This week I went into Cambridge and parked at the Park Street car park. At this car park it’s common to see people sitting by the ticket machines begging on the streets.
Sometimes arguments break out between those asking for money and people who think the solution is as simple as “get a job”, not taking into account the many reasons why a person might lose everything, including illness, redundancy, escaping from intolerable circumstances at home, and so on.
And once on the streets, it becomes next to impossible to find a job without a fixed address.
Our response to such need is often based on judgements – whether we feel that person deserves our help or our time, how we think they will use what we give them.
Just asking often isn’t enough to get a positive response.
There’s also often an element of fear – are we being manipulated, is this a scam or a con, are they going to spend it all on drugs or alcohol, will this person refuse to leave me alone?
And so we hurry on, trying not to see, maybe giving our money to charity instead if we feel the need or perhaps keeping it help our own people.
In this country some also doubt that anyone is really that desperate or needy, that real poverty actually exists in 21st century Britain.
But with the huge numbers of people having to depend on food banks, the large numbers of people unemployed or working but struggling to cope financially, and the ever-increasing gap between rich and poor, I think it’s safe to say that there are plenty of people who need our help.
We heard today about Bartimaeus, sitting on the roadside at the edge of town, as he did every day, with little more than a begging bowl and a cloak to keep him warm at night.
Bartimaeus had no choice but to beg, as there were no benefits to fall back on, no medical care for his blindness, and no opportunities to find work.
What made things even worse was that to many of the people around him he deserved to be blind – it was seen as a punishment from God, a curse brought about by sin.
This might seem a crude and primitive belief, but there are people even now who think Covid was sent as a punishment for sin.
Bartimaeus must’ve had to deal with insults and mockery, and wondered how people could be so hard-hearted.
The news about Jesus had spread far and wide, and now people were saying that he was passing through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem, for the feast of the Passover.
Bartimaeus knew this was an opportunity to change his life.
So, gathering his courage, and defying the crowd, he shouted at the top of his voice: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”.
And this desperate cry reached the ears of Jesus, who heard, saw, and got involved in the plight of this one marginalised man on the edge of a large crowd.
Bartimaeus’ choice of words is interesting because by calling Jesus Son of David Bartimaeus is saying that he believes Jesus to be the descendent of Israel’s greatest king, and therefore God’s Messiah and the rightful King of Israel.
Bartimaeus, blind though he is, has seen more clearly than everyone else.
He has seen that truth about Jesus – that he is, indeed, a king.
And Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, has the courage that comes from having nothing to lose, and so he will not be prevented from crying out the truth even louder.
He proclaims that this is the Son of David, the new king, the one we’ve been waiting for, who will have pity on me, poor Bartimaeus, for he is the one who makes the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk – just as the prophets said it would be.
We hear a lot in the gospels about weak, ill, marginalised and vulnerable people coming to Jesus and being healed, and one thing that’s common to all of them, whatever their individual need, is that they’re willing to admit their problems and ask for help.
Bartimaeus’ vulnerability as a blind, dependent beggar made him willing to throw himself on Jesus’ mercy and ask for the help that could only come from God.
When he asks the Son of David for mercy he’s not expecting a few coins or a sandwich but a solution to the root of his problem – his blindness.
He wants an end to his suffering, and he must ask the one person who’s able to help – Jesus, Son of David, Son of God.
We see in Bartimaeus a powerful example of someone who recognises his own need for God – as we must all do if we’re to receive the help and mercy that we need, and a solution to the problems we can’t fix for ourselves or get help from others for.
This act of healing carried out by Jesus was a revelation of God’s love for humanity – even and especially those members of it who live on the margins of society, not seen because of others’ judgements, fears or preoccupations with their own concerns.
And, as followers of this loving God, people called to be like him and walk in Jesus’ footsteps, we have both a privilege and a role to play.
Our privilege is that we know we can call on God and receive help if we’re humble and vulnerable enough to admit our need and ask.
In the words of a well-known hymn: “what a privilege to carry everything to the Lord in prayer”.
Our role is to meet people in need and walk alongside them, offering what help we can.
The people we meet may not be blind, but they might be lonely or sad, hungry or in pain, struggling to make ends meet, trying to overcome past hurts or facing an uncertain future.
Whatever their need, our role is to offer what love and compassion we can, in whatever form we can, whether that be listening, running errands, using our skills to make things easier and so on.
We may not be able to make the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame run, but by bringing the light of mercy and love into others’ lives we can point them to our loving God – Jesus, Son of David, who has mercy on all who call to him.