"Immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way."
-Mark 10: 52
What does gratitude look like? When we’re kids we’re taught to always say thank you. I can remember winter mornings after Christmas sitting at the table and writing out a bunch of thank you notes to family who had given me presents. It seemed so tedious; why would anyone think that a note of 2 or 3 sentences from a little kid was important? Over time, however, I came to see how meaningful those little notes are—especially after receiving them myself. Although to be honest, I’m still struggling to get thank you notes sent out in a reasonable time.
But that is what gratitude is. Not flashy. Not attention-grabbing. Gratitude can be something as small as a little handwritten note, or even taking a moment or two to say thanks to someone in person. It goes an awfully long way.
Take the case of blind Bartimaeus. This beggar, this nobody, sitting on the side of the road in Jericho hears the crowd making noise over Jesus, who is passing through on his way to Jerusalem—about another 15 miles away. So he cries out for Jesus: “Son of David, have mercy on me.” Others are telling him to be quiet but he shouts even louder, “Have mercy on me.” He is so desperate. Desperate to meet Jesus, desperate for healing in both his body and his spirit. And when he is brought to Jesus he lays it all down at his feet and tells him plainly: let me see again. Jesus, with no magic hands, no magic words, says simply your faith has made you well. So what does Bartimaeus do when he realizes his sight has been restored? He follows Jesus on the way. Heading for Jerusalem. Heading for the cross. Heading for glory.
An artist's rendering of the encounter between Jesus and bling Bartimaeus.
Bartimaeus had nothing to offer Jesus except himself. He couldn’t walked away like so many others—remember the 10 lepers that were healed? Remember how only one, a Samaritan, one of those filthy foreigners, came back to say thank you to Jesus? Bartimaeus could’ve just been content that Jesus healed him and then move on. Instead, he joined him along the way. We don’t know how long, nor do we know if he ended up being scattered along with the rest of the disciples during Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. But we do know that he followed him, and that—giving our very selves to Jesus—is the ultimate means of saying thank you.
The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews talks about the role of the priest and how the priest would have to regularly make sacrifices on behalf of his own sins and the sins of the people. But Jesus, the writer points out, does not have to do this. Jesus’ single sacrifice, his laying down of his life on the cross, is the perfect sacrifice because it is once and it is for all. Jesus’ sacrifice is enough. It’s enough to atone for the sins of every human being who ever lived and who ever will live. There is nothing more that needs to be done on our part, except to say thank you. How do we do that?
I want to tell you a story of a man I once knew named Sam Dotson. Sam was in his late 40s/early 50s when my family met him at the local nursing home. My home church conducted monthly services there, and Sam was always in attendance. He had cerebral palsy and was confined to a wheelchair. He could barely speak, usually relying on a computer, with which he would type out his thoughts with his index finger. Sam was a big basketball fan, so we would wheel him across the street to the local college where he would sit next to me on my dad’s bench, watching intently. Never once did Sam curse God for the hand that had been dealt to him. Around age age 12 I asked him if he ever got mad at God for being the way he was. He shut his eyes, shook his head, and managed to say, "Thankful." That was Sam. He was always thankful for each day that he had, each visitor who came to the nursing home, each blessing that God bestowed on him. We never expected Sam to give anything to us in return for worshipping with him or taking him to the basketball games, but he did. He had framed a picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and gave it to us. It stayed in our basement, where I spent most of my time, and whenever I looked at it, I always thought of my friend, who had every right to be angry at God, but who found joy and love all around him, and who showed us what gratitude looked like.
With Sam Dotson, the man who showed me what faith and gratitude look like (circa 1994).
So will we say thank you? There is no single answer to that. No matter how you say 'Thanks' just know that it matters! Even if it seems as small and insignificant as I thought those notes were that I wrote as a kid. Whether it is time, talent, or treasure, every means of showing gratitude is important. How you show gratitude will change you, as it changed Bartimaeus when he followed Jesus. And it will change those around you, as knowing Sam Dotson and his gracious and loving heart changed my family and me. So how will you say thank you to God?