You can listen here:
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.
During the early days of the American Civil War, a Union soldier was arrested and charged with desertion. Unable to prove his innocence, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to die a deserter’s death by firing squad. However, he appealed, and his appeal found its way to the desk of President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was so moved by the soldier’s plight that he showed him mercy by signing a Presidential pardon. The soldier then returned to service and fought for the entirety of that dreadful war in which over 600,000 soldiers died. The soldier was killed in the very last battle. Found within his breast pocket was the signed letter of the President. The soldier kept close to his heart his leader’s words of pardon.
And it was the need for pardon or mercy that weighed heavily on the heart of poor, blind Bartimaeus on that fateful day when Jesus came to Jericho.
But although blind he could see what others could not, that Jesus was a King - the ‘Son of David’.
This is an astonishing insight. In the world of the Greco-Roman religions of the 1st century, the idea of mercy was pretty well non-existent. You earned merit through your religion; you didn’t receive mercy. But where you did find the notion of mercy operating, although the word used was ‘clemency’ - was not in the world of religion, but in the world of politics. It was Julius Caesar no less who asked for power so that he could show clemency. On the Roman coins which the disciples would have used, ‘clemency’ was an attribute claimed by the Roman Emperors, it was solely the prerogative of Kings. However, the one thing which was frowned upon was that such clemency should be the result of pity. It was always seen as a cold, emotionless decree which served to underscore the power of the King rather than the plight of the needy.
Not so with Jesus, the tender kindness of the King radiates from the passage. He calls Bartimaeus, he addresses Bartimaeus and he heals him.
I mentioned at the beginning the story of the Union soldier who carried his pardon close to his heart right up to the point of his death. It was that letter of mercy that gave him courage to go on serving his leader through the most trying of times. It was a similar mercy that freed up Bartimaeus to follow Jesus. It is that same sense of wonderment of being a recipient of God’s mercy won at such great cost on Calvary’s Hill, which will keep us going to the end. John Newton, former slave trader, blasphemer and writer of one of the most famous hymns of all time, ‘Amazing Grace’, knew this too and at the old age of 82 said: ‘My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour’, words now etched on his gravestone. I am sure dear Bartimaeus would have agreed.
Gracious God, Lord of Lords and King of Kings, like Bartimaeus I cry out to you this day to grant me mercy. I have many needs, which you know well, but my greatest need moment by moment, hour by hour, is for your full, free and glorious pardon. I may forget many things today, but may I remember two things above all, that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour. Amen.