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Are You Kidding- Use Your Inside Voice?

Confident of God’s power and presence, Joshua and all of Israel’s warriors got in formation around the walls of Jericho. Armed men went first. Then seven priests who each made an ear-splitting squawk with a trumpet made of a ram’s horn. Other priests lifted high the ark of the covenant. The ark was the symbol of the real presence of God. God, manifest with the people. Behind the ark was the rear guard. The trumpets ripped through the air, but no human voice spoke or shouted. Each person in the line was utterly silent. They walked the giant circumference of Jericho’s impenetrable walls, uncommonly quiet other than the trumpets’ blasts. When their circle was completed, they returned to their encampment outside Jericho.

On the second day, they did the same. And the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth days. Each day the same order, the same silence, the same trumpeting. The people within the city walls were undoubtedly terrified, unsettled by this eerie walking, the continual low blasts from the trumpet horns.

Just as the sun crossed the horizon on the seventh day, they silently got in formation once more. Joshua and the soldiers and the trumpeting priests and the ark of the covenant and the rear guard began their march. Like each of the previous days, they did one lap. But this time they didn’t stop. A second lap, a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and a seventh. The horns stopped and Joshua broke the silence. “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city.” He gave instructions and the trumpets ripped through the air. The people yelled out with their full chests and the trumpets blasted over and over and the earth shook as the mighty, impenetrable walls of Jericho fell down.

And some thousand, twelve hundred years later, just outside the edge of Jericho sat a man. He was blind, a beggar. We’re told that he cries out as Jesus approaches- “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The idea of crying out doesn’t seem so bad, but it really is more like “squawking.” He’s loud, so of course everyone around him is telling him to stop. Knock it off, be quiet. But instead, Bartimaeus screeches out again, even louder- “Son of David, have mercy on me!” But instead of silencing him, Jesus stops on his way and calls out for Bartimaeus to be brought to him. The crowd calls him forward, and Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, jumps up and makes his way to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks. Bartimaeus says “Rabbouni (my teacher), let me see again.” The implication is that Bartimaeus had been able to see but lost his sight. And Jesus responds “Go; your faith has made you well” And Bartimaeus is in fact, able to see. He is made whole and well. And he follows Jesus as he continues his journey into Jerusalem.

We know the man as Bartimaeus, but that isn’t really his name probably. Bartimaeus is really two words- bar, which means son in Aramaic (the common language of Jesus and his contemporaries), and Timaeus, a Greek name, presumably his father’s name. It’s a family name, like Johnson. There is the possibility of a little more here though. And it’s in both Aramaic and Greek here so what it literally says is “Son of Timaeus, the son of Timaeus” just once in each language. In Aramaic, “br tm’” means “unclean.” Is he Bartimaeus, Son of the Unclean? Is he unclean because of his blindness? His status as a beggar? Because he isn’t quiet and appropriate when others think he ought to be? On the other hand, in Greek, the language in which the New Testament was written, the word “timaios” means “honorable.” So, is he Bartimaeus, Son of Honor? Is he honorable because he sees what others don’t- that Jesus is the Messiah, able to heal and make whole? Is he honorable because in the face of criticism, he boldly speaks out his need? It’s curious, and there are no real answers here, but it invites some questions and some thinking. Who is Bartimaeus?

And who is the crowd? I want us to rewind the tape just a bit and go back to them for a moment. This crowd of people have apparently gathered to come close to and see Jesus. They are here to see for themselves what they have previously only heard about- who is this Jesus? But where Bartimaeus can see that Jesus is his source of hope, the crowd seems more concerned with respectability, with being appropriate. Their desire for respectability has made them anti-healing.

It might, of course, make us wonder about our own priorities. Are we, the people who have gathered here to see Jesus, more concerned with being well behaved and using our inside voices, or are we here to be made well? For some of us, it’s so important to look like we have it together. We want to be appropriate and pulled-together. We want to be self-sufficient. Some of us would so much rather be the helpers that we can’t really let ourselves admit that we need help. So, we fall back into the crowd. We keep our voices quiet and our noise golf-course level appropriate. We allow stigmas to persist around things like mental health problems, money struggles, aging, differences. Perhaps our desire for respectability is making us anti-healing. Perhaps we are standing in the way of the healing of others by expecting them to use their inside voices. But Bartimaeus- well, he knows. He gets it. He could care less. He just wants to encounter Jesus. And he’ll do whatever it takes.

There’s a small detail that is easy for us to miss, but it tells us even more about Bartimaeus and his eagerness to draw close to Jesus. Verse 50 says, “So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.” For a blind person, being anything less than careful with your personal property is a real problem. His cloak could be stolen, lost, trampled in an instance, and he would have lost one of the only possessions he has to his name. Bartimaeus’s cloak is more than just fashion. It is his entire protection from the weather. It’s his sleeping bag. Beggars would spread their cloaks open and then sit on it. When they were finished, they would roll up the cloak and collect their earnings. A beggar’s cloak is the tool of his trade.

So, in throwing off his cloak, Bartimaeus lets go of the bindings of his former life. He is leaving behind all that ails him. He believes that Jesus can make him well and he will let get of anything in his present so he can move into his future. He has allowed himself to become completely vulnerable in the name of coming close to Jesus. His cloak is just a cloak. But it is also a symbol of his expectation and his hope. Jesus can save him. Jesus can make him well. And no one and nothing will keep him from making his way to Jesus.

When Bartimaeus gets to Jesus, he knows what he needs and he asks for it. In preparing this sermon, I kept singing that lyric from “Me and Bobby McGee.” “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Bartimaeus is blind. He’s a beggar, apparently abandoned by those who might be able to take care of him. He is outside of the city literally, but he is outside of society as well. He doesn’t have anything left to lose. He doesn’t have a job to lose or relationships to lose. He doesn’t have anyone’s respect and he doesn’t have any dignity. And so, he doesn’t have anything left to lose. He doesn’t have to worry about making others happy or looking right. He is completely free to approach Jesus. Of course, the last time most of us were that free is when we were children. When we didn’t know or didn’t care about how we were perceived, we could just be our true, authentic selves. We were free. We could be as loud as we needed to be.

And Jesus responds to Bartimaeus’ reckless abandon. He responds to the faith Bartimaeus demonstrates, to the freedom with which Bartimaeus says what he needs. Notice that Jesus does not say “my strength and power have made you well.” He says, “your faith has made you well.” I’ll be honest- I don’t know what we are to do with that. I’ve known some deeply faithful people who have not been made well in the way they hoped. But I do know this- the last time Jesus said this to another person was back in Mark 5 when the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years touched Jesus’ cloak, knowing that it could heal her. When Jesus saw that beloved, faithful woman, he said to her “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” I don’t believe that a lack of healing indicates a lack of faith. But I do see that both people deeply, seriously, intimately sought Jesus. And I think that is surely the first step.

It is clear in this story that while Bartimaeus is physically blind, he can see what no one else can. He can see that his hope is in Jesus. And so he couldn’t care less about the crowds and about whether or not they think he is the Son of Dishonor or the Son of the Unclean. He cares only about shouting out. About doing everything he can to raise his voice on that day outside the city of Jericho. He shouts out, trusting that Jesus could break through every wall that kept him in a hard, lonely, unjust place in life. When people shout outside Jericho, God brings the walls down. Friends, forget your inside voices. Forget being respectable and appropriate and quiet and well-behaved. Shout for joy, shout for pain, shout for justice, shout for hope, shout for healing. May the walls come down as you run to Jesus. Amen.

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