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First Impressions: Mark 10:46-52

October 20, 2009

Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus this week provides a number of approaches for preaching.  Though most scholars I read this week have indicated this is a call story, it can also be preached as a healing story.  Depending upon the needs of the congregation, the sermon can emerge from our needs (“what do you want me to do for you?”—healing) or from the demands of our master as we follow on the way (call).  Be sure not to try to preach both at once.

10:46 The geographical location of the story may not be important, but the timing is essential.  This is the last healing, the last public scene, before Jesus enters Jerusalem.  Bartimaeus’ healing and following occurs on the cusp of Jesus’ predicted self-sacrifice.  This event also follows closely on the heels of Jesus’ third prediction of his passion (10:32-34).  Again, the disciples have trouble comprehending the message, and again, it will be an outsider (Bartimaeus) who really gets it.  As we will soon learn, only the blind man truly sees.

10:47-49 Like the Syrophoenician woman (7:24-30) and unlike the man who had many possessions (10:17-22), Bartimaeus did not give up.  He would not allow himself to be silenced.  He was aggressively persistent in his desire to meet Jesus.  If you have not recently used the theme of persistence, this could be a good week to preach on the value of persistence in faith.  If you use this concept, you may want to review this article that summarizes a study from the University of Pennsylvania.  That study determined that the “best predictor” of a person’s future success is not intelligence or talent, but is passion and perseverance.  Additionally, having the type of character to endure setbacks is also important.  (Quantum Publisher, “The Best Predictor of Future Success,” September 13, 2009.) The rejected outsiders Bartimaeus and the Syrophoenician woman are Mark’s examples of the truth of this idea.

Mark also repeats the theme of people (insiders) who are trying to prevent others (outsiders) from having access to Jesus.  In a prior text, Jesus was frustrated that the disciples tried to prohibit children from bothering the teacher (10:13-16).  Here, it is those who have their full faculties of physical sight who tell Bartimaeus to be quiet.  Ironically, it is the children who are lifted up by Jesus as examples for entering the kingdom, and Bartimaeus who provides the example for following Jesus “on the way.”  A sermon could address the ways we subtly prevent people from coming to Jesus through our Christian fellowship.  Have we unconsciously put up “you are not welcome here” signs?  More importantly, how can we put up very visible “you are welcome here!” signs?

10:50-52 The preacher can dramatize and provide a very powerful picture of Bartimaeus leaping up and throwing off his outer cloak before running to meet Jesus.  This is a simple image a person stripping life down to the essentials in order to follow Jesus.  The master is always on the move, “on the way,” and in order to follow, we must travel light.  Bartimaeus is a positive example of a faithful response to the call of Jesus.  Of course, Jesus did not actually call the man.  He simply told him to go.  Bartimaeus took the extra step and followed.

I will probably use the transformation of Bartimaeus sitting alongside the road (v. 46) to his following Jesus on the way (52).  This is the nature of our choice.  We can sit alongside, never fully embracing Jesus and his path, or we can leap up, let loose our cloaks and follow.  If you take the Pulpit Resource journal, there are several good illustrations of the difference between being alongside the way and following on the way (William Willimon, “On the Way.” Pulpit Resource, Oct-Dec 2009, 17-20.).  I am thinking about specific ways that people in my congregation do and could follow on the way.  What holds us back?  What keeps us silent when we sit alongside and Jesus passes by?

The above approach is the call.  You could also focus the sermon on the question “what do you want me to do for you?”  We all want something from Jesus.  Would we be ashamed to admit what we really want?  We should spend some time thinking and praying about what we want.  Is what I want the same thing as what I need?

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