The Gospel: Mark 10:46-52
Jesus and his disciples came to Jericho. As he 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.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: So, on the surface of it, our Gospel reading this morning seems pretty simple. Compared to what we have been dealing with in Mark over the past few weeks this seems pretty straight forward.
A blind man hears that Jesus is passing by and so he calls out to him addressing him as the son David and asking for mercy. As it is recorded here in Mark he calls out to him twice: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Some people in the crowd try to restrain him, but Jesus hears Bartimaeus' cries and stops. Jesus calls for him to come to him. Jesus then asks a question of the man. "What do you want me to do for you?"
This is one of those "ministry is what happens when you are on your way somewhere" stories. Do you remember we talked about this idea a couple of weeks ago? A pastor friend of mine says this is one of the best definitions of how ministry works. We make plans and have our agenda set for our day, or our week, or our year, and all of a sudden we find ourselves engaged in a situation where we need to respond out of the grace and mercy that has been poured into our lives.
This happens to Jesus all through the Gospels. In this particular case, Jesus has been to Jericho and is on his way back to where he came from, and all of a sudden there is a need for him to engage with this blind man. Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus for mercy.
Do you remember our definition of mercy from last week: "compassion or forgiveness which is shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm."
So, I think we can assume that Bartimaeus is expecting that he should be punished because has gone blind. Culturally, and religiously, and to some degree spiritually that would have been a fairly common understanding of the people of Israel at that time. There are several other examples of physical ailments or physical symptoms being seen as punishment for the individual or the family of that individual. We see that in John 9: 1-3 "As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. Different Gospel, different story, different people involved but the same expectation that sin caused the affliction.
Here in the Gospel of Mark, we see that Bartimaeus has become blind at some point in his life. Culturally and theologically the people around him would have believed that this is the result of some sin. He or someone else in his family has sinned and therefore they are punished with Bartimaeus' blindness. When he realizes that Jesus is passing by he cries out to Jesus for mercy.
Did you notice that Jesus responds by asking him the same question that he asked of James and John last week? "What do you want me to do for you?"
Jesus uses this question to probe the heart and mind of Bartimaeus. Jesus uses this question to discover what it is that Bartimaeus really wants.
Today there is a very different motivation behind the answer that Jesus receives in response to this question. I believe that is because Bartimaeus recognizes that he needs mercy from Jesus. While as we learned last week James and John are oblivious to what they are asking.
Jesus responds to Bartimaeus very differently from how he responds to James and John. Jesus heals Bartimaeus and tells him he can go on his way. It is interesting that Mark records that Bartimaeus chooses to join Jesus "on the way." He immediately becomes and follower.
Now, this reading raises an interesting question for me. How is the way that Jesus sees Bartimaeus different from how the people in the crowd, and perhaps even some of the disciples, see Bartimaeus? Why do the people around Bartimaeus try to silence him? Why do they try to dissuade him from calling out to Jesus?
I'd like to suggest that it is because they see him through cultural or theological eyes. They see him as someone who is blind as a result of himself or others falling short. They perhaps see him as someone who doesn't deserve to take up Jesus' time. He is perhaps someone they understand to be "outside" the acceptable or cultural norms of those with who Jesus should interact.
I have to admit that I was struggling with the Gospel text this morning until I read the SSJE Sermon commentary on Thursday morning. I know that many of you receive the "Brother Give Us A Word" Meditation and read it each morning. If you don't get it and you would like to be added to the mailing list please contact the office.
Thursday morning I received the Meditation and I read the sermon that was attached. If you will allow me a small moment of levity "my eyes were opened."
Br. David Vryhof was reflecting on a different passage from Luke 7:36-50, but I believe his reflections help us to understand Mark today. He summarized the Luke passage this way:
"One day Jesus was invited to dine at the house of a Pharisee. While they were at table, a woman “who was a sinner” entered the room with an alabaster jar of ointment. She began to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Then she continued to kiss his feet as she poured the costly ointment over them. We are not told who the woman was, or what had earned her the reputation of “a sinner,” or how she knew Jesus, or why she was weeping and anointing his feet. The gospel writer records only her simple act of profound love and devotion."
So here we have another culturally and theologically based story. There are a number of important elements which are illustrated in this situation and our reading from Mark. A lot of what this story is about has to do with blindness and sight. Br David does a wonderful job illustrating this for us.
In his sermon, he says: "Jesus turned to him and asked him an important question. He said, “Simon, do you see this woman?” He was not asking if Simon had noticed her. Of course, he saw her, from the moment she entered the room. What Jesus was really asking Simon was, “What do you see when you look at this woman? Can you really see her or are you seeing only the label you have affixed to her? Can you look past the label and see her as she is?”
That’s the problem with labels, isn’t it? When we label others, we stop seeing them as they are. We see them only as we are determined to see them, as we have decided that they must be. It’s important, then, to ask ourselves the same question Jesus asked Simon. Who is it that I have difficulty seeing? Is there a person – or group of people – whom I refuse to see? Can I set aside my labels and take a fresh look?
Or it could be that I need to take a fresh look at myself. What labels have I used to describe myself? What names do I secretly call myself? In what ways do I criticize or belittle myself? Here, too, I am challenged to peel back the label and take a fresh look at the person. Can I see myself as Jesus sees me? What do I see when I look at others or at myself? A person or a label?"
I don't know about you but I believe that Br David has unlocked a treasure store in this sermon. It highlights for us how often we respond and react to other people with our personal set of labels. How often do we look at people, and the situations when they "call out to Jesus," from our personal set of prejudices and pre-framed expectations?
Unfortunately, I believe, that Br David is right when he says that we do that with ourselves as well. Br David suggests that we label ourselves and we decide how others see us. Perhaps we need to have an honest conversation with ourselves about where we might be blind, or why we think that blindness exists?
If Jesus was to stand before us today and to ask the question: "What do you want me to do for you?" Would we have to stop and think about what it was that he was asking us?
How do we see others? How are we blind to who they are?
Then how do we see ourselves? How are we blind to who we are?
Of course part of our difficulty is what we have been told or heard from others about who we are. How do we think others see us? How are we blind to who we truly are?
I would like to offer this prayer as a helpful way to reframe some of our thinking and our responses to others and ourselves.
A Celtic Prayer
May the Christ who walks on wounded feet walk with you on the road.
May the Christ who serves with wounded hands stretch out your hands to serve.
May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart open your hearts to love.
May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet, and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you.
What areas of blindness do we need to bring before the Lord this morning and where do we need to ask him to open our eyes? Perhaps we could ask what labels do we need to remove?
For Trust in God (from the BCP)
O God, the source of all health: So fill my heart with faith in your love, that with calm expectancy I may make room for your power to possess me, and gracefully accept your healing; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.