Beggars All

Jesus’ encounter with blind Bartimaeus reminds us to approach God as a beggar, acknowledging that we are broken and imperfect people, in need of God’s mercy and grace. As we humble ourselves before God, we can more clearly hear Him asking us “What do you want me to do for you?”, and we are invited to make our requests known to Him. Remembering that all that we receive from God is a gift, we can live with gratitude and be generous with others.

Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Mark 10: 46-55


I read an article this week on climate change, and the title of the article was “This might just look like grass, but it has the power to absorb a load of our carbon emissions.” (Lauren Kent, CNN, 10/22/21)

The article’s main point was that scientists have often overlooked grasslands as an important factor in addressing climate change.  Most of the time, climate scientists have looked up at trees and forests as the key to slowing down global warming,

And it’s true that they store and produce a ton of carbon dioxide.  But at the same time, prairies, steppes, and other grasslands store almost as much carbon dioxide as forests do.

Some scientists are recognizing this and emphasizing the importance of preserving and propagating grasslands that are right down on ground level.

The main character in our scripture story today is kind of like those grasslands.  The ground was his primary dwelling place.  And like the grasslands when it comes to climate change, the story of this man’s life was being overlooked and undervalued.

Like most people who are down at the bottom of the social ladder, he was looked down upon by other people.

In fact, he wasn’t even seen as being important enough to be called by his own name.  His name, Bartimaeus, means “son of Timaeus”, so people only know him as his father’s son.

Bartimaeus was blind, and because he was blind, he was poor—he had no way to make a living for himself.

And also because he was blind, he was considered unholy. In Jesus’ day, it was assumed that blindness was the result of some sin that a person or their parents had committed.

So Bartimaeus is relegated to a life of begging, a life of desperation and dependence on the charity of other people, people who lacked compassion for folks like him.

His plight is similar to that of the homeless population in our world today, who most people secretly wish would just go away or disappear completely.

And so when someone like Jesus who is considered ‘important’ comes along, people who are with Jesus try to keep this riff raff from bothering Jesus.

People like his own disciples, who as we know from the story last week of James and John, had come to think of themselves as pretty important, pretty high up there.

But Jesus pays attention to people who are down low, both physically and figuratively.  Not long before this encounter, parents were bringing their children to Jesus and Jesus’ disciples try to turn them away.  They don’t think kids deserve Jesus’ time and attention.

Jesus gets really upset with them, and says “let them come, for the Kingdom of God belongs to little people like them.”

If you have children, or been around kids much, you know how persistent they can be to get your attention.  “Look, mommy!  Look mommy!”  they’ll keep saying.  Or “I want a cookie, daddy!  Give me a cookie now!”

Or at our house right now with our 2 ½ yr. old grandson it’s “Can I watch Toy Story, grandma and Papa?” “Put on Toy Story right now!”  This has been like a broken record every night for the past 3 weeks or so.

Kids can be stubborn– they have the nerve to keep bugging you until you finally give in to their demands.  At least that’s what grandparents usually do!

Remember the Canaanite woman from a few weeks ago whose daughter was dying, and she kept calling out to Jesus until he responded to her?  She was persistent, she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, she was, as we called her, a “good kind of stubborn”.

And here we see Bartimaeus, like other desperate people we encounter in the scriptures, being stubborn in trying to get Jesus’ attention with the hope of being cured of his blindness.

The crowd kept trying to silence him, but he kept on crying out louder.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Until finally, Jesus heard his cries and asked for Bartimaeus to come to him.

So Bartimaeus throws off his coat, jumps up, and feels his way through the crowd to get to Jesus.

And then Jesus asks him “What do you want me to do for you?”

It seems like this is a question that Jesus asks a lot.  This is the same question that he asked James and John right before this.  But in their case, what they were asking for–to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory–was not out of need but our of greed.

As we saw last week, James and John felt entitled, privileged, and wanted to go farther up the social ladder.  In contrast, Bartimaeus just needed to be lifted up off the ground.

And so while Jesus denied the request of James and John, and he granted Bartimaeus’ request to be able to see and he heals him.

And you know what’s cool?  Jesus says to him “Go on your way”.  But then instead of just wandering off on his own way, Bartimaeus follows Jesus on the way that Jesus was going.  He knew that it was the path that led to seeing the world with new eyes.

Bartimaeus became of follower, a disciple of Jesus as a result of this encounter.  We can say that he entered into the Kingdom that day.

I like the way that Meghan Good talks about this story.  Meghan is a pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Arizona, a church where I once served as a pastor.

Meghan wrote a devotional on this passage called “Bend Down to Enter”, where she talks about the stark contrast between the request of James and John on the one hand, and Bartimaeus’ request on the other hand.

Meghan says: James and John are competing for power, for glory, for significance, for the best seats in the house. Bartimaeus simply cries out his need for mercy.  

And she asks, What if Bartimaeus was seen as the hero of the story, a positive counter-example to the toxic ladder-climbing of James and John?  

Meghan says: It often seems like the longer we are with Jesus, the more we begin to develop complicated desires. Once our basic needs have been met, we frequently stop being aware of them.

Instead of spending our time hoping simply for an invitation to the party, a seat at the table, we start spending more time thinking about our place in the seating arrangements.

At our lowest points, there is often a purity and simplicity to our desires. All we really want is mercy.  All we really long for is a word that will heal us. This is why, according to all the gospel writers, the poor and outcasts have an advantage when it comes to entering God’s kingdom.

And the door to the kingdom appears to be situated low. You have to bend down to enter.  Perhaps it is awareness of the depth of our need that bends us toward the open door.

Maybe Bartimaeus is here to guide us into the kingdom. Maybe he is here to teach us how to pray.

One thing I think we can learn from Bartimaeus about prayer is the importance of asking God for what we need.  Yes, God already knows what we need.

When Jesus asks Bartimaeus “What do you want me to do for you?” he probably already knows what Bartimaeus wants.  He can see that he is blind. But maybe there’s something that’s both humbling and empowering at the same time to express and verbalize what we need.

That’s important in our relationship with others, right?  Whether it be our spouses, our parents, our children, our bosses, our students or our patients, verbalizing, articulating and clarifying what we need and want from them is important.

I think the same is true in our relationship with God.  Prayer is most authentic and most effective when we tell God what it is that we want or need, when we’re specific and honest with God.

Another thing we can learn from Bartimaeus about prayer is our posture or attitude when we come before God.

Jesus told a parable that contrasted two types of people and the way that each of them prayed.  He begins the parable begins by saying that it is directed at people who believed that they were righteous before God, and who looked down on other people.

In the parable, which is in Luke 18:9-14, Jesus contrasts two people—a Pharisee, who is a pious and proud religious leader, and a tax collector, who is considered a sinner because tax collectors were swindlers who collected more taxes than what they were supposed to from people.

Jesus says that the Pharisee and the tax collector both went up into the temple to pray.  The Pharisee goes right up front and center, right to the pulpit and prays:

 ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

13 But the tax collector, standing far off, way in the back, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Then Jesus says,  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Humility is the proper attitude when we pray, Jesus says.  We see this humility in Bartimaeus, when he begs Jesus, just like the tax collector, crying out to him “Have mercy on me”.

Like the tax collector, he knew that he was in need of God’s mercy and God’s healing power in his life in order to be made whole.  He needed something from God, and he wasn’t ashamed or too proud to ask for it, to beg Jesus for it.

You know what? Deep down inside, we’re all beggars.  We are all broken people who need to be made more whole, and imperfect people who are in need of God’s mercy, God’s forgiveness, God’s grace and more of God’s love in our lives.

People who don’t have much material wealth, people who are farther down on the social ladder, down on the level of the grasslands, seem to find it easier to be humble, admit their poverty before God and ask him, beg him for what they need.

When they receive what they ask for, they know that it is a gift that they don’t deserve, a gift that they did nothing to earn on their own.

And, as Keri Waltner shared from her powerful encounter with a homeless person last week who shared what she had given him with another homeless person, people who receive things as a gift find it easy to share that gift with others.  They live with gratitude.

We see this attitude of gratitude in Helen Keller, who responded to all the help that she received when she was so helpless by dedicating so much of her life to helping others, giving back, paying it forward.

This gratitude comes through in a quote where she says “There is no better way to thank God for your sight than by giving a helping hand to someone in the dark.”

In contrast, those of us who live more comfortable lifestyles, those of us who have our basic needs met, as Meghan Good said, we can stop being aware of them, and we develop more complicated desires.

And we become proud in our self-sufficiency, and we don’t like to ask people for things or ask for help,

And we feel uncomfortable receiving a gift that we didn’t do anything to earn.

We have trouble admitting our neediness before God, because it would mean swallowing our pride, and being like a beggar.  To be considered a beggar is the worst thing that we’d ever want to be known as.

But, you know what?  The reality is that we can only truly experience God’s mercy, God’s unconditional love for us when we come to God as beggars.

This is what I believe we learn from the story of Bartimeaus and so many other encounters of people with Jesus.  And this is what I’ve caught a glimpse of in my own life when I’ve been at the end of my rope and in desperation I reached out to God.

It is in these times when God’s love and forgiveness have broken through the thick walls of my prideful heart and touched me with his mercy and grace.

The honest reality is that we are all beggars.  And when we approach God with the humility of a beggar, we can hear his still small voice asking us “What is it that you want me to do for you?”

And he invites us to ask for what we might feel like we don’t deserve.

Michael Card has been one of my favorite musicians throughout my adult life.  He has taken stories and people and books and themes of the Bible and created lyrics and music that make those stories and people and books and themes come alive in powerful and beautiful ways.

Card happens to have written a song about Bartimaeus.  He called the song “The Paradigm”, because he considers Bartimaeus the paradigm, the model for the kind of faith that Jesus desires from people.

Bartimaeus’ faith that at the same time has the humility and the boldness to ask Jesus for what he knows he doesn’t deserve.

The chorus says,

So come all you beggars, up on your feet, take courage, He’s calling to you,

Surrender your striving and find the nerve to boldly ask for what you don’t deserve.

In closing, we’re going to listen to that song.  The words will be up on the screen.  And as we listen, I invite us to ponder Jesus’ question “What is it that you want me to do for you?”, and then find the courage to tell him what we need.