Jesus Healing the Blind of Jericho by Nicolas Poussin
There’s something you might not know about me—I’ve spent time in jail. No, I wasn’t convicted of a crime. In the mid 1990s I was the chaplain at an all-male military “brig,” ministering to incarcerated men. One of the things I appreciated most about my time behind bars was the absolute vulnerability of the inmates I worked with. Having been stripped of their pride, they were remarkably transparent and humble. At least it seemed to me that way when I compared them with some churchgoers who hide their pain behind polite smiles, nods, and God-bless-yous.
Because some of my “parishioners” were locked up only a short while, I allowed public testimonies and prayer requests in all services and offered Communion every Sunday. The prisoners seemed to appreciate both. When they testified, they often shared self-revealing information with brutal honesty. It’s risky allowing criminals to speak publicly in worship. As with young children, you never know what they might say. I admire the Quakers, who put up with the awkwardness and uncertainty of the moment, risking human error for a chance to hear the voice of God. Most of the time this kind of unstructured worship is outside my comfort zone.
Jesus’ disciples didn’t like unexpected outbursts any more than I do. They tried to shut up Blind Bartimaeus when he shouted out messianic greetings to Jesus as he passed by (Mark 10:48). It’s like the special needs child or mentally handicapped adult who speaks out in church during the sermon as the family members desperately try to shush her. Like my inmates, Bartimaeus had no shame and would not be silenced. When urged to be quiet, he cried out for Jesus even louder.
It seems odd that Jesus had the blind man summoned rather than simply walking over to him (49). Maybe the crowds were pressing on Jesus so much he couldn’t get to Bartimaeus. Perhaps Jesus wanted to see how quickly and purposefully he would come. I don’t know. Be that as it may, once Jesus stared into his hollow, sightless eyes, he asked him what seems like an obvious question: “What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?” (51). Bartimaeus asked for the miracle of sight and he got it.
According to Jesus, he received his sight because of his faith. He didn’t say it was because of how much or what kind of faith. Jesus just said, “thy faith hath made thee whole” (52). It seems he gave Bartimaeus credit for his own healing, because he risked embarrassment and rejection to call out to Jesus and ask him for what seemed impossible. We learn from Jesus’ words to the Rich Young Ruler earlier in the same chapter that “with God all things are possible” (27). Fortunately for Bartimaeus, Jesus was in the miracle-working business. Happily for us, he still is.
A blind man asked Jesus for his sight to be restored and got it. What would you say if Jesus asked you, like he asked Bartimaeus, What do you want me to do for you?