In the Gospel of Mark, the story of Jesus’ dramatic encounter with Bartimaeus in Jericho takes up only seven verses of Scripture; and yet within these seven verses, we see the crux of the Christian gospel in a swiftly drawn portrait of Christian love. As Jesus encounters Bartimaeus here, he portrays for us the ways in which we a Christians are called to love other people. He demonstrates Christian love, the kind of love needed in our homes, in our marriages, in our friendships, in our interpersonal relationships, with our coworkers, our neighbors, with acquaintances, and even with strangers.
The Bartimaeus story reminds us that Christian love means respecting and valuing other people personally.
You know, it works pretty well: “To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” means to value God more than anything else in the world. To “love your neighbor as yourself” means to respect and value your neighbor’s life as much as you respect and value your own.
Tonight when you tuck your children into bed, or today when you say “so long” to someone you love, or tomorrow in conversation with a prized coworker, or whenever you want to express something special to someone you care for, try it. Say, “I value you so much!” and see what kind of response you get.
Jesus valued Bartimaeus personally. He stopped for Bartimaeus. I love that! Jesus was on his way to the cross, but he stopped for Bartimaeus; and when he stopped that was his way of saying: “You count! You matter! You are worth something! You are valuable! You are important to me, and I care about you personally!” We see something very special here in Jesus and something very special about Christian love, namely, that it is intensely personal.
Christian love is all inclusive. Light a candle and it will give its light to all in the room. It is not selective. It shines for all. It includes all, embraces all, and that’s the way love is. Love reaches out to do good to all people, even the unlovable.
Remember in the Scripture lesson how the crowd in their spiritual blindness tried to silence Bartimaeus? “Be quiet!” they said to him. “Don’t bother the Master! He is a busy man. You are just a poor blind beggar! He doesn’t have time for the likes of you! So hush up, now!” But, you see they were so wrong, so blind. Jesus teaches us here one of the most important aspects of Christian love. He stops to help Bartimaeus, a poor, blind beggar that no one else seems to care about, and in so doing he underscores for us the beauty of all-inclusive love, the beauty of seeing everyone we meet as a person of integrity and worth.
Recently, I ran across a powerful anonymous parable that I think expresses well what I am trying to say. It reads like this: “A disciple asked the holy man: ‘How can I know when the dawn has broken, when the darkness has fled? It must be the moment when I can tell a sheep from a dog.’ But the holy man answered, ‘No!’
“The disciple then asked, ‘Is it then that moment when I can tell a peach from a pomegranate? The holy man answered, ‘No, none of these.’
“The holy man said: ‘Until the moment when you can gaze in the face of a man or a woman and say, “You are my brother. You are my sister.” Until then, there is no dawn; there is only darkness!’”
Christian love means valuing other people personally; second, it is all inclusive, seeing and responding to every person we meet as a brother or sister for whom Christ came and died. And Christian love is not domineering.
Maybe this is why some of the books we see in our bookstores today bother me. I just can’t get in my mind the picture the picture of Jesus rushing to a bookstore to buy a book entitled negotiating from Power or Winning by Intimidation. Somehow these ideas seem diametrically opposed to the spirit of Christ. Please notice that when Jesus comes face-to-face with Bartimaeus, he doesn’t grab him by the collar and say, “I know what you need! I know what you want!” No! Courteously, graciously, gently,
humbly, Jesus asks him the question: “What do you want me to do for you?” He lets Bartimaeus tell him what he wants and needs.
I think many married couples make a tragic mistake right at this point. During courtship, they are kind, patient, courteous, thoughtful, and considerate. But then they come back from the honeymoon drawing the battle lines, worrying about who is in control, trying to dominate each other; and they forget that Christian love is never domineering. Jesus shows us that dramatically when he says Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?”
Jesus’ encounter with Bartimaeus also shows us that Christian love is self-giving and sacrificial. It means to give yourself to other people. It means to go out on a limb for others. Christian love acts in terms of the needs of other people. It’s not just something you feel. It’s something you do for the sake of others. Bartimaeus was crying for help. Jesus heard his crying and came to the rescue.
Some years ago in a small village in the Midwest, a little twelve-year-old girl named Tern was baby-sitting her little brother. Tern walked outside to check the mail. As she turned back from the mailbox, she couldn’t believe her eyes. The house was on fire. So very quickly the little house was enveloped in flames. Tern ran as fast as she could into the flaming house only to find her baby brother trapped by a burning rafter, which had fallen and pinned him to the floor.
Hurriedly, Tern worked to free her brother. She had trouble getting him loose as the flames were dancing around their heads. Finally, she freed him. She picked him up and quickly took him outside and revived him, just as the roof of the house caved in.
By this time, firemen were on the scene; and the neighbors had gathered outside the smoldering remains of the house. The neighbors had been too frightened to go inside or to do anything to help, and they were tremendously impressed with the courage of the twelve-year-old girl.
They congratulated her for her heroic efforts and said, “Tern, you are so very brave. Weren’t you scared? What were you thinking about when you ran into the burning house?” I love Tern’s answer.
She said, “I wasn’t thinking about anything. I just heard my brother crying!” Let me ask you something: How long has it been? How long has it been since you heard your brother or sister crying? How long has it been since you stopped and did something about it?
Now, don’t miss the conclusion of this great Gospel story. After Bartimaeus received his sight, look at what he did. He followed Jesus on the way! See what this means? Bartimaeus was so moved, so touched, so inspired, so changed, by the love of Jesus that he wanted to be a part of it. He wanted to take up the torch! He was so moved, so touched, so inspired, so changed by the love that Christ gave him that he wanted to pass it on! He wanted to go out now and give that love to other people in that kind of way! That is precisely your calling and mine, to love every person we see just like Jesus love Bartimaeus that day.
Dr. Fred Andrea is the pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church.