarkable because we don’t have stories about a person’s vision being altered by their faith in our own time.”  None of us would go up to someone who has just had their cataracts removed or who has just had laser eye surgery or who has just come from the optometrist with a prescription to ask whether their faith in Jesus played a role in correcting their sight.  But the idea that our faith might change the way we see, that our faith might correct our vision, that our faith might somehow influence what we see, or help us to see more clearly – is that really so remarkable?  Is it really so remarkable that faith might adjust the way we perceive things?  Doesn’t faith act at times like a set of corrective lenses, helping us to see big things and small things and giving us the ability to zoom in and zoom out on issues.  Wouldn’t you say that your faith affects your sight?
    Consider you’re out on a walk, early in the morning, the sky growing pink, the horizon vast on the lake, the trees glowing red and yellow, all of it a “complex pattern of growth and evolution…subatomic particles and cosmic swirls,” and your eyes see the hand of the Creator, “Maker and Source of all that is.”  The words of a hymn swell in your heart, For the Beauty of the Earth, “God of all to you we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.”  Is it so remarkable to say that faith affects our vision, even today?  Consider how you might look at the teenager who has come downstairs to your kitchen late for school, who has left wet towels on their bedroom floor to mold and smell, who will leave their dirty breakfast dishes and crumbs for someone else to clean up; consider that you can see at least three things to nag them about, their posture, their cellphone use, their homework, when the corrective lenses of faith kick in and all of the sudden the “more” that is in this child, your belief that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” your sense of their preciousness, their one-of-a-kindness, comes clearly into focus.  Later in the day there is that hasty comment, launched from your mouth like a dart and you wince as you perceive the damage it does to your partner or your co-worker or your parent.  You see, clearly, the need to ask for forgiveness, and you rush to make amends.  Faith affects our vision, not just in the days of Blind Bartimaeus but today, now.  I would argue that this is obvious, and not all that remarkable.
    Here is the remarkable detail about this story: that Bartimaeus is mentioned by name.  In all of Mark’s gospel, of all the people whom Jesus heals, no one else is mentioned by their name.  Stories about Jesus and miracles and the power of faith to change are everywhere in the gospels but to mention the name of a person who is healed, that is actually remarkable.  In the Gospel of Mark Jesus heals (in order) a man possessed of an evil spirit, Simon’s nameless mother-in-law, a man with leprosy, a paralytic, a man with a withered hand, a man who lived in the tombs, Jairus’ unnamed daughter, a woman subject to bleeding for 12 years, a crowd of 5000, a Syrophoenician, a deaf and mute man, a crowd of 4000, and a blind man at Bethsaida.  What is truly remarkable in this story is that we know exactly who is healed – it’s not just any man who could all of a sudden see again but Bartimaeus, the Son of Timaeus.  What’s remarkable is that Mark felt it important to note that it was Bartimaeus who regained his sight, whose faith had made him well.  It wasn’t just any man whose vision was restored but Bartimaeus’ vision; it was Bartimaeus who called out to Jesus, and who threw off his cloak, and who went on to follow him on the way – Bartimaeus’ name is significant here and important.  What’s remarkable about this story is that Bartimaeus is significant enough to Mark for Mark to mention him by name.
    Yesterday I was out sweeping up leaves on the sidewalk in front of my house and on my porch, tidying up my yard a little bit, when a neighbour walked by.  “And what happens,” he said, “when the next big gust of wind comes and blows more leaves onto your walk?”  He meant that, in his view, in the grand scheme of things, we have little impact, we humans, against the big forces in life, against the wind.  What are we anyway?  No more than ape-sized ants, scurrying around, tidying up leaves only to wake up and see that the wind has blown more of them onto our walk.  As I really sat with the scripture this week I realized it wasn’t Bartimaeus’ healing that is the stumbling block for me but that one normal, everyday person could be so significant, so impactful, as to deserve to be mentioned in the Bible by name.  What I find myself questioning these days is whether a single person of faith is all that significant, I mean in the grand scheme of things, significant enough to make a difference?  Mark mentions Bartimaeus, but how significant was Bartimaeus, really?  Was his existence even registered by the Roman Empire?  Was his town of Jericho actually changed because he could see again?  I have been thinking a lot about what we’re up against right now: the climate crisis, our racial reckoning.  The whole town of Iqaluit – nearly 8000 people – hauling their water from the Sylvia Grinnell river, because their water supply is tainted with natural gas.  City Officials have confirmed that it’s not because the water tanks are compromised but they suspect that the very ground itself is leaking hydrocarbons; the permafrost in the North is melting.  All of Iqaluit has to haul drinking water from the river and what impact is one person going to have here?  What can one person even do against melting permafrost?  And what is the tally now, of the number of children who attended Indian Residentials schools and who never returned home and whose bodies were buried in unmarked, unnoted graves, what number are we at now?  Between 1800 and 6000?  And translating the biblical story to our time we are asked to believe that a single person could be significant here; that a single person’s ability to see matters – that a single person who follows Jesus on the way can be worth mentioning by name because of their impact?  That a singular person can make a difference when this is what we’re up against.  Now that is a remarkable idea, truly.
The story of the healing of Blind Bartimaeus is not only a story about a remarkable miracle, it is a story about discipleship.  Of all the disciples we have met the past few weeks, Bartimaeus is the only one who responds to Jesus correctly.  Jesus’ own disciples failed to see what discipleship is about again and again in this section of the Gospel of Mark.  Jesus tells them that it’s not about being great, about being lauded, about being served as the Kings and Emperors are served.  Jesus predicts that he will be killed when they get to Jerusalem, and hearing this Peter rebukes him, and a group of disciples argues about who among them is the greatest, and James and John ask to sit at his right hand and at his left when Jesus comes into power.  Bartimaeus asks to see clearly when Jesus walks by and once Bartimaeus can see the story says he followed Jesus “on the way,” a euphemism for discipleship, literally following Jesus, walking in the way that he leads.  The United Church of Canada’s newest statement of faith, “A Song of Faith,” describes discipleship in this way: “We are called together by Christ/ as a community of broken but hopeful believers,/ loving what he loved,/ living what he taught,/ striving to be faithful servants of God/ in our time and place” – no matter what we’re up against, no matter how insignificant we feel against the winds.
Bartimaeus could see and this compelled him to follow Jesus on the way.  He didn’t know how long the journey would be, and he didn’t know if he’d be alive when they reached their destination, and he didn’t know how walking in the way that Jesus was leading would affect him, or how tired he might become, or how despondent.  Now it isn’t recorded anywhere, We don’t know what following Jesus looked like for Bartimaeus, we don’t know what it looked like for Bartimaeus to love what Jesus loved, or for Bartimaeus to live what Jesus taught, or for Bartimaeus to strive to be a faithful servant of God in this time and place, but what we do know and can say is the fact that Bartimaeus was a disciple made him significant to at least one person.  Mark mentions him by name.  
    Sarah was one of the ministers at the church where I grew up – I know I have talked about her before.  In addition to being a fulltime minister, she was a mother and had all kinds of daily responsibilities that I wouldn’t have been aware of when I was 8 years old and asked her if she would run a “Religion in Life” group for myself and some of the other members of the 40th Brownie Pack.  I was that kind of kid, the kid who actually wanted my “Religion in Life” badge (which I don’t even think is part of the Brownie program anymore), the kid who wanted all the badges.  I must have been so annoying.  Placing myself in her shoes now, myself a fulltime minister and a mother I doubt I could respond as she did.  Sarah said yes to my request, and every Wednesday a group of us stopped by her office after school.  Sarah, whose name I will never forget.  Dorothy was the great-aunt and a school librarian who bought me books and not just on my birthday but for no reason other than that I guess she must have sensed that reading was deep for me.  She got my books signed by their authors – Kit Pearson and Gordon Korman and Julie Taymor.  Another name: Linda, a minister on staff in the church where I got my first youth ministry job and every question I had, every floundering, every conundrum that perplexed me, I would knock on her office door.  She must have been completely exasperated, Linda, worth mentioning by name, along with Anne and Catherine and Paul, the minister at Eglinton St. George’s who called me up last year during the height of the pandemic, completely out-of-the-blue and with no other purpose than to listen.  Who has that kind of time on their hands?  I mention these people by name because they are that significant.
    The Bible is full of them, names, names like “Ruth,” and “Mary,” and “Jeremiah.”  There is nothing exceptional about any of these people, really, none of them were people you’d define as “great.”  They were just your average, ordinary, people whose faith had affected their vision and changed the way they could see things.  Ruth cared for her mother-in-law, Mary anointed Jesus with perfume just to make him feel appreciated, Jeremiah was an encourager with words.  I don’t really have a tally of all the difference they made, throwing off their cloaks, standing up, walking along the road with their God.  All I can say about them is that they are specifically mentioned by name along with Bartimaeus, of all people – truly, it’s remarkable.  We can’t always know the impact of our discipleship in the moment, but who knows that someday, someone might talk about us in the story of their life and mention us by name.  Now, how remarkable is that?