The Bible is a remarkable book. It keeps throwing up surprises. When I first read through the readings for this morning, I thought it was obvious: this would be a service about healing. So I started looking for hymns about healing, and while I was flicking through the hymn book I happened to spot our last hymn this morning - "Who would true valour see". In particular, I saw the second half of the first verse: "There's no discouragement shall make him once relent his first avowed intent to be a pilgrim." And that's when it struck me that the Gospel passage is at least as much about pilgrimage and faith as it about healing. Here is a blind beggar who somehow recognises Jesus for who he is. When he calls out, he gets shouted down, just as he no doubt would today - but that doesn't stop him. He cries out more loudly, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" Consider how brave it would be to do that normally - and then think that Bartimaeus couldn't even see the people who were telling him to be quiet. "Son of David, have mercy on me!" This is a remarkable man.
And Jesus stops.
"It's okay, bring him over here."
So they do - suddenly instead of insults being thrown at him, Bartimaeus is being summoned. "Come on over - he's asking for you."
Does he ask for help, ask for someone to guide him carefully to Jesus? No - he springs up, throws off his cloak and goes over to Jesus. No uncertainty, just the conviction of the goodness of Jesus. This is a remarkable man.
"What can I do for you?" Jesus asks. Does Bartimaeus beat about the bush? Does he try to give reasons for what he wants? Nope. "Teacher, give me my sight." Straight to the point, and honest. He's speaking from his heart.
Then healing: "Go; your faith has made you well." And immediately, Bartimaeus can see again. Well, that's great, isn't it? Nice happy end to the story?
Not a bit of it - because Bartimaeus followed. It's not unreasonable to suppose that Bartimaeus was with the group from then until the end. Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem, after all. From blindness to seeing the most important event in the history of the world, in a week or so - this is a short but incredible journey. As I said, the Bible's a remarkable book.
So what of our pilgrimage? Some of you may have been on actual physical pilgrimages, whether to the Holy Land or other spiritual sites. If you have, I'd be very interested to hear about them after the service. I haven't been on such a journey yet myself, but that's not to say I'm not on a journey of a spiritual nature. We all are. These days it almost seems cliched to talk about the progress of faith like that - it's become a very well-worn theme in the last ten years or so. But with the example of Bartimaeus before us, I couldn't really dodge it even if I wanted to. Here is a man of great faith - and a man who puts his faith into action.
We don't know how Bartimaeus knew about Jesus. Presumably he'd heard stories of the miracles, the teachings and so forth. But how did he get from there to "Son of David"? Until that point in Mark's Gospel, only demons being cast out and Peter had spoken of Jesus' true identity. It's almost typically nonsensical that the next person to figure it out won't be another apostle, or a priest, or someone travelling with the group. No, it will be a blind man by the roadside. The man with useless eyes turns out to see the truth more clearly than almost everyone else.
Each of us has come to our faith by a different road. For some of us it will have been a long and steady road, a gradually increasing understanding of Christ, his role in our lives and our role in his. For others of us it might have come in a flash. It doesn't matter. Even where we are on that road doesn't really matter. What does matter is that we're travelling with Jesus, that we know we're travelling with him, and that the spiritual journey guides our actions. "Son of David, have mercy on me!" I wonder how many of us would have had the courage to appeal to Jesus like that - not once, but twice, reacting to early disappointment with determination and fresh vigour.
Fortunately, it wasn't all discouragement for Bartimaeus. After being told to be quiet, he was then given encouragement. By the sounds of it, he hardly needed it - but we certainly do. Fellowship is vital to our faith - or at least, it is to mine. I wish I were as sure of Jesus as Bartimaeus was, but I'm not. I have moments of doubt, as I suspect we all do. With support and encouragement, they remain as only moments. I prefer not to think about where my faith would be without the love, companionship and teaching of those around me. And the wonderful thing is that we don't have to know everything in order to share our faith and be a blessing to others. There's no need for some kind of "superior faith" for it to be worth talking about it, or heaven knows I wouldn't be here this morning. We may not all agree on everything, but that's not important. The very act of discussing our faith enriches it - and more important than discussing the details, we can encourage each other just as those people did to Bartimaeus, even with the very same words: "Take heart; get up, he is calling you." Is there anyone here who believes that doesn't apply to them? I'm absolutely sure it does. God is calling each of us - so do what they say, take heart, get up and go to him!
Bartimaeus knew what to do when he was called to Jesus. He knew what was needed - just him, in person. In his eagerness to respond to the call of Jesus, he threw off his cloak as he sprang up. What are we carrying with us on our journey to heaven with Jesus? Are we trying to walk with feet which are chained by prejudice, or greed? Are we wearing heavy coats of worry? Give it all to Jesus - trust him to do the right thing with it. He can break our vices, he can relieve our worries. Look at the road ahead of you - he can take it all and more - and still always be just ahead of you, beckoning you to come to him. The less we are burdened, the more we can see of the scenery on the way - Jesus has wonders to show you, each of you. We'll never reach the limit of God's glory - there will always be more to learn, more love to accept in our hearts. Jesus is calling to each of us just as he called Bartimaeus. Are we ready to spring up, throw off our cloaks, give our concerns to Jesus and then follow him faithfully?
I clearly couldn't preach about this Gospel reading - or indeed the lesson from Jeremiah - without touching on healing. I will be brief about it though, because I know that you, as a church, have more experience of healing than I do. I'd rather the service finished early and you told me your feelings about it than waffle on. I'll say this though: healing is about fixing brokenness. All kinds of things can be broken, and most things which are broken can be fixed. In many cases, they can be stronger afterwards than they were to start with. God loves to mend things. Brokenness is abhorrent to him, and he'll go to great lengths to give healing. It wasn't long after Bartimaeus was healed that Jesus showed just how far God is willing to go to fix things.
Humanity is broken - and if you don't believe that, just read a newspaper. But humanity can also be healed - just read the Gospels, read Isaiah, read Jeremiah. "With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back. I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble."
God replaced the brokenness of the world by breaking one man, his Son. Jesus' resurrection signalled the wholeness available for the world; a wholeness amongst ourselves and a wholeness in our relationship with God. God gave us a path back to himself, a road we can travel with Jesus beside us. He is calling each of us to be healed, to accept the new start he gave us at such a great cost. At the same time, he calls us to be instruments of his healing too. Telephones and cups of coffee can be just as good for healing as scalpels and antibiotics. I'd like to challenge you this morning to consider any broken situations you could help to heal. Consider them, then act on your faith. Act knowing that every road to healing is a path created by God, and that Jesus will be with you every step of the way, however hard or painful it may be.
We are all pilgrims, travelling with Christ. Let us follow him without the baggage the world is so eager to give us, let us acknowledge our Saviour with the same zeal that Bartimaeus displayed, however much we are discouraged by others. Let us act on our faith and answer God's call to each of us to be used in his healing work - and let us be sure that we can be healed of our sins just as Bartimaeus was healed of his blindness. With his fresh eyes, the world must have seemed so bright to him - with our hearts cleansed by Christ, let us take a fresh look at the world too.