Reformation Sunday

Mark 10:46 - 11:1 46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" 49 Jesus stood still and said, "Call him here." And they called the blind man, saying to him, "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?" The blind man said to him, "My teacher, let me see again." 52 Jesus said to him, "Go; your faith has made you well." Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

I can’t hide my church dorkiness. We all know that. So today on the Sunday we celebrate Reformation Sunday I was pressing people to come up with a good mascot for the Presbyterian Church. We’ve got a logo, and books of rules, all that good stuff. But we lack a good mascot. I started asking people for their ideas, with the promise that I would dress as the mascot this Sunday.

The suggestions were well… what you would expect. Dressing as a Scot was the most popular. That I should put on a kilt. Ironically, I don’t own a kilt, even though I grew up Presbyterian and went to Alma College where of course the mascot is a Scot… maybe someday. There was a funny suggestion by someone who said I should be an ice cube, of course referencing our less than appealing reputation as the “frozen chosen.”

The end result of my search for a Presbyterian mascot is (drum role please)… that the matter has now been referred to a task force who will now appoint a special committee to review such matters and report back at a later time.

Seriously though, the church right now can’t agree on who should be allowed to serve as leaders in the church, what it means to be a disciple in the world today, or what the word evangelism means, let alone a mascot. Actually, one suggestion came from a friend of mine that a referee is our mascot to make sure that everyone is fighting fair!

This isn’t anything new for the church. After all the Great Reformation of the 16th century was all about questions of faith and culture in the hearts and minds of people who loved God and the church and wanted to be faithful followers of Christ. People like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and Ulrich Zwingli were responding to the ways the medieval church was failing, financial burdens of the church, and the moral laxity of the clergy… starting to sound familiar?

It should. What the church was going through 500 years ago is now being experienced in fairly equivalent ways today. Some minor difference… while we are grasping with technological advances of the electronic age (computers, email, cell phones) then it was the printed word. The printing press had just been invented and information, Bibles, books, pamphlets made information accessible like never before. Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg and today he might have sent it out via email.

What we are seeing today, as we did 500 years ago is the church going through a major shift in is religious traditions and spiritual insights. We are experiencing these shifts in some major ways: the decline of membership in churches, the lack of importance of the church and religious tradition in daily life, and the gap between generations understanding what it means to be church. All of this coupled with questions about politics, education, and communication.
Our frustrations are tangible and many folks would like them to just magically go away. Looking for some I don’t know… good old fashion healing maybe?
Hey Jesus, can’t you heal us like you did Bartimaeus?

Yeah, we know it’s not that easy. And the gospel story this morning is going to challenge us to go deeper in this story than reading another miracle story.

First have to look at what makes this story different.

Bartimaeus is not the first blind man Jesus heals in the gospel of Mark. In chapter 8, Jesus heals a man blind from birth.

There are others that Jesus heals. There is man on the mat, the hemorrhaging woman, the demoniac and those are just a few examples. So what makes this story different?
We know his name.


“Bar” which in Aramaic means “son of.”

This is the son of Timaeus.

Why the name?

It has been suggested by many notable scholars that naming this man and actually this name in particular “Son of Timaeus” points to a larger meaning of what Jesus is doing.

Jesus isn’t just healing people. The physical act that this man once was blind but now can see sort of thing, but that Jesus is going up against some of the greatest wisdom and insight of his time and turning it upside down.

Everyone here has heard of the great Greek philosopher Plato right? He lived a few hundred years before the time of Jesus. Yet everybody who was anybody in Jesus’ lifetime was reading Plato. His ways of understanding were ingrained into everyday life, not just of educated people but to common people as well. Among his works was one very popular dialogue or play called Timaeus.

This play was performed all over the Mediterranean world for centuries, so it would be very likely that Jesus knew of it, or at least Mark in his writing of this gospel thought he should. In fact there was a Roman amphitheatre in Sepphoris, 4 miles from Nazareth where it might very well have been performed.

For those who aren’t completely up on their Plato, I’ll do my best to boil it down. Plato though that there is an ideal, eternal reality, of which we are merely an imperfect and transitory reflection. Some people are closer to perfection than others. Women, for instance, are pretty far from it, they are recycled men who used to be cowards. Birds are recycled men who were airheads. Closest to perfection are — of course — the philosophers. They “see” in ways that ordinary mortals cannot. Their brilliant insights give them true sight.

In Timaeus, Plato also says that all of us are blind, and only the enlightened philosopher can see. The philosopher is the one who can see this world is fallen, and imperfect. And described in this play is the first written reference to the legend of Atlantis, the perfect city which sank beneath the waves. Atlantis was the perfect world, but it is now lost, never to be found again.

It is a challenge for us to really grasp how depressing this world view is. To believe that there is a sharp separation between those who can “see” or have any kind of relationship with God and those who can’t. There are sharp divides based on gender, class, education and so forth that no matter how much the people who can’t see cry out for real healing in a dark and broken world will never get it. Never. God is unknowable, untouchable, and could not possibly have mercy or become involved in the needs and concerns of the people.

Our gospel story this morning about the son of Timaeus turns that struggle and quest for sight completely upside down. Bartimaeus represents the world view of Plato as those who have no value in society, who would never have a chance to “see” or know anything but their own darkness.

And the crowd around Bartimaeus reinforces how much the world embraces this disregard for those who they perceive as not having value. Hushing the cries, pushing them out of the way, back to the edge of the crowd… of the world where they are lost and forgotten about.

Bartimaeus is struggling through the crowd, struggling through a culturally accepted assumption that he has no value that he has no chance of healing and hope from a God that doesn’t care about him. Bartimaeus knows that his sight will not come from trying to get the crowd to like him, to accept him or by trying to conform to the assumptions of the time by staying home and sitting in his darkness.

For Bartimaeus sight comes from more than just healing.
For Bartimaeus sight comes from following Jesus.
For Bartimaeus sight comes from discipleship.

Sight comes from throwing off our cloaks that symbolizes myth that has kept us all in darkness — the myth that life is measured and valued according to our achievements, our intellect, our philosophy, our money, our moral assumptions—and seeing the road of discipleship.

By throwing off his cloak Bartimaeus throws the powerful myth of the educated people of his time right off on to the ground. That we all can see the real hope Jesus has for our lives when we follow him and it exceeds anything humankind has ever known before.

Like Bartimaeus and the great Reformers, we are poised with our cloaks to ask ourselves what false assumptions are surrounding us that keep us in captivity. What darkens our sight so much we aren’t able to see the road of discipleship with Christ?“Cloaks” of captivity that the Reformers dealt with:
- Doing good works earned you God’s favor
- You could give money to the church and buy your way out of hell
- And the word of God was limited to the educated clergy of the church and was rarely made available in the common language of the people

And today… our “cloaks” that we wrestle with the invitation to life in Christ?
- The boxes of “liberal” “conservative” “justice” and “evangelism”
- Religious institutionalism
- Faith that is reserved for one hour of our Sunday morning and forgotten about the rest of the time

What are we willing to throw down to removed the darkness from our eyes that keep us from seeing what it means to follow Jesus?

Of course Bartimaeus is healed, but that is not what is so amazing about this particular story. Otherwise Bartimaeus would have gone home, lived his life as culturally accepted member of society. Had he done that we wouldn’t no anymore about him than we do the others Jesus miraculously healed.
But we do.
We know his name.
We know his name because he was remembered.
Bartimaeus threw off the cloak of darkness to receive the invitation of new life in Christ. Bartimaeus didn’t go home. He followed Jesus as a disciple from Jericho to Jerusalem. To cross, to the grave, to new life.

As we continue on our journey of Reformation in the church and our lives may we continue to throw down our cloaks again and again remembering to see the invitation to life in Christ is not measured by a box or institution but by our willingness to follow Christ along the way.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I had never heard that about the name Bartimaeus before, and this gave me a whole new perspective on the story. A wonderful sermon!

  2. Nicely done. I like when I get a new take... thanks


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