The Radical Re-visioning of Bartimaeus October 25, 2009 Mark 10: 46-52
This morning I’m going to approach the story of Blind Bartimaeus from a kind of unusual perspective. Hopefully I can tie it all together by the end of the sermon!
It started last week, when I was trying to find a way into this story. I was trying to figure out just what this story had to offer us today.
And for kind of a study break one afternoon, I came across some interesting information about elephants! J They are fascinating creatures!
They’re surprisingly intelligent. They can communicate with each other even over very long distances, using sensitive nerve endings on their trunk and feet.
They’re big, they’re strong, and even the tame ones can quickly become the most dangerous animals on earth! (at least on dry land).
All of those factors make it pretty important to know what you’re doing when you’re anywhere near elephants in the wild. The last thing you want to do is make one of them angry or surprise them!
Now, it’s been suggested that roughly 4,000 years ago the first elephant was domesticated somewhere in or near India.
Since that time, elephants have come to serve humanity in a variety of ways.
They’ve been used for agriculture, for war, for companionship and for entertainment.
And I don’t need to tell you that in order for elephants to be useful in those areas, they need to be trained well.
And I can be a pretty curious guy. So I started to wonder, how in the world somebody decided to tame an elephant 4,000 years ago, you know? Where would you even start? And that’s where I started to see a connection between Blind Bartimaeus and domesticated elephants.
To train an elephant, you kind of have to make it forget that it’s an elephant. At least, you have to make it lose sight of how big and strong it is; which are pretty important parts of being an elephant.
To do it right, you have to remove its vision, so to speak.
It all starts in the wild.
Elephants don’t breed well in captivity, and they don’t live for very long either. So, for the most part, elephants have to be caught in the wild, preferably when they are very young.
So people go and kidnap baby elephants, separating them from their families, from those close-knit supportive structures that elephants are known for.
Then, at least long ago, they would take that young elephant and tie it between a couple of really stout trees, and tighten its chains so that it couldn’t move…or they would force it to lay down and tie it to the ground, stretched out in a vulnerable position.
After it was immobilized, the trainers would then beat the elephant, or poke it with something called an elephant-hook. They would punish it repeatedly, depriving it of water and food until it finally gave up its struggle for freedom.
They would reward the elephant when it was docile and tame, and they would punish it if it went against the will of the trainer or showed any signs of being dangerous.
Eventually the elephant learns to be a safe, domestic, relatively tame animal that lives in fear of its master and their elephant-hook tool.
Is it any wonder they don’t breed well, or live long in captivity?
It’s in this way that wild elephants have been tamed for much of the past 4,000 years.
Once captured, an elephant will grow into adulthood, no longer wild and free, but rather broken, domesticated, tame.
That’s how a person weighing no more than 150 pounds can effectively harness and use the power of an elephant whose weight is measured in tons.
See, the elephant comes to believe that the person with the hook is more powerful than the elephant ever could be. It comes to believe that resistance is futile, that life consists of circus tricks and safari rides.
Once wild and free, now it’s all about peanuts and the avoidance of pain…all in a quest to satisfy its abuser.
Now—here’s the part where this relates to the passage for today.
If an elephant is defined by its size and strength, then I think we are defined by our ability to form a vision for that which has not yet come to be.
You might call it abstract thinking, or reason, or intellect…but this morning I’m going to call it vision.
And for whatever reason, Bartimaeus had lost his…well, at least the physical part of it. Kind of like an elephant learning to work for peanuts and praise, Bartimaeus had learned to beg for handouts and mercy.
It was all he could really do, you know? After all, a disability kind of defines you, doesn’t it? Like a tamed elephant, I like to think that Bartimaeus had learned to fear the elephant-hooks of insults, catcalls, and quite possibly physical abuse.
And so he begged.
He begged for peanuts from the hands of his masters—anyone traveling that particular road.
Do you see the connection?
Tamed elephants learn to fear.
Tamed people learn to beg.
And Bartimaeus was a blind man, sitting by the road.
He had lost his vision…or it had been taken from him.
But as I read this passage, and as I learned about taming elephants last week, I started to understand that Bartimaeus isn’t the only one who’s been confined to a box in his social world…locked down, locked out, locked up by the never-changing expectations cast upon him by eager crowds on their way to somewhere.
He’s not the only one who’s doing what he needs to do, in spite of his limitations and in the hopes that it will suffice.
He’s not the only one who’s been tamed, is he?
We’ve all got problems. We’ve all been crippled in one way or another.
And I’m willing to bet that each of us has learned to either exploit, or hide that weakness in an effort to survive, to avoid the elephant-hook, to gather all the peanuts we can get.
The thing is, we know that the best this world can offer us is still just peanuts.
Bartimaeus hears that Jesus is passing by…and he knows there’s more to life than this…
So “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!”
And Jesus stopped.
Three verses later, vision restored, Bartimaeus begins to follow Jesus along the road.
The road that leads into Jerusalem—into crowds of people once again, crowds of people armed to the teeth with false hopes and elephant hooks.
They would crucify him in a last effort to tame this wild-man who threatened them with resurrection, threatened them with hope.
The crowds would try hard to refuse the restoration of their vision, to remain in darkness rather than light—and Bartimaeus would be there to see it all.
But that would come later.
For now, Jesus stops.
…and Bartimaeus regains his sight. He freely accepts the vision that Jesus gave him, and he freely chooses to follow it.
How much time and effort do we spend trying to convince ourselves that an idea won’t work, or that a vision has no future?
How many dreams do we bury before we even give them a shot?
I’m not saying every idea we have needs to be pursued; but surely an encounter with Christ will still spark creative new visions even after 2000 years!!
The problem is that we’ve been working for peanuts and we like it like that!
Low expectations make contentment an easy thing to achieve!
That’s as true for blind beggars as it is for anybody else.
But God did not step into human flesh to lower expectations or to content our restless selves.
Rather, he comes to us as he came to Bartimaeus—to renew our vision, to transform our lives, to free us from ourselves and introduce us to the world as God sees it, free from fear of elephant hooks or any other manner of intimidation.
God’s vision always leads towards healing and hope. It always offers transformation—new life filled with new possibilities.
Bartimaeus was transformed, he followed the vision God gave him.
God’s story is full of people either chasing vision down or running away from it.
Which way are you going?
God’s words to us this morning are the same as he spoke to Bartimaeus so long ago.
It’s always our choice, to accept that transformation or to go back to our spot on the road.
Either way his words are the same. “Go, for your faith has healed you!”
So where are we headed?