This story is found in three Gospels—Matthew 20: 29-33, Luke 18: 35-43, and Mark 10: 46-52. Each version is a little different. Only Mark includes the man’s name Bartimaeus, which means the “son of Timaeus.”
Beggars don’t usually have names. If a man walks up to you on the street to ask for a dollar, he doesn’t give you his name, let alone his father’s name. He usually doesn’t want you to know it. Today, we think begging is shameful.
But in those days, begging wasn’t necessarily shameful. Beggars performed a useful function in society. Beggars reminded people of their social responsibility to be good to others. They gave people a chance to feel good about themselves and be generous. So, if you were disabled like blind Bartimaeus and you couldn’t make a living any other way, then you or your family were not ashamed to beg.
But just because Bartimaeus was a beggar didn’t mean he wanted to beg. Some people don’t mind begging. I’ve met some people today who are content to live off the generosity of others. But if you’re blind and want anything else, begging is a miserable life.
Back in the Sixties, Eric Berne wrote a book called The Games People Play, in which he described social relationships as a series of social games. He wrote that we often get trapped in these games, acting out roles, repeating the same moves over and over until it becomes almost impossible to break out of them. But if we really want to find the best God has for us, we have to be willing to leave our old games and follow Him. If we are to become what God wants us to be, then we must quit playing games and get real.
One social game is called, “helpers and beggars.” That’s what Bartimaeus was playing, begging on the street. Beggars seek money, attention and sympathy from helpers. Helpers get satisfaction and self-esteem by giving to beggars. It doesn’t matter if the giving helps the beggars, or if the beggars can make it without begging. Both sides benefit, but neither side needs to change. In Bartimaeus’ case, it was all he could do. Because he was blind and had no choice.
But what happens if beggars no longer need to beg, or we if we run out of money or time to help? Then something has to change. Rather than deal with the awkwardness of adjusting to a new situation, we often just keep playing the game. People resist change and just keep doing the same old things over and over again.
But following Jesus isn’t just sticking to the old rules of the game. We must break out of our old ways of thinking to find freedom. Jesus didn’t want to make Bartimaeus a better beggar--He came make people whole.
Psalm 37: 4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” That word “delight” implies a loving delicate, personal interaction with God, like being in a dance. Think of it--Jesus is inviting you to dance with Him. But the question is if you will accept the invitation, or turn it down?
We have all kinds of excuses, “I’m not a dancer;” “I’ve never danced before;” “I’m too clumsy;” or “I don’t know if I’m allowed.” We say this because we have been playing roles in life so long we’ve forgotten to have fun. Religion for most people seems to be one big formal game. But when the King of Glory invites us to dance, we should dance! Why be a servant at the feast when we are invited to be a guest? Why be a beggar when you can be a prince?
Like Bartimaeus, we have been living within our disabilities. We have jobs we don’t enjoy, because we think it’s all we can do. We settle for abusive relationships, because we think it’s all we deserve. We put up with emotional limitations and quirks of our personality, because we think that they are permanent. From a human standpoint, they may be! No doctor on earth may be able to heal you.
But Jesus is the great physician. He has given us the great potential for happiness and health. We can enjoy life. We can help others. We can have all the fruit of the Spirit--love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, self-control. We can make a difference in the world. It’s hard to do it when we are living within our perceived limitations.
The world is the Bibles name for the powerful forces of conformity around us. The world doesn’t recognize God’s power to change, but sees us mechanically, as cogs in a big machine. The world gives us labels and roles. If we don’t fit the pigeonhole we are assigned, then the world rejects us. The world doesn’t like us changing roles or thinking for ourselves.
When Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, people tried to shush him. He was making too much of a scene. This is the voice of the world, telling us to accept our place. They saw Jesus as one more impersonal king, only interested in the people the world says are important.
The flesh is the voice of our old habits and our old ways of thinking--that internalized voice of weariness and stubbornness. The flesh resists change and would rather keep our old habits and attitudes. The flesh always tells us that changing is too hard or just plain impossible.
In the old days, farmers used to carry chickens to market by tying their legs together. When they were cut loose, they didn’t start running around, but kept their legs stiff. Farmers would have to kick the chickens to get them started, because they didn’t realize they were free.
Like these chickens, people act like captives, even when freedom is staring them in the face. Just like when our old ways of thinking causes us to forget that with God, all things are possible.
The Devil really exists, but he’s also a symbol of all the consciously evil forces that bind for their own purposes. These diabolical forces seek to use us and manipulate us for profit or just for their own love of control. They fill us with false hopes and desires, calling us away from the real hope we can find when we turn to Jesus.
A few years ago, a man sued the Anheuser Busch Company over their beer ads. The man argued before the court that beer ads had done him permanent damage by deceiving him into thinking that beer enhanced his social skills and made him attractive. He lost the suit, of course, because it was dumb. Whether he was really serious we can’t know.
Even so, the man had a point. Advertising is diabolical at its core, because it tempts us to spend on promises that won’t deliver. Like the Devil, it deceives us into thinking that conspicuous consumption and gluttony are going to make us happy in spite of our real problems. It promises relief, but really keep us as beggars, dependent on false luxury and temporary relief such as drugs, food, or luxury cars. We know that our real desire is to be free from harmful addictions, but we listen to the voice of the Devil and keep going back to them for relief. Any frivolous whim is permissible, just so we don’t follow our real desires and find God’s mercy.
Bartimaeus was tired of the begging game, When he saw Jesus coming and had heard he might be the Messiah, he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
The people around him told him to be quiet. Jesus told his disciples to call him so they did.
There’s a small detail in this story that really excites me. It’s in verse 50: “And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.”
Notice the cloak. Both Mark and Luke’s versions mentions him laying aside his cloak.
Why was Bartimaeus wearing a cloak, and why did he need to throw it off? Jericho is a hot place. It’s the lowest spot on earth, and the hottest place in Israel. So, why would anyone in Jericho need to wear a cloak?
Cloaks were part of a standard beggar’s costume. Cloaks kept the sun and dust off them while they lay beside the road. Cloaks doubles as a blanket at night and a tent in the daytime. Throwing off his cloak meant throwing off his old role as a beggar. It was a symbol of his worldly role.
We all have the symbols of our roles in life. They are our houses, cars, bank accounts, old friendships, and our occupations. Our beggar’s cloaks are the things we wrap around ourselves to make us feel warm and secure. But in the end, they are just the things that keep us blind to the new life that God can give.
Mark 8 is the story of a beggar who was healed and became a productive citizen through the power of Christ. Now, I want to tell you the story of a productive citizen who, by that same power of Christ, chose to go the other way. A man who became a beggar for Christ. His name was Francis and he lived in Italy in the Thirteenth Century.
Francis was a spoiled little rich kid who had everything he ever wanted. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant and was training his son to take over the business. But Francis gave his life to Jesus and was given a great desire to preach the Gospel and help the poor. Francis could not pass a beggar without giving him something.
One day, his father sent him on a business trip to another town to deliver a wagonload of expensive cloth. Instead of delivering the cloth, he sold it and gave the money to the poor.
Francis told his father, and his father was furious. He had him arrested and dragged before the town square to humiliate him. His father reminded him that without his money, he would have nothing, not even the clothes on his back.
Francis realized that his father was right, everything he owned in life came from his father. He was living entirely on his father’s money. While he did, he owed it to his father. So, Francis did something that was completely unexpected. He took off all his clothes and threw them back at his father. From that moment, he declared that he would live his life as a beggar, and that Jesus would provide all he needed. He would own nothing that Jesus didn’t provide.
Fortunately, someone gave him a blanket, and St. Francis became a beggar, preaching the Kingdom of God. “God’s fool” he called himself. Soon others joined him. For eight hundred years, Franciscan order has been following the example of St. Francis of Assisi. giving up worldly security to follow Jesus wholly.
Psalm 37: 4 says, “Delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” He will give you all you desire, but don’t think it will be easy. To receive, you stop playing the world, the flesh, and the Devil’s game, throw off you roles, expectations, and security blanket and give it all to Jesus.