Lots of fairy tales include Kings, princes, and princesses of large kingdoms with great wealth. The king would receive visits from the people. It is so in much of history that the king would hear from the people. It was so with King David of the Old Testament. It was the job of the king to hear from the people. He would, however, only hear from the people that members of his court had screened. It was the job of the court to decide who went before the king.
The king would receive visits from people with gifts and praise from his subjects. In many kingdoms, including the Kingdom of Israel, the king heard disputes and made judgments. It was the job of the king to exact justice. In the case of the kings of Israel, the king was to make sure that the poor, widows, and orphans were taken care of, treated fairly, and not taken advantage of.
Beggars like Bartimaeus would never be granted to see the king. He would only get the attention of people going in and out of the city gate. Bartimaeus heard Jesus of Nazareth was passing by and he saw it as his chance to go before the King of Kings. But, the Disciples beg him to be quiet. Acting as Jesus’ entourage, for some reason, the Disciples don’t want Bartimaeus to bother Jesus or have Jesus spend His time on Bartimaeus. The Disciples don’t simply try to quiet Bartimaeus; they rebuke him for trying to get Jesus’ attention. They didn’t simply say hush up. The Disciples shamed him for trying to ask Jesus for help.
I suspect they rebuked Bartimaeus because he called Jesus Son of David. The Disciples had been trying for years now to make sense of who Jesus is. They finally understand that Jesus does not live up to their messianic hope for a King. They finally understand that Jesus is a man on a mission to heal and teach. By calling Jesus Son of David, Bartimaeus proclaims that Jesus is the long expected king.
Since the time that Israel was ruled by King David, then King Solomon, the Israelis have been waiting for another King David. King David is the one by which all other kings were measured. Some were good; some did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. But, the good ones never were as great as King David. Calling Jesus Son of David was the same as calling him King, the long awaited king that would restore the kingdom of Israel and restore justice and righteousness in the great nation of Israel.
If Bartimaeus is proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of David, the crowd may be rebuking his theology as much as his volume. The Disciples don’t want him to misunderstand who their teacher is. In the previous text which we read last week, James and John asked for the places of honor to serve nearest to Jesus. Now, they perhaps show that they don’t understand. They fail to recognize that Jesus means service and miracle.
The Disciples had gotten used to the idea of Jesus of Nazareth who is servant to all and had perhaps forgotten about the miracles. However, the story of Jesus is just the story of the life and death of a man without the virgin birth, many miracles, and the resurrection. Jesus is not the Christ without the miracle. Following Jesus just for teaching is nothing but study, without being witness to the miracles. Service means nothing without the Lord. Being a servant is just meaningless humility without doing it for the Lord. The ministry of the Church is just the Rotary club without the Divine presence of God. Somehow we have to believe that Jesus is both healer and teacher and Sovereign Lord.
I had a similar crisis of faith in seminary. Seminary education is designed to deconstruct one’s faith and rebuild it on a more theologically sound platform. At one point, the system had left me too long with a deconstructed faith and had not started rebuilding my faith. I had come to believe that Jesus was 100% human, end of story. I began to question the miraculous birth and wondered if the resurrection was just a missing body. I had stopped going to church, but continued going through the motions of going to class and studying.
With the help of a professor, I recognized the problem. I was focused on the teaching, not the healing of Christ. I spent the next semester devoted to the miracle of the resurrection and wondering why God would come to Earth in the form of a man. I stopped praying to God and only prayed to Jesus. I started listening to only Christian music and started talking about my faith to my friends that seemed more open to talking about the spiritual. Slowly, my faith in the Divinity of Christ emerged. In a few months, I was once again able to say with firm belief that Jesus was 100% human and 100% God.
That’s the crisis of faith the Disciples had that day in the crowd before Bartimaeus. They had lost faith in the miracles and focused in on service. Jesus hears Bartimaeus and the Disciples. He does not correct the Disciples. He asks them to call Bartimaeus to Him. By this request, Jesus acknowledges Bartimaeus’ bestowed title and asks the Disciples to extend the invitation to come before the King. Just like that, the Disciples had gone for “discouragers to encouragers. “ The Disciples tell Bartimaeus to have courage, be of good cheer, and shuffle him through the crowd to go before the Lord.
There is something worth noting about the name Bartimaeus. The name in Aramaic means Son of Timaeus. Timaeus means poverty. So, this man’s name is son of poverty. This name may have been symbolically given to this man rather than actually being his name. Either way, it is significant that this man is identified by his social class. This man is a man of poverty.
The Son of David, King Jesus, calls the son of poverty, Bartimaeus, to come before him. And, in great royal tradition, Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he would like Jesus to do. When in the crowd, Bartimaeus asked for Jesus’ mercy. In the presence of Jesus, Bartimaeus was more specific, please let me see.
In that moment, Jesus acts as a king. It is the kings royal calling by God to see that the poor are taken care of. This group of society are not able to work and not able to provide for themselves. They had been cast out of their homes and banished to the city gate to beg for enough money for their meals. Here, Jesus has taken His role as king seriously, as throughout his miraculous ministry of healing, he seeks to transform people’s lives and deliver them from poverty. In the same sense, Jesus cannot be king, because he is able to do things even the great King David could not.
Jesus responds to Bartimaeus’ request for healing unlike any other of his healings. In all other healings, Jesus touched the person to make them well. In the case of the hemorrhaging women, she touched Jesus. In all the stories of His healings, there was touch involved, except this one. As if to underscore that fact that He has the capacity to call upon God’s healing, Jesus heals Bartimaeus without even touching him.
This story is especially important after the previous texts about servanthood. It can become easy for Christians to lose sight of the miracle while focusing solely on service. It is important for us to take time to remember that above all Jesus is the Christ.
I have been reading a lot about young adult Christians and what they want from a church. They are perplexed. Some of them learned the stories of the Bible as children; some did not. Some have no idea who God is; some have given little thought to who God is; some want nothing to do with the God that is conveyed through culture.
We are in a time of great potential. Millions of young adults are struggling with questions about who God is and how God works and where God is. We have the opportunity to journey alongside them. We simply have to invite them with their questions to learn with us who the Lord is.
Many young adults are looking for ways to serve and there are thousands of service organizations ready to put them to work. They can work for good causes and achieve common goals for the better of their community and the world. The church is much different than any of those organizations. We offer many opportunities for service that makes a real difference in their community. What makes us different is that we offer them Jesus, our Lord.