I want to tell you a story about someone who refused to just send off a shopping-list prayer and ‘hope for the best’. His prayer was a determined effort to make a difference; in his case a difference to his own life. And he discovered that, if prayer and healing don’t come out of a relationship with God, they just might lead to one. (Mark 10:46-52)
Bartimaeus was blind. He went blind when he was five years old. But Bartimaeus wasn’t the sort of person to sit back and wait for stuff to happen. He had a cousin, Samuel, who was paralyzed as a young boy when he fell out of a tree. Sam had given up on life. His parents took him to the pool of Bethesda a few years after it happened. They had tried everything else. Bethesda is where an angel was said to trouble the water—the first person in the water when the bubbles came was healed, they said. The problem is that there were just too many people there. The family worked hard. For a few years someone would stay with Sam all week and try to get him in the water, but even getting near was a mission. Eventually Sam gave up and told them not to worry. He began to make friends and enjoy the company, so his family would take him there at the beginning of the week and fetch him before the Sabbath. No one expected him ever to walk again, least of all Sam.
When Bartimaeus was about ten, his family took him along to the Bethesda pool. Sam had already been there nearly 20 years, but Bart couldn’t stand it. He couldn’t see the people but he felt the atmosphere. “Everyone’s sick here,” he said. “I don’t want to sit around with sick people all day.”
“But you’re also sick,” his Dad said.
“No I’m not! I just can’t see.”
“Yes,” said his Mom. “But here you can get better and then you’ll be able to see again.”
“But Sam isn’t better,” Bart said, “And he’s been here forever.” Well no one could deny that, so Bart stayed at home.
Bart made friends pretty easily and he played with the boys in the village. But once he was old enough to start working, no one would have him. His old friends were trying to find work themselves and saw Bart as a liability. Bart’s family didn’t have much, and when his father died, his brother had to look after their Mom. He would have helped Bart too, but there wasn’t very much to go around, so Bart decided to look after himself. His Mom worried about him. She said he should go back to the pool of Bethesda. “At least you can get a bit of food there and, who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky and get healed.”
“I’ll be alright, Mom,” he said. “A couple of friends of mine have got a plan. We’ll be fine.”
He didn’t tell his mom that his friends were also blind and that the “plan” was to beg. And for the next 15 years or so, that’s what he did.
“And what’s wrong with that?” he said to his brother a few years later. “You’re stuck here trying to make ends meet, and me? I’ve seen the whole country.”
“Anyway, I’m owed something,” he went on. “There are plenty of fat cats who’ve got more than enough and to spare. It’s their duty to give to the poor; especially if the poor happen to be blind as well.”
A lot of that was bravado, of course. What he said was true enough, but Bart wanted to see; he wanted to see more than anything else. But he wasn’t going to sit around a pool moping about what he didn’t have. He was going to make the best of what he did have.
“Jericho!” he once said to his brother. “Jericho. That’s where the money is. Everyone comes to Jerusalem for the big festivals, and they are usually very generous to people like me. It’s part guilty conscience; they want to make up for all the bad stuff they’ve done before they go to the Temple; and it’s part showing off how good they are. Whatever! It works for me. But in Jerusalem there’re just too many people and you don’t get enough exposure. But Jericho? It’s perfect. Before Jericho everybody’s busy focusing on the journey. Beggars are just a nuisance. But once they’ve reached Jericho and had a rest there, the focus is on Jerusalem. It’s the last stretch, and they start to think about what they are going to do, and that’s where I come in. I’m part of their preparation. I’m the opportunity to start putting things right and fixing the wrongs of the world.”
“And after the festival? When everyone’s going home? What then?” his brother asked him.
“Well, some people still have money left they are willing to part with, especially if they’ve had a good time. ‘A good festival, was it?’ I ask with a bit of pain in my voice. Then they feel sorry for you, and a bit guilty that they can travel to the festival and you can’t. But you don’t get as much as when people are going to the festival.”
Then came the day his cousin Sam was healed. The one at the pool of Bethesda. Thirty eight years he’d been at that pool—every single week. He’d given up being healed long before. Every now and again someone would offer to help him into the water but he’d wave them away. “Oh, don’t worry about me,” he’d say. “Help old Joseph over there rather. He’s far worse off than I am.” His family wondered if he’d know what to do if he got his legs back.
Then one day he walked into the village. Yes, walked!
Thirty eight years. He was 12 when his family first took him; now he was an old man of 50. After everyone got over the shock of seeing Sam on his feet, he told them what happened. Jesus, the preacher from Nazareth everyone was talking about, had walked in among the sick around the pool. He hadn’t made a fuss. No one seemed to recognise him.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Sam said, “but he stopped and crouched down next to me. He looked at me—probably a few seconds, but it seemed like eternity. Then he said, ‘Do you want to get well?’ I mean, what a stupid question; but somehow it wasn’t. He seemed to be looking deep inside me and asking about things far more profound than my wasted limbs. I wanted to say, ‘Of course I do!’ but I wasn’t so sure anymore; so I told him how the water thing worked and how difficult it was to get in. Then he said, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.’ ”
“What?” everyone blurted out at once. “Just like that? After 38 years, just ‘get up and walk’?”
“It’s crazy, I know,” Sam said. “But for the first time in 38 years I stopped and looked at myself. I’ve always waited for other people to help me and I’d given up on any sort of useful life. I guess I’d become comfortable with the impossibilities. Now suddenly I was confronted with a possibility; and here was a man saying to me, ‘It’s up to you.’ It’s the first time anyone has said that to me. Nothing has been up to me; everything depended on other people. And in those few seconds I saw everyone who had ever helped me and worked so hard for me. People whose help I’d taken for granted, and probably abused. You folk! And I thought, ‘Yes! I do want to get well.’ And as I began to move, I felt such unbelievable pain in my legs as they started to come to life again. It lasted about a minute but by then I was on my feet. I was gobsmacked, and by the time I had enough sense to thank the man he was gone. Of course I got into trouble because I was carrying my mat on the Sabbath. I tried to tell them that I wasn’t really working; it was just part of the healing process. They didn’t believe me; wanted to know who had done it. Well, it was only later that I saw Jesus in the Temple and realised it who he was.”
When Bart heard about Sam’s healing, he was determined he would see again. “Jesus is going to heal me,” he kept saying. Sam tried to play it down a bit. “There were hundreds of people at the pool. Jesus only seems to have healed me that day. I don’t know why. How do you know he’s going to heal you too?”
“He’s healed blind people too. I’ve heard,” Bart said. “If I just get close enough to him; if I can just look him in the eye. Well, ok, if he just looks me in the eye, I know I’ll see again. Then I’ll be free. Then I can do what I want, go where I like. I won’t ever have to follow anyone around again. I’ll find my own way.” There was no persuading him otherwise.
“Next month is Passover,” Bart said. “Jesus is sure to go to Jerusalem and he’s bound to pass through Jericho; and I’m going to be there.”
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. When Bart heard that Jesus was in the crowd passing his spot, he shouted as loud as he could. “Jesus! Son of David, take pity on me.”
People on the fringes of the crowd were trying to hear what Jesus was saying as he walked along, so they tried to shut Bart up. But he was having none of it. He was determined to see again.
“Jesus! Son of David, take pity on me,” he shouted even more loudly.
Jesus stopped and told his friends to call Bart. Bart jumped up, dropped his coat with his day’s takings in it and ran, stumbling to Jesus.
And you know, Jesus asked Bart virtually the same question he’d asked Sam: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Well there was no hesitation from Bart. He’d been waiting for this all his life.
“Teacher, I want to see again,” he told Jesus.
“Go,” Jesus told him. “Your faith has made you well.” Just like that. No drums, no fanfare. And Bart could see.
He was ecstatic. He wanted to run the 30 miles back home to tell everyone. He was free. For the first time in his life, he was free. He stood blinking in the light for a bit; then he looked long and hard at Jesus, who had already started on his journey to Jerusalem, and Bart made up his mind. He followed Jesus on the way.
- Bart and Sam: A Story to Follow (wonderingpreacher.wordpress.com)
- Mercy Mercy (womenswindow.com) (another Webster, but not related)
- Cross-Culture: Bartimaeus’ Demand (wonderingpreacher.wordpress.com)