Mark 10:46-52. Click here to read it.
There’s a certain brand of survival instinct that tell us cover over any sign of weakness. If you ever find yourself facing a certain predator, like say a bear or a large dog, experts will tell you to stand your ground. If you run, you flip a switch in that animal’s brain that says, “This person is your prey, run it down and eat it.” Bad news. So, sometimes it’s best to stand as tall as possible, with up-stretched arms, getting as loud as possible, making yourself a menacing threat. Watch here for some tips:
But animals treat other animals this way, too, and people to people. If you’ve ever heard of “pecking order” you know what I mean. Animals create hierarchy of leadership/authority. There are top dogs, or “alphas”, who lead the pack, and there are second-in-commands, and on down the line to the bottom of the ladder. But those at the top usually feature similar behavior – toughness, confidence, being assertive, and possibly never showing weakness. Because at the first sign of vulnerability, guess what the other dogs start thinking? “Maybe I can take him/her down and assume the lead.”
Think about cut-throat gang situations or organized crime, or your favorite shows/movies about it. If you ever watched the Sopranos, you know that the protagonist, Tony, spent more of his time trying to maintain his control/authority than anything. Somebody was always disobeying, dishonoring, or assaulting him. So he felt compelled to inflict pain back upon them. Because if he didn’t, “the boys would say he was goin’ soft” and somebody else would vie for control of the mob. In other words, Tony would end up dead. So, he’s a fairly strong, tough, no-nonsense character. And a focus of the show was Tony’s psychological breakdown because he was caving under the pressure of appearing to have no weakness.
You’ve experienced this in your family, or at your work, etc. You know times/places/people where you feel unable to show any sign of fear, hesitation, indecision, or weakness of another sort. You know what it is to feel like you can’t not know something, or you can’t do something wrong, or you can’t express your emotion, or you can’t ask for help, lest you deal with how others will treat you afterward. You know how hard it is to ask for directions, for Pete’s sake.
I’ll never forget being in high school, and high school boys liked to gather in circles between classes. For those few minutes, your status depended on 1) being in SOME circle, then 2) which circle, and then 3) what you contributed to it. A majority of those circles’ conversations centered on either girls or, more commonly, picking at each other. Nothing heavy and usually not too hateful, but just getting under each other’s skin. Teenage boys were (are) sarcastic to the max and we felt like we needed to get a rise out of each other. We talked about each other’s mamas, sexuality, manhood, intelligence, and you name whatever else. And don’t you know the moment you showed somebody that they had hit on a nickname or joke that got the best of you, they all poured it on, like catching the scent of blood. I’m just saying, we are taught in many a different setting that it is not okay to make your weaknesses known. The best you could do was to put on a poker face, smile lightly at their comments, and come right back with better. We live that way in a lot of circles. Show no weakness.
But how do you think that instinct will work on a walkabout? Now, knowing what you do about Australia, and how very deadly and difficult the wilderness there is, is it worthwhile on a walkabout to try to cover up weakness? What if you hid the fact that you were deadly allergic to spiders or bees? What if you failed to tell anyone that you can’t tolerate too much sunlight? What if the second day in you sprained your ankle and felt the need to keep it quiet, bite your lip, and try to power through the pain for the next 6 months? Ridiculous. You’d end up dead, truly.
And in terms of holy walkabout, don’t forget the basics we picked up last week: Jesus wants to see you make it, to survive, and then some. He is working to get you there. So, this week, we have something new to learn in Mark 10:46-52. There’s a man who is unavoidably “weak” in the eyes of the world. Blind Bartimaeus.
And let’s let that weakness sink in a little bit. Look at his livelihood. Every day his task is to get to his spot by this main road outside this city so that he has good enough odds of having some folks throw some coins his way so that he might have enough to eat. He has no other shot at earning a living wage, or fulfilling some personal calling, his job is to sit by the road and shout and hope. Look at what we know of his possessions; the passage goes out of its way to mention Bartimaeus’ cloak, and I wonder if that’s because it was all he owned, or maybe the thing he spread out to catch his daily alms in.
You can wonder how others feel about him, or treat him. Many of us know the emotions of coming across a “street person” who asks for a few bucks or some change. It ranges from feeling inconvenienced or pitying them to total impatience, frustration, mistrust, maybe even annoyance and anger. Can we imagine having others approach us with that mixture of emotions every day? We can wonder how they spoke to the poor who were allowed to beg this way. We can wonder the names. We can wonder how they “handled” a beggar who got out of line or too much in their faces…were they ever struck or harmed bodily? Listen to how they shouted at him when Jesus came by, “Shut up, and stay in your place,” I hear.
Then there’s his name. It’s a rare thing in Mark’s gospel for the person healed to be named, so is the blind man exalted here? Not exactly. For the Jews “bar” in a name just meant “son of.” It was a last name type of title, so this is just the son of Timaeus. Imagine his birth, when the midwife carries the little boy in to the parents and says, “Timaeus, here is your son.” For whatever reason, maybe he was born blind, this man’s parents may have never given him a first name. We know him as Blind Bartimaeus, and that’s it. Last, remember that the Jews would’ve looked at the blind man and called him cursed by God. God must hate this guy, because look at how he must live. This man’s parents, or grandparents, or he himself must be particularly sinful for God to make him blind. He has no first name, but he had an identity – the hated of God. Last place in every way.
We need all of that to sink in, the breadth of his weakness, because it changes abruptly when Jesus walks out of town. Mr. Popular himself comes through with the crowd following, and Bartimaeus harnesses the power of his weakness as a greatest strength.
His plot by the roadside becomes a blessed location, because it sits by the path that is leading Jesus towards Jerusalem, and it’s in Jesus’ ear-shot. So he SHOUTS. When the people try to quiet him, those years of being beat down and mistreated and ridiculed by others have him absolutely careless of them. He has learned what they all think of him, and so I think Bartimaeus grabbed the moment to completely disregard other peoples’ opinions. They wanted him to quiet down? TOO BAD! They called him a fool and a sucker and the God-hated? TOO BAD! “JESUS, SON OF DAVID, HAVE MERCY ON ME!” He even uses dangerous language, calling Jesus “son of David” as if Jesus was truly the king, but what did he have to lose? He picks up his cloak and throws it aside when Jesus chooses him. And even though he remains somewhat nameless as Jesus almost says, “Hey, you, come to me…”, Bartimaeus would become one of the most famous humans in our history. His name is immortalized in the book that has been printed vastly more than any other volume, in infinitely more languages and carried to far more places – the Bible. The no-named man is more famous and known today than we can imagine, because Jesus pointed to him in the Gospel. Jesus who was God in the flesh. Jesus who chose the blind man out of the crowd, and loved him, healed him, and took him as a follower.
For all that weakness, great, great strength. And it’s important to remember this didn’t have to go this way. With great weakness, some of us know, comes great hardship and sometimes bitterness and a hardening of the heart. Bartimaeus could’ve been the LAST person to cry out or want to talk to God. He could’ve chosen self-centered spite over the hope of healing. That would’ve been easier. But no. He PIPED UP.
So you know what he’s teaching us? To ask for help. To admit weakness. To be willing to let weakness be what it is, in a way that might just become a strength to knowing and following Jesus. Walkabout is incredibly transparent, vulnerable, and dangerous. So ask for help.
Now, practically, I’m not asking for public confession; not even to confess privately to me, your great weaknesses. But start by acknowledging the weakness and confess it to Jesus. Ask him for help with it. And you might find over time his leading you to sharing it, or asking help from others. Bartimaeus does teach the benefits of public confession and a disregard for what people think. And I pray that your fellowship is the kind where you can be more and more vulnerable in community, and ask for help in somewhat public ways.
Above all, remember that the holy walkabout of faith is life-and-death, and very much potentially deadly. Last Sunday the rich man showed us the lethal nature of trying to carry too big a burden. Today the blind man shows us how to admit our shortcomings, even embrace them, if it means we can get on our feet and get on down the path that leads to life, in Jesus’ wake.