“Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging.”(Mk 10:46)(+)
Most all of the miracles that Jesus performs are for the benefit of anonymous recipients.But Bartimaeus is different.Here’s a man who left an impression.His enthusiasm was long remembered.He’s sitting along the road that leads from Jericho to Jerusalem.It’s heavily trafficked.As a blind man he must rely on the charity of others, and there’s a lot of others passing along this road.He can’t see, but he hears a commotion coming towards him.Those passing by tell him that Jesus is the reason for the commotion.The crowds call Him “Jesus of Nazareth;” blind Bartimaeus starts yelling out “Jesus, son of David,” in other words “Messiah.”The crowds rebuke him and order him to be quiet.Bartimaeus yells out even louder, dropping the name of Jesus completely and emphasizing instead “Son of David.”The crowds who were impressed by Jesus saw maybe a teacher, maybe even a prophet, but blind Bartimaeus saw the Messiah.His enthusiasm changed everyone around him and made a lasting impression so that his name is remembered, and we know this because when the crowds reach Jerusalem on Palm Sunday they start yelling out Bartimaeus’ words: “Hosanna to the son of David.”They remembered. One man’s voice against the crowd, and they remembered. It made a difference.
Enthusiasm is an amazing thing.It has the power to change people, but surprisingly it can also worry people.In the Bible the word is only used twice, which is kind of surprising.You would almost expect an inspirational book like the Bible to talk more of enthusiasm. Once, it is set as a goal for all believers.“Render service with enthusiasm,” it is written in Ephesians (6:7).But that’s a goal.It’s a mark to aim for in our lives.It’s not necessarily achieved though.Only one person in the entirety of the Bible is depicted specifically as enthusiastic.His name is Apollos, and in the earliest church he was described as “burning with enthusiasm.”(Acts 18:25)All believers are called to be enthusiastic in their faith, and yet only one believer is actually credited with enthusiasm.Either we’re really not good atit, or we’re really not good withit.The church has a long history of shying away from enthusiasm.We do all that we can to encourage faithfulness, but we’re kind of timid around enthusiasm.In the story of Bartimaeus, the church is too often like the people in the crowd saying “Be quiet.”As in the story, we eventually come around, but it takes time, and it also takes people enthusiastic enough to keep yelling even when others say “stop.”We need our voices like those of Apollos and Bartimaeus even if at first we don’t like those voices.
Do you remember the movie from five years ago:Million Dollar Baby?Clint Eastwood played the character of Frankie Dunn, a veteran boxing coach.He taught his fighters to protect themselves, but in his personal life he was extremely vulnerable as he reached out to reconnect with his estranged daughter.And it seemed equally out of character, but Frankie Dunn would attend Mass every single day.He was extremely pious in that way.But after Mass, every day, as he was walking out of church he would ask his pastor troubling questions, questions that maybe didn’t even have an answer, questions that seemed out of place from a man at Mass seven days a week.Watching the movie we’re left with the impression that going to Mass regularly and asking questions just as regularly are like oil and water.They don’t mix.But those questions help to illustrate the idea of religious enthusiasm.It’s a yearning for something more than what has been offered.It’s not a rejection of anything; it’s a desire for more.
The look of exasperation on the face of that poor priest in Million Dollar Baby expresses why the church has always embraced enthusiasm at best reluctantly.The priest in the movie eventually asks Clint Eastwood why he even bothers coming to church.It’s like the idea of questions and faithfulness are contradictory, that they can’t exist side by side.That’s why Ephesians can call all believers to enthusiasm, and yet only Apollos is ever acknowledged as actually being enthusiastic. The church recognizes the importance of the idea, but it’s the particulars that get the church worried:“You want to change what?You want to do what?”It’s like Bartimaeus.In the moment as Jesus is walking by everyone’s telling Bartimaeus to be quiet, but after the fact they’re all yelling “Hosanna to the Son of David” just like he did.The church has pretty good hind sight, but in the moment she’s pretty cautious.That’s why we need faithful and enthusiastic people in the church to keep asking questions, to not give up, even when everybody else says “stop.”This is one of the ways the Spirit keeps the institution of the church on track.
But for us to understand religious enthusiasm we can’t ignore one more lesson from the example of Apollos, the only explicit example we have.We’re told in the Bible that he comes from the city of Alexandria, the site of the ancient world’s largest library and the seat of her highest academies of learning.Apollos is further described as eloquent and well-versed in the Scriptures.We know that he taught accurately and that he helped Paul in the act of Christian evangelism.What all of this means, is that he knew what he was talking about.The Bible describes Apollos as speaking “boldly,” which means speaking courageously and may even mean audaciously.“Boldly” can mean rocking the boat, seeing things differently, wanting things to be different.We’re further told that Paul asked Apollos to travel back to Corinth where the church was facing some serious difficulties based on partisanship.The believers were choosing sides:some followed Paul, others Apollos, and still others Peter.Apollos thought that by returning to Corinth he would enflame these tensions, and he said no to Paul.He thought for himself.Here’s a legitimate difference of opinion about what’s best for the church, but Apollos knew what he was talking about.That makes all the difference in the world.It’s informed dissent.Enthusiasm means that Apollos’ questions and his differing opinions are motivated from within the faith not at the faith, and that they’re intended for the good of the faith.That we may be more open to the idea that faithful and new do belong together, and that sometimes the lone voice like that of Bartimaeus is right and the crowd is wrong, for this openness and enthusiasm we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)