Read Mark 10:46-52

Today’s gospel reading paints quiet the picture.  Jesus and his disciples are in Jericho, on the road to Jerusalem.  The picture we have from scripture of this scene is one that is to be filled with energy and liveliness.  You can almost see the crowds of people following Jesus and the lone blind beggar Bartimaeus on the side of the road.  You can picture him, listening carefully to understand all that is happening.  Bartimaeus catches wind among the crowd, talk of this man called Jesus of Nazareth and something within him catches on fire, a desire, a longing, a deep rooted belief that this man can help him.

Welling from deep within his heart Bartimaeus cries out ‘Jesus Son of David have mercy on me.’  The crowd of people tell him to be quiet, they try to hush this beggar, this blind-man, this outcast.  They continue to push him to the margins.  But Bartimaeus is living on faith, he’s living on a desire to encounter Jesus, he is longing to be made whole.  Again he cries out to Jesus, “son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus hears, his voice among the crowds and responds, asking ‘What do you want me to do for you?’

You might remember if you were here last week that Jesus asked this same question to two of his disciples, James and John.  Jesus asked, “what do you want me to do for you?”  Do you remember their response?  Make us great Jesus.  Have one of us to sit on your right hand and the other to sit on your left hand when you come into glory.  Jesus goes on to teach the disciples that they’ve got it all wrong.  The spiritual life, the whole life, an abundant life isn’t about seeking power, it’s about living your faith, it’s about humility, and sacrificial love.

So we see the contrast in this story when blind, poor, and marginalized Bartimaeus is asked the same question by Jesus; “what do you want me to do for you?”

In a moment of raw humanity, Bartimaeus answers humbly, honestly: “Rabbi, let me see again.”  His sight is restored and Jesus says to him- ‘go your faith has made you well.’

And what is most striking to me about this story is the verse at the very end, it says: ‘Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.’

Now, we have seen in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus heals a variety of different folks.  Earlier in Mark’s Gospel Jesus heals another person who was also blind.  Upon completing this healing Jesus sends this person on their way.  In fact Jesus often does this with folks who he heals. Jesus sends them along and according to scripture they apparently did just that.  They returned home or went about the region.  This is the pattern of the healing stories in the gospels, except for Bartimaeus,  he chose a different path, he chose to follow Jesus.

Bartimaeus offers us a model for discipleship.  He shows us in a unique way what it means to follow Jesus.  And what Bartimaeus embodies is the epitome of faithfulness.  Bartimaeus shows us what it means to persist, to insist in the belief that we can have a whole life, a bigger life,  life made new here and now.  He shows us a persistence in this belief that God is with us, that God is for us, that God truly does love us.   Faithfulness in our walk with God is an important thing to consider.  And in fact I find that often that faithfulness can be more helpful for people to think about rather than faith.

Perhaps to some these might be seen as synonymous: faith and faithfulness.  But I talk with lots of different folks and these words mean different things when we talk about them in the church, but also beyond these walls.

Let me explain what I mean by this.  When we talk about faith we aren’t really talking about it in a biblical sense.

Many times when I hear people talk about their faith, they talk about faith as something that they possess, or should possess.   She has faith.  He needs faith.  I wish I had more faith.  It is almost as if faith is something that is not within us, a part of us, but a commodity to be owned.   And more often than not we equate faith with belief, certainty and clarity.

This stands in contrast to how we talk about being faithful.  When we talk about being faithful, it just seems to more flexible, more adaptive.  Something rooted in a real lived context and relationship.  It is something that we are: we are faithful in our relationships, faithful to the Bengals, we are faithful in our work and our vocation.  Being faithful is not something a-part from ourselves, but something that is part of ourselves. And even when we talk about missteps we talk about as being less than faithful, or not as faithful.  There’s a varying degree to it all.

Perhaps it could be said it is God’s gift of faith which then prompts our faithfulness.

I think that we see this model of faithfulness uplifted today in the Gospel by blind Bartimaeus.  The crowd tries to silence him, but he is faithful, determined to meet Jesus.  Bartimaeus persists because he trusts in something bigger than himself to bring him new life.  He knows in a visceral way that he cannot save himself, but he trusts that Jesus can.  And upon regaining his sight, he does not return to his home, or remain in Jericho; he chooses to follow Jesus on toward Jerusalem.

When we hear the term follow Jesus it’s important to remember that Bartimaeus literally followed Jesus.  Like he walked right behind him or along side him as he traveled.

It is important to keep in mind though that Bartimaeus literally followed Jesus in his journey from Jericho to Jerusalem.  Why does this matter? It matters because the road from Jericho to Jerusalem was not an easy road to travel.  In fact, the road between Jericho to Jerusalem was notorious for being a dangerous road, a perilous journey.  If you are familiar with the story of the Good Samaritan you might remember that it was in fact this road between Jericho and Jerusalem that was the setting for this parable, where a traveler is robbed, beaten and left for dead.  And this was well known throughout the land at this time.  It would be like talking with a friend about certain parts of Cincinnati, the parts of town that everyone knows you aren’t supposed to go to, unless your looking for some trouble.

This means one thing and one thing only, Bartimaeus knew that following Jesus might mean trouble.  He knew that going along this path with Jesus meant that he would encounter danger.  But none of that mattered to him, what mattered was following Christ.  See Bartimaeus knew what it was like to be on the losing end of things.  He lived life as a blind beggar in Jericho.  He knew what it meant to live on the fringes of society.  But after encountering the grace and the goodness of God made flesh in Jesus Christ our Lord, he could not only see again, literally, but he could see the truth that lies beyond the truth: following Jesus is the only thing that really matter, truly matters in this life.

This world that we live in often promotes this understanding that if you are good, if you have faith, if you do everything right, then bad things won’t happen.  We sometimes call it the prosperity gospel.  If you believe enough God, will reward you.  It’s just not true and it’s not biblical.  Following Jesus means enduring the tough times of this life, it means persisting and insisting your way through it, it means remembering that no matter what it will not have the last word.  But life is not going to be a cake walk, something that is always easy to endure, as the Psalmist says ‘many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord rescues them from them all.’

There is the word of hope and life in the midst of it all.

As we uplift the blind beggar Bartimaeus and his bold faithfulness, we must also ask ourselves what does this story tell us about God?  Where is God when we feel those deep seated questions, or doubts arise?  Where is God when we are caught in the darkest valleys?

A man lost his son, unexpectedly and he came to church the next Sunday where the hymn of the day centered on the resurrection, our new life in Christ.  He said to me after church that day “sitting in the pew I decided I don’t need to have faith in the Resurrection today, everyone else is faithful for me.”

To put it another way, sometimes when the weight of our burden is too much to bear, when everything around us is crumbling, sometimes it’s too much for us to come to church and have faith in all this stuff, to have faith that God loves us, to have faith that Jesus has and will save us, to have faith that God is with us.  But when I can’t have faith, you carry it for me, and maybe one day, I will carry it for you.

God works through others, God speaks through the faithfulness of others.  Our community strengthens us through difficult times as God’s spirit works through us.

And we can always trust that our God is faithful enough for us, even when we aren’t.  We hear this truth about who God is in our psalm – that God hears the poor souls who cry out, and that our God is a God who saves.

This is the amazing and beautiful story of the whole bible, this is it in a nutshell; God loves us always and God is faithfulness extends to each generation.

We have this reminder that everything in this life will fade away, but that there is a rock on which we can always depend and that is the steadfast redeeming love of God.

I think that is why I think we need to rethink the way that we talk about faith.  Faith that word which seems so much more stagnant, stuck in a time or in a place.  Where at one time we had it, but over time we lost it; where once we questioned it, and once we found it.  And rarely, when we use the word faith at it’s best, is when we say that we are growing in our faith.  Perhaps we need to stop focusing on faith as something obtained but faithfulness as something lived.

Faithfulness is more about a living relationship with a living God, it flows and is fluid, it adapts and changes.

See we live these lives that are a like string of moments, one unto the next, which extend on out like an ever unfolding tapestry.  And powerfully, we believe, that God is present in each and every moment with us, that God’s grace and love extend to us at each and every step along on the way.

This grace which is present even when we forget, ignore it, or even deny it- God does not stop supplying it.

See God is faithful, always, and calls us to live in this way.

God calls us to be faithful even when we are on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, following Jesus, knowing that there are hardships along the way and knowing that the journey might end in death.  But we are people who know that struggle, pain and hardship will never have the last word.

We are people who know that God transforms oppression and tyranny into freedom and unbounded love, we know that God took death onto God’s very self, God took sin onto Godself so all of that it is forever redeemed and transformed into new and abundant life.

And so even in the midst of the darkest times in our lives we can look back with faithfulness and say just as the Psalmist- ‘I will bless the Lord at all times, his praise shall continually be upon my mouth… I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.’

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, knew this and lived this in his life for his day.   He was a driven and faithful saint of the church.  One of the stories that inspires me as a Christian is this one: In his 87th year Wesley contracted pneumonia while trudging through the snow trying to raise money for an orphanage.  The story goes that as he laid there on his death bed, his family and friends gathered around.  With a feeble voice he said ‘Farwell, farwell, The best of all is God is with us.’ He lifted his head and said ‘the best of all is God is with us.’[1]

The best of it all is God is with us.  Thanks be to God.

[1] Hurst, J. F. (2003). John Wesley the Methodist. Kessinger Publishing, 298.