As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly.
In London’s Hyde Park there is an area known as Speakers’ Corner. Since 1866 this area has become associated with those who would speak out on an unlimited range of issues. This tradition of publicly ‘speaking out’ was begun by the Reform League who ended their marches focused on demanding an extension of the right to vote at Hyde Park, and who would then address the crowds with stirring speeches of protest. Since those first steps into the ocean of free speech, many notable figures have exercised their right to speak there, including Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin and George Orwell.
The area we know as Speakers’ Corner does have a longer and darker history. Close by stood the infamous Tyburn Gallows. This notorious place of execution was installed in 1196, and was only dismantled in 1783, after more than 50,000 people had been executed there.
This contrast between speaking out and the intimidation of those who would have us keep quiet is brought to the fore in today’s reading from Mark’s gospel. Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, has heard of Jesus’ works of healing and he shouts out for Jesus to have mercy on him. Those around him treat his pleading for mercy as an embarrassment and sternly ordered him to be quiet. But Bartimaeus was not prepared to be quiet. Bartimaeus recognized that he had just cause to approach Jesus and, despite the vilification of others, he cried out even more loudly.
Today we are being challenged to recognize Jesus’ constant presence in our lives. We are being challenged, in his name, to shout loudly and freely in protest at the injustice, exploitation and abuse of those too weak to defend themselves. We are being challenged to ignore those who would have us be silent, and to shout loudly for God’s mercy to be known in this world.
Let us pray that we might, once again, pray for the strength to stand firm in our faith as we speak out in Jesus’ name. Let us pray that every street corner might become the place where we hear and witness Jesus’ message of love and reconciliation brought to life, even if others would rather that message of hope and joy were kept to ourselves!