Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Son of Poverty

Peter Lockhart

Today I have taken as a theme “seeing with new eyes” which is of course about the story of Bartimaeus.

Now stories work in a number of different ways and are used for a number of different purposes in the Bible and I want to explore with you a couple of ways this story works.

First off at face value the story of Jesus healing of Bartemaus is a story about a man – a real person: a person who because of his affliction was ostracised by the society in which he lived.

We know that this was his predicament because he was sitting by the side of the road begging.

But more than that we know Bartimaeus was at the fringe of society because of his name.

It is quite likely that Mark has actually made up the name Bartimaeus to emphasise a point.

Bartimaeus, which means Son of Timaeus in Aramaic could be translated something along the lines – Son of Poverty or Son of the Unclean.

This little detail is important as we shall see.

Now Bartemaus must have heard something about Jesus because when he hears that Jesus is passing by he calls out to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The words Son of David are obviously a title and recognition by Bartimaeus that Jesus was a man of power.

Not only that, the title Son of David also contrasts with Son of Poverty strongly.

Bartimaeus persists in calling out and Jesus responds to Bartimaeus request calling him over.

The Son of David engages with the Son of Poverty.

Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Bartimaeus asks, “My teacher, let me see again.”

Jesus response as we heard as to heal Bartimaeus and at the same time affirm his faith.

In the story:

we see the willingness of Jesus to respond to those who are sidelined by the community;

we see Jesus care and concern for an individual;

we see Jesus desire to renew people’s lives through healing;

we see the power of Jesus displayed;

we see the truth of Jesus identity; and,

we see something of the nature of true discipleship in Bartimaeus.

But do we really see?

That is the real question for us now as we move into thinking a bit more deeply about the story.

Do we really see?

Whilst the story is on one level the story of a miraculous healing because of the way Mark tells us the story and where he places the story is meant to tell us some other things as well.

Leading up to this story in Mark’s gospel there are a series of interactions between Jesus and his disciples which demonstrate their ‘blindness to who Jesus is and what he is on about.

One of the clear indicators that this is what is going on is found in the fact Jesus asks exactly the same question of Bartimaeus that he had of James and John not long before.

So what Mark is doing is using the story of how Jesus healed a blind beggar to make a point about the disciples.

Bartemaus called Jesus Son of David, which tells us that he ‘saw’ who Jesus was and knew that Jesus had it within his power to show mercy.

This recognition by Bartimaeus of where true power lay is a contrast to the disciples who, although they appear to know who Jesus is, keep bumping into things because of their blindness to what Jesus is really on about.

For instance the disciples are more interested at times in who will be the greatest in heaven and who will get to sit in places of honour when Jesus comes again in glory.

This is a contrast to Bartimaeus who recognised his affliction and his need of Jesus mercy.

In this Bartimaeus ‘sees’ the truth not only of Jesus but of his own existence.

He the Son of Poverty needs the help of the Son of David. This is at the core of true discipleship – admitting that we are in need of Jesus help, of God’s grace.

This is emphasised in the story when Bartimaeus is said to have thrown off his cloak.

As a beggar his cloak would have been pretty much all he had.

It could be argued that for the sake of coming to Jesus for mercy Bartimaeus leaves everything that he owns.

Once again I suspect this is deliberately put in the story in this way to contrast the rich young ruler who was not prepared to sell everything he had to follow Jesus.

So the story of Bartimaeus is not just another miracle story but functions in an important way to highlight the difference between sight and blindness among his disciples.

This brings me to the question of what all this means for us 2000 years on.

Going back to my theme for the day ‘seeing with new eyes’ the question is raised for us what blinds us to seeing the truth of who Jesus is and what impedes us from true discipleship which is about trusting in him.

I want to suggest a number of things which dim the light of Jesus and cause blindness in us and the world in general.

Firstly, I want to focus on some stuff inside the Church that causes us to be blind.

It is difficult to really see Jesus because there are so many variations about who Jesus is floating around and so many groups claiming ownership of Jesus.

The Church is really a bit of a mess: there are Uniting Churches and Lutheran and Anglican and Catholic and AOG and Baptist and Pentecostal and Orthodox and so on and so forth.

These different churches give us different images of Jesus and different messages about salvation.

This brokenness of the Church can be discouraging to those within the Church and more importantly those searching for faith. It can make our proclamation seem confused and impotent!

We can add to this the institutionalisation of the church and its traditions.

Some within the church are so set in their way of doing things they have become blind to the meaning of what they are doing.

Some within the church see the church more like a social club.

Some see the only way forward to perpetual change: change for the sake of change.

All of these things can keep us in the dark about the truth of Jesus Christ.

If we look more broadly at the world there are many things around us that obscure our vision even further.

To start with Christianity is one religion or one expression of spirituality among a many: Buddhism, Islam, Shinto, New Age, Confucianism, Wicca and list goes on.

One response to this diversity of belief has been to elevate a view know as pluralism above them all. This is a view which kind of suggests that all religions are valid – which if you follow the logic through means that none are really valid.

Then there is the competing ideology called humanism which has dominated Western thinking for around 500 years. It is a view which has ultimately suggested that we human beings can do away with God and any notion of the divine.

Our society is awash with things which can distract and blind us: consumerism? Information overload? Entertainment? Self gratification?

All of these things can keep us in the dark about our true nature and about who Jesus is.

My point is to challenge all of us with the question of what we really see. How clear is our vision?

Bartimaeus realising his own blindness calls out for mercy.

If we suspect that we are even a little dim in our recognition of the world around us or the reality of our own lives or our knowledge of God, maybe in faith and hope our prayer should match Bartimaeus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The good news is indeed that the Son of David reaches out to the Son of Poverty and it is in this that we can all find hope in God’s love and concern for us all.

Take a moment listen for what God might be saying to you this day.


  1. Your thoughts really helped me to go from almost having and idea to almost having a finished sermon...thank you for sharing!

  2. Hi, Peter. I like your insights here very much. Can you tell me what your source is for the translation of Timeaus (Poverty, Unclean)? In my research, I am only finding a Greek translation of Timaeus as 'Honor'. The Poverty translation is a nice parallel to the Rich Man of a few weeks ago. Would love to hear from you at Mark+

    1. Hi Mark, I had this reference among my notes from a while ago and have not found the citation. I have come across the Son of "Unclean, defiled" and admit that I also know the Son of "Honour" is there as well (that would be an interesting theme to explore). From what I can find now the Son of Poverty is a bit of a stretch in translation, so may be more eisegesis than exegesis, but I still have a sense of it playing out the themes appropriately given Bartimaeus is a beggar.

  3. I found this in my Libronix:

    Timaeus — defiled, the father of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46).

    Easton, M.G.: Easton's Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897

    It is the only place that I can find any meaning for Timaeus. It does not site any linguistic references but...there it is.

    Thank you for sharing your work. It is a great help to me.

  4. Below is comment I made at Working Preacher

    Hi Professor,

    I was reading Torah sidrah for day and came across this.

    It reminded me of Bartimaeus in this week's Gospel.

    It seems like lexicon is confused. Is he son of "unclean" or "highly prized"--maybe both? Like Zacchaeus, this too is a Son of Abraham.



      Ezekiel 22.5 is interesting.

      An "unclean name" in Hebrew.

  5. points to that etymology …

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