October 29, 2000
Sermon by Rev. Sherry Parker
Dundee United Methodist Church
20th Sunday after Pentecost
Please note: Because I do not use notes when I preach, the text in the written sermon may vary slightly from the spoken sermon. My prayer is that in both my writing and my speaking the Holy Spirit works to make this message worthy of God's purpose.
Scripture: Psalm 34; Mark 10:46-52
Jesus and his disciples left Jericho, a town near the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. In this same area Jesus was baptized and spent the time in the wilderness that would begin is ministry. Now, a new wilderness lay ahead, because Jesus was on the road to Jerusalem. This would be his last journey with his disciples. But before his passion and death, there was one more miracle to perform. Hear the story of Jesus' healing of Bartimaeus. Read Mark 10:46-52.
There are two strong and persistent forces evident in this story of miracle healing. The first is the spirit and persistence of Bartimaeus. He is blind, confined to begging for a living. He sits by the roadside on the outskirts of Jericho listening for passersby. He can tell by the fall of footsteps, the tread of ladened donkeys, whether these travelers carry enough wealth to spare a bit for a man who has nothing. He can hear names and sometimes with them accounts of men and women who have captured the people's attention. One day he hears that Jesus of Nazareth is in the crowd that will pass by him on the road up to Jerusalem. He'd heard the talk. This teacher and healer was working miracles in the Galileean region. Jesus had taught and gained disciples in Jericho. Now here he was, so close. Bartimaeus did not have anyone to help him, to guide him into the road and place him squarely in Jesus' path, so he began to shout, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." Bystanders were irritated by his noise and told him to be quiet; they ordered him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me."
This is not how a grown man should act. When would we go to such lengths to be noticed, to be involved or to have our say? Children make their desires known. They unhesitatingly ask for what they need, first in an infant's cry, then in the short, but very clear statements of the toddler, "cookie", "kitty", "potty." I remember when my niece Valerie was three or four, we were walking together in a shopping mall. We passed a bakery and I told her that she could pick a cookie. She said, "I want a cake." I looked at the large three-layer designer confections she was pointing to and I said, with great charm and rationality, "You can have a cookie." She said, with a little more passion, "I want a cake." I said, "You can have a cookie." She took a deep breath and shared with me and with all the other shoppers down the long corridors of the mall, "I WANT A CAKE!" I decided about that time that we were done shopping.
Children call for our attention. Parents and grandparents, isn't it true that the phone is the child magnet. Once you're talking children either gather around to clamor for your attention or do something distracting like setting the sofa on fire. Children raise their hands to volunteer before they even know what the task is, waving their arms, their whole bodies straining, "Pick me! Pick me!"
Adults, on the other hand are reserved. We may hope that someone is listening to us, that we'll be noticed. We may even be thinking, "Pick me! Pick me!" or "I want a cake," but we don't say so. It's not polite. In lines we'll keep our eyes open and physically stick to our ground so that no one jumps ahead into a place they shouldn't be. We might discreetly make ourselves known to others or subtly makes suggestions or requests, like, "That pumpkin bread sure smells good," or "Oh, you seemed to have raked all your leaves into my yard." But we're not going to act like Bartimaeus. It's not very adult-like. This carries over to our times of prayer. We are more likely to approach God politely and sedately, perhaps with stilted, unnatural language, rather than freely flinging ourselves on Jesus' mercy.
And yet, consider Jesus' response to Bartimaeus' passionate cries.
Despite the scolding of other people along the road, Bartimaeus does not quiet down. Jesus stands still, listens and then says, "Call him here."
With all the pressure to touch and heal, to perform miracles, with the distractions of criticism and doubt from religious leaders, with the knowledge of what lay ahead in Jerusalem, Jesus had a lot to contend with. And yet, he hesitates in the dust of the roadside to say, "Call him here." His invitation is so powerful that the people who had just moments before been critics of Bartimaeus' loud cries, now become conveyors of Jesus' invitation. "Take heart; get up, he is calling you."
This scene echoes several that have come before. A woman who was an outsider, like Bartimaeus, did not have help to reach Jesus for healing, but she pushed forward and fell to touch the hem of the his cloak (Mark 5:25-34). There were many outsiders in the Gospel according to Mark who were received and empowered by Jesus--a man beset by demons, a foreign woman from Syrophoenicia, a blind man in Bethsaida, and the children whom Jesus called to himself. Some reached for Jesus, some called his name, others Jesus approached in compassion, but in all cases, Jesus' personal attention is evident.
Through the centuries in the formal liturgies of the church and the informal, passionate prayers of God's people the words "Jesus, have mercy" have rung. It is a reminder for us that God has great mercy for God's people. Today the cry, "Jesus, have mercy" and Jesus' real response to our cries continues. As loved ones of men who died on the sunken Russian submarine hear more difficult news this week, the cry "Jesus have mercy" rings. People lift prayers in and for Belfast, Jerusalem, the Ivory Coast, and East Timor. Even here in this county as we consider recent violence in Food Town and Meijer in Monroe, we ask "Lord have mercy." Each of us has our own story of divine call and response. How many of us, have waited for difficult news or received an early morning phone call that brought tragic news. How many have heard the worst and known that from this moment on that things will no longer be the same. It is in these times that we voice the cry of Bartimaeus, "Jesus, have mercy."
The cry for Jesus' help and the summons Jesus makes to his people is not merely an historical anecdote. Consider the conversation between Bartimaeus and Jesus. The blind man, upon hearing that Jesus wants to speak to him, throws off his cloak, jumps up and comes to Jesus. Jesus asks a question that he'd already asked when approaching Jericho, "What do you want me to do for you?" The first time he asked it, it was directed at two of his disciples, James and John. These brothers had approached Jesus to ask that in the coming kingdom they might sit in places of privilege on Jesus' right and left side. Jesus told them that it was a privilege he could not grant (Mark 10:36:37,40). Now, Bartimaeus faced with the same question answers directly and simply, "My teacher, let me see again." Jesus says, "Go; your faith has made you well," and the blind man immediately regains his sight.
It seems that the disciples, who should have had the gift of spiritual sight, were blind to it. In the very week before Jesus' death, they were still contending for who would be the most important in the Kingdom ofGod. Bartimaeus, a man who was an outsider and physically blind, was not blind to the barrier-crossing message of Jesus. Through his faithful vision, he regained his physical sight.
Jesus' question remains a revealing one to be answered by every would-be disciple: 'What do you want me to do for you?' Our answer exposes our lust for power, our search for prestige and desire for guaranteed comfort in this life, or it uncovers our need for One greater than ourselves and our deep longing for sight. (Brueggemann, p. 565.) Jesus gave and gives something precious to those who call his name. It is something greater than miraculous physical healing, banishment of demons, sight for the blind, healing of chronic conditions, or a temporary peace from the troubles that will befall all of us in this life. Jesus gives himself, unmeasurable mercy, cleansing forgiveness, abiding love, eternal hope. The ability to see these things is to possess a remarkable sight.
Jesus says to Bartimaeus, "Your faith has made you well." This statement in the original Greek might also be interpreted as "Your faith has made you whole" or "Your faith has saved you." This meaning is evident when Jesus says "Go," and Bartimaeus follows "on the way" of Jesus. (Brueggemann, p. 564) Bartimaeus "sees" that Jesus' healing means that he has become a disciple.
Let us call on the name of Jesus and trust in the summons of our Savior. It will change our "limited vision," open our eyes and send us in a new way with remarkable sight.
Brueggemann, Walter, et. al. Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1993. Perkins, Pheme. "Mark." The New Interpreter's Bible: Vol. VII. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995.