The Hopes of Bartimaeus
Thirtieth Sunday of the Year. Fr Jonathan Fleetwood preaches on Jesus’ fulfilment of the personal and corporate hopes of a pious Jew and nascent Christian.
Today’s Gospel relates the cure of the blind beggar, Bartimaeus. This is a threshold ‘wonder’. But why ‘threshold’?
Because it occurs on the threshold of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. At this point of the Gospel, the disciples’ hope grows (despite dark warnings from Jesus), then die at Jesus’ trial, and then rise again at his resurrection.
Why ‘wonder’ and not miracle? Because the episode is more than just the cure of blindness. The hopeful plea of Bartimaeus for cure of blindness is embedded in a wider web of religious hopes. Small fragments of reference in the story indicate this.
The hopes that follow Jesus range from individual hopes for cure to hopes for national liberation. The story of Bartimaeus reflects this range of hopes. A similar range of hopes can be found in the Jewish daily prayer, the ‘Eighteen’ Blessings, the Shemoneh Esrei, reflecting the hopes of Jesus’ time.
The fragments of reference in the Bartimaeus story can be mapped onto the Jewish prayer. The Blessings thank God for what he did in the past, what he does and is continously doing, and turn to hope in him for the future. The hopes in blessing recall the past and bode for the future.
Bartimaeus has personal hopes. He hopes for healing, as does the Eighth Blessing.
Blessed are you, Lord, who heal the sick of your people, Israel.
To be blind, for Bartimaeus, also means beggary. This consequential effect causes suffering, so Bartimaeus hopes for relief from suffering, as does the Seventh Blessing. He hopes, and calls upon Jesus, for God-given pity.
The Sixteenth Blessing –
Blessed are you, merciful Lord, you listen to prayer.
Bartimaeus followes Jesus not only for cure, but also for teaching. He calls Jesus ‘Master’, religious teacher, the theme of the Fourth Blessing:
Blessed are you, Lord, gracious giver of knowledge.
Bartimaeus has national hopes. Twice he addresses Jesus as ‘Son of David’, matching the plea of the Fifteenth Blessing to cause the offspring of David to flourish. This theme carries through in the Gospel to Jesus being called ‘King of the Jews’.
The whole threshold episode is also sited in the prayerful hope of the Fourteenth Blessing for the restoration of Jerusalem. Jesus’ joyful entry into Jerusalem in the next few verses marks this. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the Christian end-fulfilment of the rebuilding of the Temple, the core of Jerusalem.
The Tenth Blessing hopes for the call of the Shofar, the horn, for the ingathering of the people. Bartimaeus hears Jesus say, “Call him here.”
Blessed are you, Lord, who gather the dispersed of your people, Israel.
Bartimaeus is ingathered with the other disciples along the road to follow Jesus, the sign-to-be of the new Jerusalem and the new Temple. It is a pre-Pentecostal moment that Zechariah’s prophecy most seems to fit:
In those days, ten men of nations of every language will take a Jew by the sleeve and say, “We want to go with you, since we have learned that God is with you.”
Bartimaeus had faith in Jesus, echoing the call of the Thirteenth Blessing to trust in your name. Bartimaeus is the living sign of the pious Jew and the nascent Christian. He not only has hopes to remedy a problem, blindness; he also has a frame of religious reference with much wider hopes than those of his problem.
A similar range of hopes to both Gospel passage and Blessings is embodied in the Church. We are the hoping inheritors.
Christ through the Church still calls, still gathers together, encourages to faith. Christ is the pledge of unity of worship, of unity of communion, of unity of teaching. Christ through the Spirit gives hope to the ministries of compassion, healing and relief of suffering.