Back in 1971, Gavin Bryars, one of England's leading musicians and composers, agreed to help his friend Alan Powers with the sound on a film that Powers was making about street people. He was filming in an area around London's Waterloo Station. He filmed various people living on the streets. He caught their daily rituals, trials and joys on film. Some of the homeless people were obviously drunk, some were mentally disturbed, some were very articulate, and some were incomprehensible.
Back in the studio, Gavin Bryars went through editing the audio and video footage. That's when he became aware of a constant undercurrent, a repeating sound that was always there on the audio tape whenever one older man appeared on camera. But he couldn't tell what the sound was. At first it sounded like muttered gibberish. So Bryars removed the background street noise and cleaned up the audio tape. Then he discovered that the old homeless man was singing.
Ironically, the footage of this old man and his muttered song didn't make the film maker's cut. But the film maker's loss was Gavin Bryars' gain. He took the rejected audio tape with him and could not escape the haunting sounds of this homeless, nameless man. He did some research on his own into who this homeless man might be.
From the film crew, Bryars learned that this street beggar didn't drink. But neither did he engage others in conversation. His speech was almost impossible to understand, but his demeanor was cheerful. He was old and alone and filthy and homeless, but he had a kind of playfulness about him. He would tease the film crew by swapping hats with them.
What distinguished this old man from other street people was his song. The song he sang under his breath was a simple, repetitive Sunday-school tune. He would sit and quietly sing it, hour after hour after hour. He would sing:
Jesus' blood never failed me yet, Never failed me yet
Jesus' blood never failed me yet,
There's one thing I know, For he loves me so...
It was like an endless loop. The song's final line fed into its first line, starting the tune over and over again without ceasing. The man's weak, old, untrained voice never wavered from pitch, never went flat, never changed key. The simple intervals of the tune were perfectly maintained for however long he sang.
Gavin Bryars was stunned. Although not a believer himself, Bryars could not help but be confronted by the mysterious spiritual power of this unadorned voice. Sitting in the midst of an urban wilderness, this voice touched a lonely, aching place that lurks in the human heart, offering an unexpected message of faith and hope in the midst of the darkest, most blighted night. This nameless old man brought a message from God in his simple song.
It took England's leading contemporary composer until 1993 to create and produce what he felt was a proper accompaniment to this homeless person's song of trust and obedience. He did this in partnership with one of America's leading composers, Philip Glass. The result is a CD entitled "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet."
In Old Testament times, the role of the high priest was important. He was the titular head of the Jewish people, even thought they had a king. The high priest had important administrative and religious duties. In fact, the Roman governors often consulted with the high priests.
The Israelites could never be sure that the high priest would succeed when he went before God to make atonement for their sins. The Israelites’ high priests were sinners who had to constantly make sacrifices for themselves. The most famous high priests who were sinners were Caiaphas and Ananias. They were the high priests who played a key role in the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus.
Sacrificial animals had to be perfect in the eyes of the temple priests. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for us because he was perfect and sinless. He is a complete Saviour. Christ united the offices of high priest and king. He is unique in holiness, innocence and purity because of his exalted position in heaven because of his death, resurrection and ascension.
On the other hand, Jesus always represents us before the throne of God. Jesus intercedes for us like a lawyer intercedes on behalf of the client. We can hold to the truth that Jesus died for us. Through his death he intercedes for us by providing the one ultimate sacrifice needed for the atonement for our sins. He has not abandoned us. In fact, he constantly intercedes for us and pleads our case before God the Almighty Judge.
Jesus never fails as our high priest. He knows how to minister to us in the way that benefits us the most and matures our faith in him. Christ did not have to atone for his sins because he never sinned. He only needed to atone for us once. He saves us once and for all.
In the time period and culture of Mark’s Gospel and the Letter to the Hebrews, the best chance a blind person had to support himself was to sit in the path of pedestrians. After all, the passers-by might be moved with mercy and toss some spare change when the blind person called out to them. Jesus was moved with mercy when Bartimaeus called out to him. His mercy led to the saving of both Bartimaeus’ sight and his soul.
The attention that Jesus paid to the poor tells us that what is important to him needs to be important to us as Christians. The poor and the outcasts of society need to be paid attention to. It doesn’t matter if they are across the street or around the world. Distance and other circumstances might keep us separate from them and out of hearing, but we can pay attention to those who do speak for them-relief agencies, journals, newsletters, web pages, religious communities, etc. If Jesus could be interrupted on the way to the cross to answer the urgent, faith-filed cries of Bartimaeus, he will also stop and listen when we call out to him. He is never too busy governing the universe to hear the cries of help from his beloved children.
Crying out is an act of faith. Job cried out, and God confirmed that his cry was an expression of faith. Sometimes we are too proud to ask for help and that is totally understandable. After all, it’s part of human nature to be independent and to want to do things for ourselves. We have to remember that we can’t do everything by ourselves. We need help from time to time, especially when it comes to our salvation, and our eternal life. We need to cry out to God in faith for help when we need it. Each and every one of us has sinned, and that can keep us from heaven unless we acknowledge that we need Jesus in our lives.
When we come to Jesus, we have to get rid of our garments of self-sufficiency, just like Bartimaeus got rid of his cloak. We have to let go of our desire to control things and let God take control of our lives. God always calls someone to him through different, often difficult circumstances.
Bartimaeus gained both physical sight and spiritual sight. Unfortunately, the disciples were still spiritually blind. You see, the story of Bartimaeus occurs while Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified. On the way, Jesus told his disciples several times what would happen to him in Jerusalem, but the disciples did not get it. They did not understand him, nor did they understand the cost of following him. In fact, the final mistake they made was to argue in Mark 10:32-45 about who would have precedence in God’s Kingdom!
Jesus gives us spiritual sight. His call to discipleship comes through healing so that others can be given sight of their own weakness as the place where the call to discipleship leads. Only when we can see and accept our weaknesses can we allow Christ to come and serve us. The new covenant that Jesus has with us is for everyone who accepts the free gift of salvation by placing their faith in Jesus. In return, he prays for all of us so that we receive God’s kindness instead of God’s wrath.
Bartimaeus has a lot to teach us about persistence, faith and gratitude. Jesus’ ears hear the cries of the marginalized people in society. When God calls us, or when we call out to God, we must not give up in our attempts to get to him. We must not let obstacles stop us. We need to pay attention to what God is doing in and around us so that we don’t miss what he has in store for us. We need to let Jesus lead the way. Bartimaeus’ outward healing reflected the inner wellness of his salvation. His desire to see represents our desire to be freed from the cultural blinders that have held us captive since the beginning of time.
We are all like Bartimaeus. We are often blind to what goes on around us. We are often blind to God’s love and his desire to have a loving relationship with us. He is waiting for us to come to him. He is standing at the door. He is waiting for us to open the door so that he can enter into our lives.
Jesus can save us because he did not save himself from death on the cross. He can save us because he took our guilt and endured the punishment that we justly deserved. Salvation can’t be separated from divine justice. God hates sin, and he demands punishment for sins. Either the sinner must die, or else someone must die for him. That someone was Jesus. He can save us because if we come to God by him, then he died for us. We need to experience God’s forgiveness, cleansing power and freedom. This comes through God’s mercy, and because of his faithfulness and his love for us, his mercy is new every morning.
So how can we be cured of our spiritual blindness? First, we have to seize the moment and recognize when God gives us an opportunity. Second, we have to reach out in faith and move against our fears of rejection or ridicule. Third, we announce our faith and the changes we want to make in our lives. Only then will we receive God’s grace.
Our faith in Jesus will keep us on the right path when we are in danger of losing our way. Our faith in Jesus will keep us clear and certain when things seem cloudy and confused. It will keep us strong and victorious when we feel weak and defeated. Because we believe that God is sovereign, and because we believe that the risen Christ is living and that the power of the Holy Spirit continues to make all things new, we can affirm that we are being healed again and again. We can see things in fresh, new ways. We can see that we are being called to jump up, throw off the comfortable cloaks of our blind past and follow Jesus into the unknown dangers and the unimaginable opportunities that are to come.